There are areas that the Raiders have improved in absolutely this off-season, but they are not a team without question marks. Really, every team has question marks in June but the Raiders still have more holes than many teams in the league. Let's take a look at 5 major question marks for the 2015 Oakland Raiders.
1. Derek Carr, Quarterback
The biggest question mark the Raiders are facing is at the quarterback position. Derek Carr gave plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of the position for the Raiders, but he also has not proven himself yet and needs to improve greatly from year one to year two. He had plenty of struggles as a rookie that he must prove he learned from in his sophomore year.
The NFL does not have patience, that is intensified when talking about teams that have been losing for as long as the Raiders have been. Derek Carr had a good rookie year in terms of showing he has the leadership skills and physical capabilities needed to play QB in the NFL, but his stats were some of the worst in the league. That is ok as a rookie on a doomed team, but moving forward the Raiders need to see a lot more production from their possible franchise quarterback.
Reggie McKenzie and company wanted to make it easier on Carr so they went out and drafted weapons for him in Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, while also bringing in an improvement at Center with Rodney Hudson and a new veteran option at receiver with Michael Crabtree. Couple those improvements with getting Rod Streater back from injury and there are little excuses left if Derek Carr struggles again in 2015.
2. Starting Cornerbacks
The NFL today lives and dies by the passing game which is why Derek Carr is the top question mark, and it also explains why the starting corners are the next biggest question mark for 2015. The Raiders did not bring in any new starters at cornerback for the team and are going into the season with 3rd year pro D.J. Hayden and 2nd year player T.J. Carrie. They are showing a ton of trust in their young players by not attempting to upgrade the position in free agency or the draft.
T.J. Carrie was one of the most surprising rookies in the entire league as a 7th round pick coming in to start as a rookie, even if it was for one of the worst teams of the 2014 season. He held his own throughout the season and the Raiders are expecting him to continue on the upward trend, however it was just one surprising season and Carrie is not yet a proven player until he backs up his solid rookie season.
Having one unproven player starting is scary enough, but having the other one be a player who has yet to stay healthy throughout an off-season and missed almost as many games than he has played entering his 3rd season is downright terrifying. The homer in me still has faith in D.J. Hayden being a quality NFL starter, but the writer in me wonders if that is realistic anymore. Not knowing the answer to that is why the starting cornerbacks are the 2nd biggest question mark for the Raiders going into 2015.
3. Right side of Offensive Line
Left side, Strong side! From the Center heading left the Raiders offensive line is solid, it is heading to the right where the next biggest question mark for the team comes in. There is an argument to be made in fact that this is the top question for Oakland considering the team itself still doesn't even know who will be starting come Week 1.
There is going to be a long lasting battle through training camp and likely into preseason to decide who will be starting at Right Guard and Right Tackle. It appears that Menelik Watson and Austin Howard are battling for the RT spot and rookie Jon Feliciano is battling journey man veteran J'Marcus Webb for the RG. However, the always scrappy Khalif Barnes is also in the mix for starting at either one of the positions too.
That equals 5 players that either have reasons to not trust them or not enough data on them to know what to expect yet fighting for 2 open starting positions. Luckily the Raiders have the other 3 spots along the offensive line with solid starters because there is no idea what to expect from the right side. Major question mark indeed, that might even some how be an understatement.
4. Right side of Defensive Line
Left side, Strong side! Part 2. Just as the Raiders should be confident in half of their starting offensive line, the same applies to their defensive line. The left side of the defensive line is going to be strong with Justin Tuck still playing at a high level and Khalil Mack expected to play with his hand in the dirt more often from that side as well. It is the opposite side where the question mark comes in.
The Raiders needed to improve their pass rush this off-season however the talent they added is not certain to do that. Mario Edwards Jr. is an intriguing prospect with a lot of athleticism (proven by his backflips as a 300lb man) however he was not known as a pass rusher in college. The same thing with C.J. Wilson in his NFL career, he is known more as a run stopper than as a pass rusher.
There was a frustrating lack of effort on the Raiders part to add a more distinct pass rushing presence to the right side but they obviously believe that Mario Edwards Jr. will be a better pass rusher in the NFL than he was in college. They could very well be right, but unless he proves to be a capable pass rusher there is no choice but to consider this still a major question mark for the team.
5. Running back position
Lastly, the running back position is the 5th major question mark for Oakland. The Raiders added Trent Richardson from the Indianapolis Colts and Roy Helu from Washington to compete with incumbant starter Latavius Murray. Unfortunately, Richardson is one of the biggest recent draft busts after the Browns drafted him at number 3 overall in 2012 and Roy Helu has never proven himself capable of carrying the load in Washington.
Latavius Murray is who we all hope will be the bell cow for this Raiders team after a very successful finish to the 2014 season. However, Latavius is far from proven with just a few games under his belt in the NFL so far and he has also had some injuries in his past. He still needs to prove he can remain healthy and play at the high level that he ended last season with.
The Raiders need to have Murray prove to be a starter quality back, and since he hasn't yet it makes sense to have the running back position as a major question mark for the 2015 season. If Latavius doesn't stay healthy or falls off his impressive pace then Oakland has to lean on Richardson or Helu to lead the running backs. Yep, having to depend on an unproven player or lean on even less proven players is definitely enough to quality as the 5th major question mark for the Raiders.