2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Oakland Raiders
August 6, 2015 | Chet
The Oakland Raiders closed 2014 at 3-13, the third consecutive season in which they’ve won four or fewer games. To make matters worse, they’ve now won just five or fewer games in 10 of the past 12 seasons and haven’t experienced a winning season since 2002. Can what was once a “Commitment to Excellence” resurface in 2015?
2015 Raiders Schedule
Always be careful looking over early schedule analysis and for a team that is projected to be near one of the league’s bottom teams in terms of victories, that applies more so to the Oakland Raiders. We inherently are aware that they won’t be favored in more than few games over their slate, so it’s hard to be lured into perceived softer matchups being beneficial to them.
That’s because the Raiders were one of the worst offenses in the league a season ago, and in many cases, the absolute worst. Oakland had 196 possessions, the second most in the league behind only the Eagles. With those opportunities, they averaged just 22.3 yards per drive, last in the league. League average was 30.9 yards per drive. They punted on 55.6 percent of their possessions, last again and well below the 41.2 percent league average. There weren’t many areas in which they excelled across the board.
One area in which they were actually really good was the red zone. Oakland had 71.4 percent red zone touchdown rate, which was fourth in the NFL behind Denver, New Orleans and Cincinnati, they just didn’t get there often as they were last in red zone chances as well. The Raiders have now moved on from Dennis Allen and Greg Olson in favor of Jack Del Rio and Bill Musgrave. Those two worked together in Jacksonville in 2003 and 2004 in which they were a top half offense in terms of running the football.
Silver and Black and Blue
By all accounts based on Del Rio and Musgrave’s past tendencies, we can count on Oakland wanting to establish a running game paired with a safe passing game. Musgrave has been linked to some big seasons from backs in Fred Taylor and Adrian Peterson, but do the Raiders have a back of their caliber on the roster?
Latavius Murray has been a darling since destroying the combine in terms of measured athleticism and now seemingly has his shot at being a feature back in an offense. If you look at his four starts to close 2014 -not the four carry, 112 yard, two touchdown game on Thursday Night versus Kansas City- but the games in which he was bell cow, Murray averaged just 17 carries for 65 yards a week and was a volume dependent RB2.
He ran for fewer than four yards per carry in all four of those weeks as he was the RB20, RB25, RB24 and RB19. Still solid results for a secondary back on your roster and in hindsight his opponents those weeks were San Francisco, Kansas City, Buffalo and Denver.
The Raiders also brought in Roy Helu and Trent Richardson to the mix to push Murray this summer. I don’t want to make Richardson a punching bag, but investing in him resurrecting his career is a long play and can be avoided. Richardson was in an environment to aid fantasy output and was consistently outplayed by Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron. If you’re looking to create silver lining narrative, this is likely the moment in which his career is at its final crossroads and maybe that motivates him in harnessing the back that was the third overall pick just three years ago. By all accounts he has shed weight and played the part so far, but we’re in a holding pattern of keeping him on the waiver wire for fantasy purposes.
Helu is still that guy that also has been a darling of the fantasy community and a player we’ve all wanted more touches for because he’s shown so much on limited touches. All had a limited sample showing last season, but Helu was dynamic with nearly every opportunity he had.
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Helu was also aided by facing lighter fronts than Murray and Richardson, but was far above league averages everywhere. Factoring in his pass game involvement, another 23.8 percent of his 42 catches went for 20 or more yards when the running back average was just 7.2 percent. That sample size could be nothing as the league has consistently shown that they value him in the capacity of a change of pace option, but at 6’0” and 216 pounds, Helu has the frame to handle more volume.
With all of that info on the table, you lastly have to factor in the team outlook in Oakland. Oakland ran 69.2 percent of their offensive snaps trailing, the second highest percentage in the league last year. No team had fewer second half rushing attempts in the league at 9.9 per game as just 30.4 percent of their plays in the second half of games were runs, dead last in the league. This is a team who’s over/under is just 5.5 wins for this season and all teams that have won six games or less since 2000 have averaged a 58 percent to 42 percent pass to run ratio with just four of those 150 teams reaching a 50 percent run rate in a given season. We have the idea of what Musgrave would like to do with this offense; the question will be if they are able to maintain that approach naturally through game script.
In the end, that points out more towards potential game script being damaging for Murray while aiding Helu, who is an asset as a pass catcher. Brad Evans makes a staunch case for staying the course and believing in Murray at his RB21 sticker price, while Helu on average carries a RB54 price in the double digit rounds. Considering all price points, I’ll take Helu as the fantasy option to invest into, but if Murray slides into the middle of the fifth round area and later, I may be inclined to take a few pokes at that cost.
Caring About Carr
The gateway to securing more favorable game script can be aided by improvement from Derek Carr in year two. For fantasy, Carr provided little as he had just three top-12 scoring weeks and 12 games in the bottom half of scoring. He relied on volume, and that volume wasn’t even enough to inflate his fantasy production. Oakland fans were excited from what they received from Carr as a rookie, but he was in the bottom half to bottom third of all rookie performances from all rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds that started seven games or more.
