Finishing the 2014 NFL season near the bottom in total offense, the Oakland Raiders begin the offseason with a fresh start under new head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, Musgrave will run a no-huddle offense, a sign that the club is seeking to overhaul the playbook.
Oakland should benefit from a second season under quarterback Derek Carr, and will almost certainly bolster Carr's receiving options, as well as the ground game. Del Rio seemed to indicate that Carr would need more help around him in 2015.
"It starts with knowing that there's good leadership in place ... that we can build this team, that we can help the running game be strong, the defense be strong and Derek Carr be developed," Del Rio said to NFL.com. "So, it's not all about him doing it by himself."
The Raiders started the season with a 10-game losing streak, which subsequently led to Dennis Allen’s dismissal after Week 4, but Carr’s ability was evident and encouraging early on, even if they would finish with a 3-13 record.
There are certainly plenty of positives to draw from Carr’s rookie year. He completed 58.1 percent of his pass attempts for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and with solid performances against some of the better defenses in the NFL, like the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers.
Carr also benefited from one of the league’s best offensive lines, a group that allowed only 28 sacks, the sixth lowest in the NFL. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie may only have to worry about the future of center Stefen Wisniewski, who will be an unrestricted free agent next month. The rest of the offensive line should be intact next season, which should create more opportunities for Carr.
Despite a solid pass-rush blocking offensive line, the Raiders couldn’t translate that success to the ground attack. Oakland finished last in the NFL with 77.5 rushing yards per game, as leading rusher Darren McFadden had just 534 yards and two touchdowns.
McFadden will be a free agent next month, and though second-year back Latavius Murray showed some promise late in the season, the Raiders are likely to explore the draft and the free-agent market for another running back. Oakland could be especially active in free agency with $49.5 million in salary cap space, the second most in the NFL according to Spotrac.com.
They could also opt to stick with veteran Maurice Jones-Drew, who will be 30 by the start of next season, but enjoyed the best years of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars under Del Rio from 2009 to 2011. Jones-Drew gained more than 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and scored 28 touchdowns in the same span.
Whoever is tabbed with leading the Raiders rushing attack could have a significant year under Musgrave. Before serving as Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach last season, Musgrave was the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator for three years, and that group was ranked no lower than eighth in the NFL in rushing yards and twice ranked in the top three in rushing touchdowns scored.
Oakland owns the No. 4 overall selection in May’s NFL Draft, but they are highly unlikely to buck the recent trend and select a running back that high. Instead, the Raiders could improve their receiving crop by selecting Alabama’s star wide out and Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper. ESPN Draft expert Todd McShay has the Raiders selecting Cooper at No. 4 in his latest draft.
Cooper has the making of an NFL star. He is fast and has good hands, to go along with a great deal of athleticism. At Alabama, Cooper played in a pro-style offense and faced some of the most talented defenses in the nation.
Should Oakland decide to wait until the second or third rounds for a wide receiver, Sammie Coates (Auburn), Devin Funchess (Michigan), and Devin Smith (Ohio State) are strong options, and could be available.
Last season, receivers Andre Holmes and James Jones, and tight end Mychal Rivera, accounted for 14 of the Raiders 22 receiving touchdowns, a decent showing from a very mixed group that probably need the help of a speedy playmaker to ease the pressure.
The temptation might be there for Oakland to use its considerable cap room on an elite free-agent receiver, like the Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas, the Philadelphia Eagles' Jeremy Maclin or even Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant. The Raiders may also consider less prolific players, like the St. Louis Rams' Kenny Britt or the Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith.