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2014 Raiders roster vs 2015 Raiders roster: Have the Raiders improved?

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season starts this week and the question that is on the minds of everybody for Raider Nation is "How good will the Raiders be this year". If there are any psychics among you please let the rest of us in on your otherworldly gifts, but in the mean time let's take a deeper look at the team for us to make a more educated guess.

To do that I will go through each position and giving a score for the result in comparing last year's team to this year's. At the end we will tally up the score to see if the Raiders got as much better as it feels they have this off-season.

QUARTERBACK

The largest deciding factor on how good the Raiders are going to be this season comes by way of the Quarterback position. It is the most important position, the leader of the team, and if this position falters then the team is not likely to win as many games as we would like. Has Derek Carr gotten better?

It's not something we can answer yet. Logically, having a season under his belt should help Carr be a better player due to having more experience. Unfortunately, Robert Griffin III and Rick Mirer both prove that having solid rookie seasons does not mean the sophomore year is going to be better. A new coach and system also is in play for the 2nd year QB so that also makes it harder to estimate whether Carr will be a better player this year or not.

It does need to be pointed out that Carr had a bad preseason. He did not throw one touchdown this preseason and the play that sticks out the most for him in the 3 games he played in was his terrible interception thrown in the 2nd half against the Cardinals. He will need to prove that he is still progressing forward this Sunday against the Bengals, until then we will have to call this position even to last year's team.

Comparison Result: Even

RUNNING BACK

Last year the Raiders came into the season fully relying on Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, which was an unmitagated disaster. Neither player did well, McFadden showing a complete lack of vision and MJD showing that the NFL had best days were well behind him. They did have Latavius Murray on the squad too but they didn't find out how good he was until the season was already lost.

Now we go into this upcoming season with Latavius Murray as the bell cow, and that is definitely a better plan than last year's McFadden and MJD nightmare. Murray has given plenty of reasons for the Raiders to be optimistic that he can be a franchise running back for them. He is shifty despite being tall for the position, he is strong and he has the speed to take advantage when he gets in space.

The back up running back position for this team isn't very clear as of yet because we didn't get to see much from Roy Helu Jr and Taiwan Jones as of yet. Jones is one of the fastest players in the NFL and he looked much more comfortable at times this preseason at RB than we had seen from him in years past. Helu had success in Washington and in limited action this preseason has been played well.

Comparison Result: +1

WIDE RECEIVERS

This is the position that has improved the most for the offense. Last year's top receivers to begin the season were Rod Streater, James Jones and Denarius Moore. By week four, Moore was firmly in the doghouse and Streater was injured, making the top receivers Jones and Andre Holmes. Fast forward a year, and everything is different.

The new starters are veteran Michael Crabtree and rookie 4th overall draft pick Amari Cooper. James Jones and Denarius Moore aren't on the team anymore, Streater is the third receiver and Holmes is buried on the depth chart. They also may have found another undrafted gem in Seth Roberts who spent last season on the practice squad and led the team in receiving this preseason. Brice Butler was second on the team in receiving this preseason.

The Raiders lacked a true number 1 quality receiver last year, and now they have added two players of that caliber in Crabtree and Cooper. Also, Streater was hurt very early in the season so his return will help a great deal as well as Seth Roberts stepping up as a reliable target.

Comparison Result: +2

FULLBACK

Marcel Reece was the Raiders only Pro Bowl player last year, and he still mans the position for this year's ball club. Jamize Olawale is the back up player again for the both last year's team and this year's. The improvement possibility at the fullback position relies solely on the coaching staff utilizing the talented Marcel Reece better than the previous regime. Until we see the offense in action, there is no choice but to consider this position unchanged.

Comparison Result: Even

TIGHT END

The starter for both last year and this year is Mychal Rivera so there wasn't any change there. However, everything else about the position has changed. They gave up on perenially injured project player David Ausberry and Brian Leonhardt had too stiff of competition to make the team. Instead, they added a 3rd round rookie in Clive Walford, a solid blocking TE in Lee Smith and as of now they also kept rookie Gabe Holmes who looked good in preseason.