There’s still enough names that came out of that bottom group to suggest keeping the lights on for Carr becoming not only a serviceable quarterback but potentially one useful for fantasy. When playing the chicken or the egg game with Carr’s rookie season and what he was given to work with there’s a tale of both sides, but the overall performance of this passing game was terrible.
Carr may have had the deck stacked against him extremely in regards to surrounding talent, but JJ Zachariason highlights that making excuses for his play is a slippery slope in misevaluating Carr for the future. One of the underlying positives about Carr was that he did excel in the red zone. Whether or not he’s able to roll that over remains to be seen and the Raiders still need to get there more often than they did in 2014, but Carr was near the top in red zone passing efficiency for all quarterbacks last season.
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His surrounding talent on offense is much better on paper entering the season, but there’s still no need to seek out adding Carr to your rosters, even at QB28 pricing. See how he acclimates to those new players and if Oakland as team is improved before making him part of a committee on your roster.
Detailing the Carr
The first of those new offensive weapons outside of the aforementioned Helu was the first round selection of Amari Cooper. I profiled Cooper prior to the draft and found his stock very properly priced and see him as a clean and safe of a prospect as clean and safe prospects can come.
As the first receiver selected in the draft to Oakland, Cooper lands in an immediate spot to soak up lead wide receiver targets. Musgrave surely wants to incorporate more power running immediately, but Oakland is still going to be a team that is playing from behind more often than ahead. The Oakland Raiders were a team that fed 211 targets to James Jones and Andre Holmes last season and their only addition this offseason was signing Michael Crabtree to a “prove it” contract.
Cooper and Crabtree have a little overlap in terms of underneath usage, and both should have a positive effect on Carr improving, but Crabtree lacks the lid popping capacity that Cooper has. With the Raiders incorporating that power run game more often, that should open downfield opportunities for the rookie receiver. I feel like Cooper’s deep game has gotten a bum rap throughout the process. He won’t win downfield often as a clasher, but has the separation juice to also be a better vertical target than given credit for. Despite Carr having a beyond subpar 5.5 yards per attempt, he still had a more than reasonable average depth of throw per Pro Football Focus at 8.5 yards per attempt and was willing to throw vertically more than most realize as he was fourth in the NFL in pass attempts 20 or more yards downfield with 71 and was 12th in percentage of those attempts at 11.9 percent.
I fully expect Cooper to hit the ground running in the NFL on every level of the defense, but that doesn’t mean that I’m fully on board with escalating WR22 sticker price since you’re really cutting off yourself from upside there. James Todd sheds light on why Cooper’s expectations for this season may already be lofty in providing return investment. I really like the idea of letting another take Cooper at his cost and then making a play for him during the season like Brandon Gdula suggests here. There have been six receivers selected in the top 10 over the five previous drafts and all were top 30 PPR receivers except for Tavon Austin. Cooper has the volume and talent to reach that mark in terms of overall production; you’re just looking for the price point to match the risk of investment.
Oakland also brought in Michael Crabtree who hung out in free agency for a long time before reaching a deal with a club. That was warranted as Crabtree is coming off of his worst full season in the NFL since his rookie year.
Since tearing his Achilles during training camp of 2013, Crabtree has yet to regain the explosiveness that we saw over the final stretch of 2012 when he was a top five receiver and appeared to finally be blossoming into the player that San Francisco drafted. His yards per reception plummeted as just 36.8 percent of his receptions went for 10 or more yards, well below the wide receiver average of 53.5 percent.
Some of that decline may be usage related as Matt Harmon paints a positive picture around what Crabtree can still bring to an offense and sees him as an effective option should Carr remain a passer that uses the short to immediate game as much in year two. If you feel similarly or believe that he’s now fully recovered and may have a chip on his shoulder after receiving little interest on the open market, Crabtree is essentially free right now at WR67. I don’t know how many of my rosters he’ll actually make, but he’s a late round option that could catch 70 passes available for a small amount of capital.
The Raiders also have Andre Holmes and Rod Streater returning as the third and fourth options. Holmes was actually given a smaller tender in restricted free agency than Streater despite Streater coming off of a season in which he missed the final 13 games with a fractured foot. Streater has a lot of overlapping functionality to what Crabtree and Cooper do best, so it will be interesting if he’s in fact the third option or if he pushes Crabtree for snaps. Holmes offers some variance as a vertical target and led the team with seven catches of 25 or more yards last season. Neither is draftable in redrafts or even best ball formats at this stage of the summer.
The final piece of this passing game is a crowded tight end position. Mychal Rivera was forced to be heavy component of this passing game last year and it returned some fantasy fruit as from week 8 on, he was third in targets (70), fourth in receptions (45), 10th in yards (433) and tied for sixth in touchdowns (four) out of all tight ends. Over that span he turned in five top-12 scoring weeks but also was the TE26 or lower in another four weeks. It’s hard to see him having that kind of role thrust on him again this season as the Raiders brought in run blocking specialist Lee Smith as a tight end to compensate for Rivera’s biggest weakness. Then they also used a third round selection on Miami tight end Clive Walford, who some considered to be the best tight end in this draft. Rookie tight ends are a slow burn, but Walford likely pushes Rivera at some point for targets and Crabtree, Streater and Cooper all have intermediate strengths. The safe play is to just stay away from this group to start.