The Raiders had one of the NFL’s worst records last year, going 4-12 in Jon Gruden’s return to coaching. The 2018 campaign was marred by injuries as well as an almost total teardown of the roster. However, there’s plenty of optimism going around Raider Nation for the 2019 season, and those good vibes may be well-placed. Here are a few reasons that the Raiders might just be the most improved team in the league this coming year.
1) Derek Carr will be in his second season in Jon Gruden’s system
Jon Gruden’s offensive system is notoriously complicated, and it must also be said that due to how bad the Raiders have been during Carr’s tenure he’s basically never been in the same offensive system for more than one season at a time. But this will be Carr’s second season with Gruden, and he’ll have a much better grasp of the offense and how to be successful in it. Carr showed improvement and a better grasp of the system near the end of last year, and that should continue into 2019.
2) The Raiders will have better offensive weapons than they’ve had since their Super Bowl run
Oakland’s top three receivers in the coming season will be Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and JJ Nelson. Brown is so good that, even if it were him and a pair of traffic cones at receiver, that group would be better than the trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts (who is inexplicably still on the team as of this writing). Carr and Brown are already working out together, getting their timing down. That spells disaster for AFC defenses this coming season.
3) Despite everything going wrong, the Raiders went 3-4 over their last 7 games in 2018
It would have been easy for the Raiders to pack it up after the 49ers and Chargers games, in which Oakland scored a total of nine points. But that’s not what happened. The Raiders went down to Arizona and won, and they also soundly defeated Pittsburgh and Denver. At the end of the year, Oakland was playing like a 7-9 team, rather than a 4-12 team. They bought into Gruden’s coaching and system and played with heart. That ascent should continue with an improved roster.
4) Oakland has four draft picks in the top 35
Remember that roster teardown I mentioned before? It wasn’t for nothing. Not only did it create a tremendous amount of cap space, it also netted the Raiders three extra first-rounders in the next two drafts. As you all know, the Raiders have three first rounders this year in one of the deepest defensive drafts in recent memory. There are also some quarterback-needy teams who might want to trade up, giving Oakland a chance at even more picks with which to rebuild their roster. The possibilities are endless, but in this Draft, everything’s coming up Milhouse.
5) The front office has improved dramatically
It was pretty clear last year that former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden had some tension, and the power struggle between the two led to McKenzie’s dismissal. But the Raiders’ hire of Mike Mayock as GM has looked like a masterstroke so far. Gruden and Mayock are old friends who work extremely well together, and every free-agent move so far has addressed and upgraded a huge need on the Raiders’ roster. Mayock has the connections and the tenacity to make a deal happen when he wants it, as shown by his dogged pursuit of Antonio Brown.
The draft will be the real test of Mayock and Gruden’s leadership. McKenzie was known for some highly questionable picks, especially in the second round. Will Mayock make the right moves? If he does, the Raiders could make a playoff push in 2019 and be set up as serious championship contenders in Las Vegas.
There are some other teams that could also show plenty of improvement next year. The Jets’ roster will be better. The Browns have basically already won their division. The 49ers hope to have Jimmy G under center for a full year, but who is he going to throw to besides George Kittle? Those teams could all be better, but there is no team which has a very real chance to go from 4-12 to a playoff push like the Raiders, provided they get some true ballers in the upcoming Draft.