There is some serious improvement in this group though. Lee Smith is the type of blocking tight end that the Raiders haven't had in years and Clive Walford looks to have an immense upside with his big body and good hands as a pass catcher. Both of those players are positive changes to go along with Mychal Rivera staying even. I would be tempted to consider Gabe Holmes an improvement as well but with him being a 4th TE and a rookie it is hard to definitively state him a positive addition.

Comparison Result: +2

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

It was looking like the development of Menelik Watson could have been considered another plus for the team but tragically they lost the Englishman to a major injury when his Achilles blew out this preseason. Instead of a positive in the developing right tackle, Austin Howard now steps up into the position.

Howard had his chance to win the starting job fair and square but he was beat out. He struggled as the starter at Guard last year and the new coaching staff immediately moved the former right tackle back there and thus far he has not impressed.

The left side of the line is again manned by Donald Penn. He is getting older but he played great last year and continued that excellent play for much of the preseason. There is no reason to believe he won't be able to meet his level of play from last year.

Comparison Result: -1

CENTER / OFFENSIVE GUARD

There was one big change on the offensive line this year, and that comes in the very middle of it. Gone is former starter Stefen Wisniewski and in comes Rodney Hudson. This is definitely a positive change as Hudson is one of the best centers in the league and was a major plus in signing him in free agency.

The previously mentioned Austin Howard was the starter at RG last year, but the new coaching staff saw it fit to move Howard back to his natural position of tackle. Replacing Howard is another former tackle in J'Marcus Webb; a veteran player that hasn't done much so far in his career. Webb did have a solid preseason but he still has more to prove before being definitively seen as an improvement.

The other guard spot is manned by 2nd year player Gabe Jackson who had a great rookie year and is looking even better this year. He has pro bowl potential at the position and is continuing to get better, but he already played at almost a pro bowl level last year anyway so his spot also remains as even.

Comparison Result: +1

DEFENSIVE END

Khalil Mack was an outside linebacker last year, but he went to defensive end this year. Pretty safe to therefore consider the defensive line very much improved. They started the year last year with former All-Pro linebacker Lamarr Woodley at this spot last year but his best years were already behind him and the attempt to switch his position was a failure. Mack on the other hand has looked beyond dominant in his switch to defensive end.

Justin Tuck stays even as the starter from last year returning for a 2nd year as a starter in the Silver and Black. Where they improve is in their depth. Round two rookie Mario Edwards Jr and Denico Autry will be the primary backups along with Benson Mayowa and newly acquired Lavar Edwards. Mario Edwards had a very good preseason, leading the team with 2.5 sacks while playing somewhat limited snaps and former practice squad player Denico Autry burst onto the scene with 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 passes defended.

Comparison Result: +2

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Raiders added a new big guy for the middle in Dan Williams and he has looked like a nice addition so far. They did lose a solid veteran from last year in Antonio Smith but Dan Williams is younger and a far better run stopper. Smith was no slouch and really excelled in his pass rush, but Jack Del Rio prefers bigger defensive tackles and they don't come much bigger than Dan Williams. Antonio Smith was a good player for the Raiders though and a surprise cut, without more data it makes sense to consider this move a lateral one.

The partner to Williams in the middle is Justin "Jelly" Ellis who is the 2nd year player that was already the other starter last season at DT. He looked very good as a rookie and the Raiders should be excited for him but at the same time he hasn't proven enough as of yet to say he is better than he was last year. That means this has to stay as a lateral move as well.

Result Comparison: Even

LINEBACKER

This might be the most difficult position on the team to assess. They have added former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith to be one of the starters and have developed Ray Ray Armstrong to be the starter on the other side. Unfortunately, in doing so they jettisoned fan favorite Sio Moore who had fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff.

Malcolm Smith is an improvement to Sio Moore but Ray Ray Armstrong still has a lot to prove before being trusted as a starter. The player who is no longer here that Ray Ray is definitely better than though is Miles Burris. Burris was a liability and rated as one of the worst linebackers in the league last year so it's not saying a whole lot but it is still an improvement.

