This past week has been pretty busy for me with the East-West Shrine Bowl going on all weekend and leaking into Monday and Tuesday, and of course, keeping tabs on all the news surrounding the Las Vegas Raiders. Between watching practice and staying on top of my NFL Draft evaluations, to Tom Brady retiring and Derek Carr making the Pro Bowl, I’ve been running a million miles a minute and eventually ran out of gas.
Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t have the energy to record my regular Holder’s Handful podcast.
With that, let’s get to it!
Question: Who are your top 3 players that have disappointed and top 3 surprises from this past season?
Answer: I’ll stay brief with this one as it could be an entire article in itself.
Chandler Jones — The sack numbers were obviously much lower than expected and Jones also struggled to get pressure consistently. But what might have been the most concerning part of his season is it just didn’t look like he had the same juice he’s had in the past, which isn’t a good sign for someone who turns 33 later this month.
Tre’von Moehrig — I think just about everyone was disappointed with Moehrig this year. Patrick Graham’s defense was supposed to show off his versatility but it may have just highlighted his flaws.
Derek Carr — This one seems pretty obvious. The Raiders brought in his best friend and arguably the best wide receiver in the game, and Carr regressed. I thought this could have been a career year for Carr and it ended up being a career-worst.
Jermaine Eluemunor — Admittedly, I had kind of written off Eluemunor as a tackle option after he got benched in 2021. However, he ended up being really strong in pass protection and could get a contract extension to be the Raiders’ starting right tackle next season.
Mack Hollins — Heading into the season, I honestly expected more from Keelan Cole than I did from Hollins. Boy was I wrong. His 57 receptions were the most he’s had in a single season by over 40, he set a personal best for yards by over 450 and tied his career-high touchdown mark with four.
Andrew Billings — I was worried when Billings was listed as a starter heading into the season because he had barely played in the two prior seasons. However, he ended up being the team’s best defensive tackle and second-best defensive lineman behind Maxx Crosby.
Q: Any Standouts and/or under-the-radar players you saw at the Shrine Bowl this week that may be good picks for the Raiders?
A: I hopped on the Morning Tailgate with Clay Baker and Unnecessary Roughness with Q — both aired on Raider Nation Radio — to go over a few guys who stood out. So check out those podcasts (both hyperlinked) to get a few names, and I’ll add a couple more here that I didn’t talk about.
Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia — Some of you might remember Stills’ brother, Darius, who was in Las Vegas for training camp a couple of years ago. Like big bro, Dante is a defensive tackle but he has a completely different playing style. He’s much quicker and was crushing it in the one-on-ones as both a pass-rusher and run defender.
Habakkuk Baldando, DL, Pittsburgh — Heading into the week, I liked Baldando as a run defender but had questions about his pass rush skills. He erased my doubts within his first two reps as a rusher, winning with an outside move on the first one and an inside move on the second. He can play multiple spots on the defensive line and could be a good early Day 3 target.
Drake Thomas, LB, NC State — It’s easy to look past Thomas — literally and figuratively — because of his size as a sub-six-foot linebacker, but he commanded everyone’s attention on the first two days of practice. He made a few nice plays in coverage that really stood out in what was an underwhelming linebacker group overall.
Q: Thoughts on going Vet/rookie (if rookie who are your choices?) for the upcoming season?
A: With how the free agent market for quarterbacks is looking, I’m in favor of this strategy. If the Raiders can land someone like Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett on the open market, then drafting a quarterback and having the rookie sit for a year or two is definitely in play.
One problem is that’s basically the situation Garoppolo is trying to get out of in San Francisco, so I’d imagine he wouldn’t be on board with that strategy. I’d figure he’d want to sign to a team that’s more committed to him being the long-term solution versus being another stop-gap or even taking on that risk.
Right now, if I had to rank the top four quarterbacks in the draft, I’d go with Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, (drop off) Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. Young or Stroud could easily win the job in training camp, and I think Richardson is more of a one- to two-year project and would fit this role perfectly. To be honest, I’m not very high on Levis at the moment.
Q: Who is the best defensive free agent available for the Raiders to potentially grab?
A: My initial reaction was Javon Hargrave, defensive tackle from the Philadelphia Eagles, but Hargrave turns 30 next week and I worry that his pass rush numbers over the last couple of years are inflated by the plethora of pass-rushers the Eagles have.
Instead, I’ll go with Washington Commanders’ DT, Daron Payne. Yes, Payne also has had the benefit of playing with other talented defensive linemen — most notably, Johnathan Allen — but at least he’ll only be 26 years old next season. If I’m going to take a gamble on an interior rusher, I’ll take my chances with the younger one.
Q: With Josh McDaniels taking this roster to a 6-11 record, what would Doug Pederson or Mike McDaniel have taken this roster to in W-L terms? Jealous of the teams with these coaches.
A: Yes, it’s revisionist history, but Pederson was my top choice last offseason. So, I definitely think the Raiders would have been better off with him. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was more interested in molding a young quarterback like Trevor Lawrence versus working with an established veteran like Carr, so there might not have been mutual interest.
As far as McDaniel (no ‘s’) goes, I was honestly surprised with how well the Miami Dolphins played this year. Given that, I can’t confidently say Las Vegas would have been much better without leaning on the cop-out of using the results of this past season.
All of this being said and as frustrating as this past year was, the more rational part of my brain says to be patient and give McDaniels (‘s’ included) another year before calling for his job. I know I’ve fallen into that trap over the last few months but let’s let cooler heads prevail for the time being.
He does have to get the quarterback situation right and if the team isn’t at least a playoff contender next season, go ahead and bring those pitchforks out.
Q: After decades of head-scratching draft picks and FA signings, will the new regime avoid being a laughing stock and start building something respectable this offseason?
A: I put these two questions together since it’s pretty much the same answer. I get it, confidence level is low in the new regime after an abysmal season — I’m right there with ya — but time will tell all. I know everyone’s tired of hearing “be patient”, however, let’s see what they do with 11 draft picks and a lot of cap space. If 2023 resembles 2022 with all of those resources, unleash those angry tweets!
Q: I know he said he still wants to be Raider, but with Tom Brady off the table and assuming we don’t get Aaron Rodgers, is Davante Adams gone?
A: Tricky situation. I think part of the reason Adams wanted out of Green Bay is he had no interest in breaking in Jordan Love while he enters his 30s. Adams wants a Super Bowl ring and, obviously, who’s under center is a big factor in that.
I don’t think his desire to be a Raider is necessarily rooted in who the organization decides to bring in, but more about how they go about making a decision. If they involve him in the discussions and make him feel like his opinion on the matter is valued, I think Davante will want to stay in the silver and black. Whether that be a rookie, his former teammate or another veteran.
Adams hinted at wanting to be part of the discussion and if Dave Ziegler and McDaniels are smart, they’ll make sure the superstar wide receiver who they gave up quite a bit to get last offseason is at least being heard.
Q: Have you heard anything about Champ Kelly? I know he was getting GM interviews and got in for assistant general manager for the Raiders. Patrick Graham mentioning him at the senior bowl is the first time I’ve really heard his name called.
A: Haven’t heard much, but Kelly isn’t going anywhere, at least this offseason. The round of GM hires has already passed and he wasn’t even listed in NFL.com’s tracker as someone who got an interview elsewhere. Las Vegas needs to win more if he’s going to get a promotion somewhere else.