We already went through 5 Major Question Marks for the 2015 Oakland Raiders, but now we get to look at the brighter side. This team is definitely improving, though maybe not as quickly as we would like. With that in mind I have compiled a list of 5 Major Improvements for this year's Raiders team.
1. Wide Receivers
Without a doubt the area that has been improved the most for the Oakland Raiders is at the wide receiver position. The drafting of Amari Cooper in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft is the biggest reason for optimism but it is not the only one. The addition of veteran Michael Crabtree and the returning of Rod Streater are two other reasons to believe the Raiders receiving corp is on an upward trend.
The only downside was the release of James Jones who led the Raiders receiving group last year after the early season loss of Rod Streater. Jones was likely to drop down the depth chart and instead of doing that to the veteran the Raiders decided to let him go and save some money. Even with his release the receivers are obviously in a better state heading into next season
Amari Cooper's addition alone would have been enough to claim the top spot on this list. On top of that the addition of another quality veteran like Michael Crabtree and the return of fan favorite Rod Streater makes it a no brainer to consider receiver the most improved group on the Raiders. They went from a lack of talent last year to being the best grouping of players on the entire team.
The Jack Del Rio era has officially begun and it is about as different as it gets from the last coaching administration in Oakland. Dennis Allen was in over his head as a rookie coach of a team that had too many holes to fill. He did what he could to change the culture in Oakland and the players did respect him, but Jack Del Rio's tenure already feels completely different.
There is no doubt about who is in charge here, this is Jack Del Rio's team. He has surrounded himself with quality assistants as well in OC Bill Musgrave and DC Ken Norton Jr. The whole group is experienced and energetic. The pacing right out of the gate has been set at a high level and the coaching staff has no plans on pushing the breaks.
After years of frustration under Dennis Allen it is a revitalizing difference to have a truly experienced coaching staff in place. There should be no doubt that the Raiders have improved in the coaching department already, though you couldn't really fall much farther than the Dennis Allen era.
Stephen Wisniewski was a pretty good Center, losing him was expected to be a downgrade for the team. There was just one player on the open market that was markedly better than him and would have upgraded the team, Rodney Hudson. Luckily, that is exactly who the Raiders went after and stole from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rodney Hudson has gotten better every year and has become one of the best Centers in the entire league. It is rare for a player of his age and ability to become a free agent but the Chiefs some how let him out of their building without a contract. Their loss is the Raiders gain.
Though Wisniewski is a solid player, there is no doubt that Hudson is a better one. Improving the Center position can do wonders for the offensive line in general and there should be a noticable difference with Hudson calling out the protections. Beyond that he is just a better blocker in general, definitely a major improvement for the Raiders.
A little under the radar has been the improvements made to the Raiders linebackers. Khalil Mack had a great rookie year and the coaching staff has already begun lighting a fire under him to do better. They have been stressing more sacks from the outstanding 2nd year player and it is sure to pay dividends.
Beyond just Khalil Mack getting better though, they also added two fresh faces in Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith. There has been a lot of talk about Curtis Lofton's missed tackle numbers from last year but he also had 144 tackles that he did make. He is absolutely an upgrade to Miles Burris and having a player like Malcolm Smith as depth is a luxury most teams don't have.
There also is Sio Moore who has the most energy of almost any player in the league and Ray Ray Armstrong has shown promise too. The group is becoming very impressive and is led by DC Ken Norton Jr. who was a hall of fame level linebacker himself. Between the additions to the group, the impressive players already on the outside in Mack and Moore continuing to grow and a coach that knows the position there is no where to go but up for the Raiders linebackers.
5. Tight End
Rounding out the list of major improvements for the Raiders is the Tight End position. Mychal Rivera held his own last year and was a big contributor to the offense, but he was pretty much all the Raiders had at the position. Not anymore after the Raiders spent their 3rd round pick on TE Clive Walford out of Miami.
Rivera was a pretty good receiving weapon in his own right, but Clive Walford has the potential to be an elite pass catcher with his size and speed combination. The two of them together form a formidable unit for sure, though they both have room to grow as blockers. However, that is where Lee Smith comes in because he is known as a strong blocker.
The group is unproven sure, but so was last year's. Clive Walford is likely to be the starter, and Mychal Rivera is a very good number 2 option. With a 3rd TE that will be able to be a solid blocker this group is set up for success and will undoubtedly be improved from last year's team.