Could the Oakland Raiders actually make the playoffs in 2019? After a busy spending spree this offseason, that is obviously what the Raiders are hoping for.
Still, in an AFC West where they look like the third-best team and in a loaded conference overall, it’s going to be difficult for Oakland to go from winning four games to suddenly contending for a postseason berth.
But, much stranger things have happened in football, and there is no doubting that there is some talent here.
So, here are three players who need to take the next step in order for the Raiders to make some noise this coming season:
3. Darren Waller, Tight End
The Raiders were able to land big names like Antonio Brown, Trent Brown and Lamarcus Joyner this offseason, but in doing so, they had to say goodbye to tight end Jared Cook, who was Derek Carr’s favorite target during the second half of this past year.
That means Oakland is without a proven tight end, and it also means that Darren Waller is probably going to step in as the No. 1 guy at that position.
Waller joined the Raiders back in November, playing in four games and logging six catches for 75 yards.
Now, the 26-year-old will have the biggest opportunity of his career, as he barely saw any playing time during his first few seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
Waller doesn’t need to be Cook, but he at least needs to provide some sort of threat for defenses to pay attention to in the passing game.
2. Jalen Richard, Running Back
The Raiders thought they had shored up their ground game by signing Isaiah Crowell and drafting Josh Jacobs, but Crowell then tore his Achilles during offseason workouts, putting a significant strain in Oakland’s rushing attack.
Yes, the Raiders re-signed Doug Martin, but there are still a ton of question marks in Oakland’s backfield. That means fourth-year back Jalen Richard could have a fairly large role for the Raiders in 2019.
Richard had a great year in 2018 in terms of catching the ball, hauling in 68 receptions for 607 yards. However, he only saw limited action as a rusher, recording 259 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
The 25-year-old will likely see quite a bit more burn in 2019, and the good news is that he has been very efficient throughout his career, totaling 1,025 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per attempt.
Of course, things change when your role grows, so it will be interesting to see how Richard responds.
1. Derek Carr, Quarterback
Cop-out answer? Maybe, but it’s the truth.
Look: Derek Carr absolutely deserves a mulligan for his 2018 campaign. Yes, he was lackluster, but he was also playing behind a miserable offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 51 times, by far the highest total of his career.
Carr has shown in the past that he can be a really good NFL quarterback, so with an improved offensive line in front of him, he should be able to get back to how well he was playing in 2016, or at least be significantly better than he was this past season.
With additions like Brown and Tyrell Williams, Carr has plenty of weapons in the passing game, and with the other Brown (Trent Brown) helping protect him along the edge, he should have more time to throw.
Make no mistake: if the Raiders want to have a chance of making the playoffs in 2019, Carr needs to be much better.