It’s universal knowledge at this point that last season was another tough one for the Raiders. Despite hints at talent here, and there and some impressive showings against formidable opponents, Oakland was rarely able to put a full game together and come home with the win.
A central theme with last year’s team was the inability to convert solid drives into touchdowns. With a lack of communication, leadership, and cohesiveness on offense, Oakland more often than not relied on Sebastian Janikowski’s big foot to salvage points after getting within his 63 yard range.
The Raiders schedule this year is much more difficult. Using Football Outsiders’ 2013 weighted DVOA we can see this season’s opponents went up from an average DVOA of about 1.86% in 2013 to 10.07% in 2014. That’s equivalent to playing a playoff caliber team every single week. A sputtering offense just won’t cut it in 2014 if Oakland wants to improve above 4 wins.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie has been on an aggressive blitzkrieg this offseason to rectify just those offensive problems. With the additions of veterans Matt Schaub, James Jones, and Maurice Jones-Drew, McKeznzie brought veteran leadership and proven talent to the skill positions on the Raiders’ offense. However, the loss of Rashad Jennings will prove a blow to those efforts.
Question marks remain as to what production these players will actually bring to the offense as the season begins. Will they be more reminiscent of the Pro Bowl caliber seasons of past? Or will they be closer struggled performances of last season?
Luckily we have some numbers to help shape the conversation. Using DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) we can look at the change in overall value at each of the Raiders’ skill positions as compared to previous years and make an educated guess at where they might land.
Matt McGloin 2013: -11, 29th among QBs
Matt Schaub 2013: -123, 35th among QBs
Matt Schaub 2012: 697, 12th among QBs
Matt Schaub 2011: 701, 10th among QBs
The prevailing narrative concerns itself with the fear that Schaub might not be able to replicate his past success after last year’s implosion. The implication being that he dropped from some near-elite level and had a major mental breakdown from which he is unrecoverable.
Although the numbers, and the entire nation’s eyeballs, can obviously acknowledge the breakdown of last year, the years before it aren’t quite what the myth would imply. Schaub has never been elite. However, he has been very above average. Looking at the gap between his 2011-12 exploits and the numbers Matt McGloin brought to Oakland should make any Raiders’ fan smile.
Even assuming age, mental health, and learning a new system, it seems likely that Schaub will be far above McGloin even if he doesn’t reach somewhere near his previous heights. If he simply plays like a slightly below average starting QB it will be a huge upgrade.
Don’t forget who McGloin was throwing to as well. The Raiders have upgraded talent at receiver since last year. Although Schaub won’t have Andre Johnson to throw to, he will have more to work with than McGloin had last season. Which brings us to…
Denarius Moore 2013: 107, 43rd among WRs
Rod Streater 2013: 204, 23rd among WRs
James Jones 2013: 110, 42nd among WRs
James Jones 2012: 287, 13th among WRs
James Jones 2011: 234, 17th among WRs
Rod Streater proved himself a solid NFL receiver last year. But Denarius Moore was very inconsistent, dropping key passes throughout the season, and Jacoby Ford was basically non-existent, racking up only 13 catches in 14 games played. Mychal Rivera was a slightly below average starting TE, and Andre Holmes didn’t really exist outside of a few promising bright spots in the second half of the season.
Enter James Jones. This man has been solid his entire career. His numbers took a huge dip last season and they were still better than Denarius Moore – with Seneca Wallace and Raiders castoff Matt Flynn throwing to him. The dip in his production last season shouldn’t even count.
Is Jones at Andre Johnson level? No. Is Schaub at Aaron Rodgers level? No. Still, these two are perfect for each other. A strong, intelligent possession receiver veteran will do wonders for Schaub’s confidence and mood settling into the Raiders’ offense. Additionally, Matt Schaub will be a full order of magnitude better than the scrubs throwing to Jones most of last season. Look forward to Jones filling in an Anquan Boldin-type role on the offense, being both the possession work horse for Schaub and a mentor to the younger receivers on the squad.
Running Backs DYAR
Rashad Jennings 2013: 164, 7th among RBs
Darren McFadden 2013: -38, 40th among RBs
Darren McFadden 2012: -153, 42nd among RBs
Darren McFadden 2011: 87, 20th among RBs
Maurice Jones-Drew 2013: -49, 42nd among RBs
Maurice Jones-Drew 2012: 27, too small sample size for ranking
Maurice Jones-Drew 2011: 197, 3rd among RBs
Here’s where the story really gets interesting. Whereas the other two positions seem fairly straight forward, the RB situation has the biggest gap between floor and ceiling potential.
Losing Rashad Jennings in free agency was a BIG loss for the Raiders offense. When McFadden took his annual injury vacation, the offense relied heavily on Jennings – and he was dominant. Behind a very low ranked offensive line, he managed to bully opposing defenses and rack up numbers just outside of the top 5 running backs in the league.
McFadden and Jones-Drew will attempt to team up in 2014 to replace Jennings’ lost production. This will be no easy task. The durability issues should could be tempered with fewer touches, and the hope is that the result will be increased efficiency from both backs.
Looking at McFadden’s DYAR is tough. Nagging injuries, a weak offensive line, and changes in running schemes over the years haven’t helped him one bit. The numbers don’t seem to match what our eyes tell us about him when he’s actually on the field. He’s a dynamic but inconsistent running back that might take a loss 3 out of 5 times but the 2 other times he gives fans an exciting run. His numbers in 2011 feel more consistent with the athlete we’ve come to love over the years. However, he just hasn’t been that guy for a few years. With a last-chance contract and a RB competition in camp we can expect him to bring it this year, as long as his body will hold up.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a different story entirely. He has been an elite rusher for much of his career, gaining All-Pro awards in 2009, 2010, & 2011. He also led the league in rushing yards in 2011. Though the injury that took him out in 2012 was very clearly still working at him, his 2013 season wasn’t all that bad. His DYAR was low, and he proved that everyone doesn’t have Adrian Peterson’s Wolverine-like healing skills, but he still managed to put up 803 yards rushing. That’s more than any Oakland running back since Michael Bush put up 980 yards in 2011 for a DYAR of 65.
It’s easily possible that the shared ball experience could work wonders for these two running backs. Jones-Drew has the statistical history of an elite running back while McFadden has shown that he can be much better than he has been. We’ll get a glimpse of which way the running back coin flip is heading during training camp and preseason. One thing is for sure – it’s safe to say that the Raiders are in a much better position this year than they were last year.