It feels like not too long ago the Raiders were a punchline in the NFL. No one took them seriously and it felt rightfully so during much of the new millennium when they could hardly even produce a winning record for the last near decade and a half. Now the tides have shifted in Raider Nation as the team has not only improved, but also looks to become an actual favorite to win their division and have the potential to be a contender. Long gone are the days of the massive coaching carousel that saw the likes of Art Shell, Norv Turner, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, and Dennis Allen. Say goodbye to the years of heartache of abysmal quarterback talents of Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, and Jamarcus Russell taking snaps from under center. Al Davis can smile from up above as he watches his team play better than at any point of his latter years, and be proud to see his son [Mark] taking over the organization in the way that it is meant to be run.
The moment the Raiders began improving upon themselves was in the 2014 NFL Draft with their first three selections: Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson. These three are the building blocks to helping this Raiders team become the team that they are today. Their starting season in 2014 didn’t help with the team in terms of getting themselves a better win total during the regular season as they achieved another dismal 3-13 record, but these three in their rookie seasons were the biggest bright spots to elevating and bringing optimism into the Oakland Coliseum and within the Raiders organization.
The next step they took was with the hiring of head coach Jack Del Rio, as well as helping revamp the rest of the team’s coaching staff with defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. In free agency they added strong contributors in Michael Crabtree, Rodney Hudson, Curtis Lofton, Charles Woodson, and Aldon Smith. Their fortune would continue as the 2015 NFL Draft would bring them pieces that would help Derek Carr grow as a quarterback with the selections of both Amari Cooper and Clive Walford. Suddenly, this team is looking as if it’s coming together. When last season began, many had their own skeptical beliefs as to how the season would go. There was a constant feel through Raider Nation of, “This is our year!” But with many, the notion was still the same, as people would constantly answer back, “Same old Raiders…” Despite the team going 7-9 during the regular season they still produced quality wins over the Jets (spearheaded by a 333 yard, four touchdown performance by Carr), the Broncos (featuring a five sack performance from Khalil Mack and snapped an eight game losing streak to Denver), and a sweep of the Chargers (for the first time since 2010) that showed serious signs of potential for the team moving forward.
The fans of the Raiders are now also in anticipation for the upcoming season and what’s in store for the Raiders. They’ve already made serious moves in the offseason with the signings of many key free agents:
- Sean Smith, to help with the assist with the cornerback position that has been a question mark since the departure of Nnamdi Asomugha.
- Bruce Irvin, who should provide added pass rushing and coverage specialty as he can assist Khalil Mack while Aldon Smith serves his suspension.
- Kelechi Osemele, who provides added interior protection for Derek Carr and will help the run game improve.
- Reggie Nelson, who will provide added coverage help on the back end of the defense at the safety position.
Then they had arguably the best draft in the league as they helped bolster their defense even further with the following players:
- West Virginia standout Karl Joseph, who will be an incredible replacement for the future hall of famer: Charles Woodson.
- Pass rushers Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun, who (much like Bruce Irvin) will assist heavily at getting to opposing quarterbacks.
- Linebacker Cory James, to provide depth at the middle linebacker position for players Lofton and former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.
- As well as bringing in offensive depth with QB Connor Cook, RB DeAndre Washington, and offensive guard Vadal Alexander.
They have all of the tools and the right ingredients to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they went to the Super Bowl. Expect this team to keep getting better and to be favorites to win the AFC West and to make the playoffs.