With expectations as high as they've been in a long time, fans and pundits alike all seem to like the Raiders' chances in what should be an incredibly competitive AFC West. Knowing this, it seems that fantasy experts have started drinking the Kool-Aid as well. Matthew Berry, for instance, placed seven Raiders (including the defense) inside the top 210 players.
But is it possible the fantasy love has gone too far?
While the Raiders will be better on the field this season, can Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and their compadres really all live up to the hype?
With a fantasy preview, the question is never "how good will player X be?", but rather, "is player X better than they're currently ranked?" So, with that in mind, what should we do with the 2016 crop of Raiders?
Berry ranks: No. 15 QB, No. 143 overall
Last season, Carr finished as the No. 13 quarterback — which makes you wonder why people are expecting him to regress this season? The offensive line is improved, he's a year older, Cooper should have less drops, he has more weapons in Clive Walford and Deandre Washington — so what gives?
The answer is a sluggish end to last season for Carr. In his final five games, Carr threw seven interceptions to just eight touchdowns and failed to complete more than 65% of his passes in any of those games. Of course, that means in the first 11 games, he threw 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions — so which Carr will we see this season?
I like Carr right where Berry has him ranked. I wouldn't jump too much higher to grab him, but would be thrilled with him in the 12th-14th round. The upside is there for a monster season, but keep in mind: this is a passing league, so even if he throws for 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards, that doesn't mean he'll be a top-10 fantasy QB necessarily.
Berry ranks: No. 20 RB, No. 56 overall
For the second year in a row, Murray enters the year as the 20th ranked running back. The reason Murray succeeded last year was simply because he stayed healthy. On a per-game or per-carry basis, Murray was far worse than the 20th-best running back last season, so if you're betting on another top 11 fantasy performance, you're probably betting on good health more than anything else.
This year, there's also far more competition than last. Roy Helu never panned out for the Raiders, leaving Murray all alone to shoulder the load. It's safe to say that won't be the case with rookie DeAndre Washington factoring into the run game at some point, as well as Jamize Olawale.
Ultimately, like Carr, Murray is fairly ranked — he's a lead back behind a great line, but how long he remains a stand-alone lead back is a major question mark.
Berry's ranks: No. 51 RB, No. 135 overall
You have to love fantasy football — where a rookie running back without a starting job falls one spot below Derek Carr in the rankings.
For all the reasons mentioned about Latavius Murray's stock being a bit overvalued, you're probably thinking I'm a big Washington believer. And, well...it's hard to say.
While someone will undoubtedly poach some points from Murray, I'm not convinced it's going to be Washington — at least this season. At this round in a fantasy draft, however, Washington is a nice upside pick — mostly because if he does get Murray's job, it's a cush one running behind that offensive line.
I'll say it again, though: watch out for Jamize Olawale. I don't know why, I just think people are downplaying his role in the offense.
Berry's ranks: No. 14 WR, No. 29 overall
Will I be called a hater two years in a row? Who knows — but the question remains with Cooper about whether or not he'll hold onto all the passes thrown his way. After finishing second in the league in drops last season, many wrote it off as rookie jitters and adjusting to the league — but even in the first week of the preseason (and trust me, I don't care about the preseason), Cooper dropped a pass he should have caught and failed to get his feet down on what should have been an easy catch.
Yes, it's the preseason, but at some point the guy has to start catching passes before we stop worrying that this is a problem. Cooper's talent is undeniable and his potential is through the roof — personally, however, I want a 100% sure-thing in round No. 3, and with Brandin Cooks and Keenan Allen occupying the same space, I'm hesitant to make a move for Cooper.
Another reason is...
Berry's ranks: No. 35 WR, No. 85 overall
If you put on a Raiders game for someone who knows nothing about the roster, and asked who the team's No. 1 receiver is, I'd bet that most folks would point not to Cooper, but to Crabtree. And that's not a diss on Cooper either — it's more a reflection of the depth and balance the Raiders have at the receiver position.
Last season Crabtree finished as a top-20 receiver (85 catches, 922 yards, 9 TD), and I really have no reason to believe he won't again. Teams will still key in on Cooper, leaving Crabtree the ability to get open easily — something we've seen ever since he signed a year ago.
If I'm starting a real team from scratch, I'm taking Cooper without a doubt, but if I'm building a fantasy team and Crabtree costs me a pick 4-5 rounds later? That's an easy decision for me.
Berry's ranks: No. 21 TE, No. 210 overall
If there's a sexy pick somewhere on the Raider roster for experts this year, it seems like Walford is the guy — and who can blame them? Every time this guy saw a pass his way last year it seemed like he was making a big play — the problem was, there just weren't very many passes coming his way.
So will that change this year? It remains to be seen, honestly, but the good news is that he has established himself as the team's No. 1 pass-catching tight end and a legitimate No. 3 option for Carr in the passing game. The problem is, even if Walford had the combined statistics of Lee Smith, Mychal Rivera and himself last season, he'd still have had just 680 passing yards and five touchdowns.
For me, this is a question less about whether Walford is talented, and more about how much of a role the tight end will play in this offense. So what's the verdict?
Honestly, I'm not waiting until pick No. 210 for Walford — I'm jumping all over this bandwagon around No. 180.
Berry's ranks: No. 10 DST, No. 151 overall
This must be a mirage — an Oakland Raiders defense with fantasy relevance? A defense not ranked 32nd for a third year in a row?
And they're totally worth it.
If you're in a league where sacks earn you points, this is the defense for you. Yes, the loss of Mario Edwards for a couple games would hurt, as will the Aldon Smith situation, but as long as Khalil Mack is rushing the quarterback, I'll take my chances.
Last season Mack had 15 sacks without any other legitimate pass rusher on the other side (save for Smith when he was active), and without anyone who could cover a receiver to save their life (save for David Amerson once he emerged). Add in two competent safeties (should off-set the loss of Charles Woodson), an elite corner, a fellow pass-rusher and more DUDES along the defensive line?
Yeah, I'm taking the Raiders D.