The biggest impact will come from new middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Especially after the Raiders were forced to start Miles Burris there last season due to the injury to Nick Roach. Lofton led all linebackers with 22 missed tackles last season, but he also led the league with 145 tackles. The veteran middle linebacker will be a tremendous improvement over Burris.

With Khalil Mack moving to the defensive line and Ray Ray Armstrong starting in his place on the strong side, it's hard to say the linebackers are unquestionably better.

Comparison Result: Even

CORNERBACK

Here we arrive at the weakest position on the team. What makes it worse than just that it is the weakest position of the team is that it also was last year's weakest area and it did not improve. They let Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rodgers go after they had signed both last year to be starters. By releasing the two veteran corners on the team they decided to roll with inexperienced players instead.

The new starters are TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden. One of them provides a lot more confidence to Raider Nation than the other, but you wouldn't guess which by looking at their draft statuses. Second year player T.J. Carrie was a 7th round rookie last year who ended up being a quality starter by the end of the season. He is a plus as a starter over Carlos Rodgers, but it is hard to give him the nod over Tarrell Brown as of yet.

Then comes former top pick (12 overall) D.J. Hayden on the other side and it has not been a very good start to his first preseason as the starter. He was burned regularly and did not look very good at all. As of right now he has to be considered a negative as a starter this year compared to last year's team.

Comparison Result: -1

SAFETY

The good news for the Raiders secondary is that they did add one player that looks to have improved the team. Nate Allen was brought in from Philadelphia and has looked worth every penny to do so. He had 2 interceptions in one half of football against the Cardinals and also showed prowess in both tackling and coverage throughout his playing time this preseason.

Allen replaces Tyvon Branch technically though Brandian Ross played more of the season as the starter after Branch suffered another serious injury. Branch when healthy was formidable but his injury history took the trust away from him at the position. When healthy, Branch was a better player than Allen but it doesn't matter if you can't stay on the field. I would have considered this position upgraded if Brandian Ross was still the back up but with him out for the year with an injury the Raiders have to rely on having inexperienced depth and that makes any positive increase from Nate Allen over an often injured Tyvon Branch moot.

The other starter is the same last year and this year, and he is a modern marvel. Charles Woodson continues to play at a very high level despite being 39 years old now. His play could go down hill in a hurry as happens to players of his age but it doesn't seem like the laws of age apply to Woodson. He has to be considered even from last year to this year because he has earned the faith in his skills.

Comparison Result: Even

SPECIAL TEAMS

Sebastian Janikowski and Marquette King both are the same starters as last year. No improvement there, other than maybe the improvement from King as a young player that is continuing to upgrade his craft. The Raiders attempted to upgrade the return game by drafting Andre Debose but he was lost to an Achilles injury in OTA's. As far as return men they also stayed the same as last year with Taiwan Jones and T.J. Carrie expected to handle those duties. Pretty safe to call this position even considering the lack of changes made.

Comparison Result: Even

Overall comparison result: +6

Out of 13 position groups that were ranked, there was a score of +6. It is good to see improvement on the team overall, but perhaps there was not as much improvement as it seemed. More than half of the position groups failed to noticeably improve and two of them even seem worse off this year than they were last year.

They actually were lucky to have increased as much as they did at two key positions, WR and DE, because those two groups accounted for 4 out of the 6 points increased. Out of these 13 position groups there was a noticeable increase in talent in 5 of them, although that does mean more than half of the position groups on the team appear to have failed to improve on paper. Though it is moving slower than hoped for, there is still serious improvement being made across several important position groups.

The team is definitely better than they were last year, though that really was never in question. How much better is what we were trying to figure out here and unfortunately the roster doesn't appear to be as much better as we hoped. Luckily, this didn't account for the coaching change at all and a good coach can make the same players play much better.

The Raiders are counting on Jack Del Rio being the type of coach that can bring the best out of their players. Reggie McKenzie's rebuilding efforts on this team are moving slowly due to the hole he had to crawl out of but you can see a positive change for several position groups this year. If they can continue to improve from one year to the next at this rate they will be able to revamp several more of these positions next year and maybe even be completely rebuilt two seasons from now.