5. Right tackle
I am in the belief that the Raiders need to find two offensive tackles this offseason, not just one. Nothing against Donald Penn, who is phenomenal, but it would be wise to find and begin grooming the left tackle of the future.
The immediate need, however, is at right tackle.
Menelik Watson will likely be gone and Austin Howard is a decent backup at best. Denver Kirkland and Vadal Alexander both impressed, but neither seems ready to take the reigns just yet.
One intriguing option is Rick Wagner, offensive tackle of the Baltimore Ravens.
Sean Smith and David Amerson manned the corners in 2016, unfortunately without much success. But much of that was due to Norton’s poor scheme.
Smith was expected to be a shutdown corner, like he was in Kansas City, most of the time he was playing far from the line of scrimmage. Smith is not the fastest guy around, so he needs to jam opposing receivers at the line to force them to change their routes or at least delay the play. But this is on the scheme, not on the player.
The result was that Smith was constantly beat by speedy receivers. Again due to the scheme, many times the Raiders played with a single high safety and we all know Nelson does not have the legs or the instincts to cover the entire field. The potential for surrendering a big play was always there, and even Del Rio acknowledged that once the season was over.
In general, Amerson played better than Smith and finished among the league leaders in pass breakups. But even so, his performance did not resemble what he did in 2015. The scheme made him play away from the line of scrimmage as well, but most of the allowed receptions were his fault or on the lack of safety help.
As bad as this sounds, with Norton still running the defense, the scheme is not likely to change. If this proves to be true, the Raiders need to find faster cornerbacks, or else the results in 2017 will be more of the same.
Turning to the safeties, Joseph will continue to start, and only will get better. When he was on the field, the defense as a whole played a lot better, particularly against tight ends, which have been a nightmare for a couple of years now.
But all in all, Nelson was underwhelming. One thing I noticed with Nelson was that he was so focused on making a play on the ball, he often did not have the speed needed to get there, and he would get burned as a result. Many big plays could have been avoided if he didn’t try to guess throws and stayed back.
Nobody knows if Nelson’s desperation for interceptions was on him or if the coaches just didn’t keep him on a short leash. My bet is he decided by himself to go rogue every now and then. If there are no scheme changes, the Raiders need another safety to replace Nelson.
Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Perry Riley, Tyrell Adams, Daren Bates, James Cowser, Cory James, Neiron Ball, Shilique Calhoun and Ben Heeney. This is the Raiders linebacker corps. Except for Irvin, not a very enticing group.
Half of those guys primarily play on special teams, particularly Adams, Bates, Cowser and James, with the last two playing occasional snaps on defense. Ball, Calhoun and Heeney ended up on injured reserve. So at this very moment, the only healthy starting linebackers that actually play on defense are Irvin, Smith and Riley.
Ball showed some promise before the injuries, but so far Calhoun and Heeney face palmed. Calhoun was a rookie, so we can cut him some slack, but Heeney started the year as the defensive player with a microphone in their helmet and lost that responsibility just as quickly as he got it.
This unit needs improvement ASAP, especially at middle linebacker.
As mentioned above, if Reggie McKenzie manages to improve the defensive line, the linebackers’ jobs will become a bit easier. But a lackluster defensive line does not justify the hideous play by Malcolm Smith, for example.
Riley surprised as a free agent signed during the season, but he is not turning any heads. Malcolm is a total liability against the run game and even more of a liability in coverage. He is slow, does not have a good range, lacks good instincts and is also a poor tackler. I know that he was once the MVP of a Super Bowl, but apparently Smith is purely a scheme player and as I’ve said over and over again, the Raiders do not have the personnel to mimic the Seahawks defense.
Frankly, in the absence of a really good middle linebacker, Riley is still serviceable and should be re-signed to a team friendly deal. Smith, who is also a free agent, needs to be released.
On the outside, Irvin did well in his first year on the job, but he needs help.Cowser and James might step up, but I would not count on that. And the status of Aldon Smith seems to be once again up in the air, so McKenzie might have to find help via either or both free agency and the draft.