Grading The 2016 Free Agent Class of the Oakland Raiders

Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) celebrates his first quarter touchdown with guard Kelechi Osemele (70) against Houston Texans safety Quintin Demps (27) in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) celebrates his first quarter touchdown with guard Kelechi Osemele (70) against Houston Texans safety Quintin Demps (27) in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Analysis and grades for the entire 2016 free agent class signed by Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders.

2016 was a year to remember for the Oakland Raiders, as well as for its fans. One of the driving forces behind the Raiders 12-4 season was the free agent class Reggie McKenzie put together in the previous offseason.

That free agent class consisted of Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, Kelechi Osemele, and Reggie Nelson.

All of these players contributed in their own specific ways. While some greatly impressed and nearly exceeded expectations, there was also some disappointment along the way.

Here are grades for the entire Raiders 2016 free agent class.

Kelechi Osemele

People call him K.O., and not only did he live up to the name, but he grew to be one of the most vital pieces on the entire roster.

After inking a new five-year, $58 million deal that made him the NFL’s highest paid guard, Kelechi Osemele was expected to bring toughness, and a nastiness to the rest of the offensive line. He accomplished both of those feats, and was the anchor behind the one of the best units in the entire NFL.

After being ranked near the bottom in rushing in 2015, inserting Osemele into the offensive line helped the Raiders rushing attack jump all the way up to 6th in the NFL in 2016, at just over 120 yards per game.

This level of improvement made Oakland’s offense more balanced, efficient and dynamic, all of which significantly helped Derek Carr grow as a quarterback. Speaking of quarterbacks, Osemele was a big part in the offensive line allowing an NFL low 18 sacks.

After the season concluded, Osemele was named to his first career Pro Bowl, and was also named as a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career. Throughout the year, Osemele kept reminding Raider Nation that he was worth every penny.

This was a slam dunk signing by Reggie McKenzie, and I would expect Osemele to only get better in the coming years.

Below is a clip of K.O. wreaking havoc on opposing players.

Grade: A+

Bruce Irvin

After being marginalized in Seattle, Bruce Irvin was looking for a bigger role elsewhere, and felt that Oakland was going to be able to fulfill that need.

Irvin went on to sign a four-year, $37 million contract with the Raiders. Shortly after signing, Irvin immediately began recruiting other free agents, and eventually adopted the nickname “Baby Reggie”. This quickly made him a fan favorite, and he carried that momentum all the way to the beginning of the season.

On the season, Irvin racked up a career high 57 tackles, 7 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 1 pass defensed. He proved to the be the perfect bookend to Khalil Mack, which in turn helped Mack blossom into the Defensive Player of the Year.

Irvin made it known he wanted to be a double-digit sack guy, but unfortunately that did not work out. There was a stretch in which he went five straight games without a sack. Nonetheless, Irvin made up for the lack of sacks with providing a consistent pass rush, as well as helping force a ton of turnovers.

From Week 11 to Week 15, Irvin went on the best stretch of his entire career. In that time period, he accumulated 28 tackles and 5 sacks.

Grade: B

Reggie Nelson

After getting his first ever Pro Bowl nod in 2015, Reggie Nelson was unable to re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals, which effectively made him a free agent.

Nelson spent the first few weeks of free agency with few suitors, until Reggie McKenzie reached out and signed the veteran safety to a two-year, $8.5 million deal. Although the Raiders desperately needed a free safety, Nelson was obviously not the Raiders’ first pick, but he would most likely be a stop-gap option for the time being.

Nelson was 32 going on 33 years of age going into the 2016 season, so it hard to say whether or not he was going to be the same player that he was in Cincinnati. After the first few weeks of the season, it was clear that Nelson had lost a step or two.

For the season, Reggie totaled 65 tackles, led the Raiders with 5 interceptions, and also 12 passes defensed. On paper, that looks like a great season for someone who is 33 years old, but the stats do somewhat lie in this case.

Nelson was often accused of free roaming as a single-high safety, which led to broken coverages and huge plays by the opposing teams. At times, Nelson also took poor angles when in coverage, and more often than not, looked incredibly slow and flat-footed.

Despite all of that, Reggie was still able to make the Pro Bowl this past season. How he got the nod is beyond me, but I am sure Raiders fans will take it.

Maybe you can expect a better 2017 season out of Nelson, but if the Raiders are smart, they’ll be looking for his replacement sooner rather than later.

Grade: C

Sean Smith

Sean Smith is a player that most of Raider Nation was familiar with prior to his signing with the Raiders. He had spent the previous three seasons as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, and was considered one of the better young cornerbacks in the league.

Smith had a reputation of being a physical corner considering he was listed at 6’3″ 220 lbs. This seemed like the perfect fit, coupled with the fact that Pro Football Focus had Smith as the best free agent cornerback available.

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After a bidding war between the Chiefs and the Raiders, Smith would eventually sign a four-year, $38 million deal with Oakland. This seemed a bit pricey at the time if you consider that Smith was 29 years old when he signed this deal.

Smith was expected to be the teams shutdown corner, and therefore had high expectations going into 2016, and man, did he let everyone down. Not only was Smith’s play atrocious, he was arguably the biggest disappointment on the entire Raiders roster.

The majority of the time, Smith looked old and slow, and when he didn’t look slow, he looked absolutely lost.

Smith was playing so bad that at one point he was benched IN FAVOR OF D.J. HAYDEN.

For the season, Smith totaled 40 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 11 passes defensed. There was one stat though that stood out from the rest, that you can see below.

If you have a chance, do yourself a favor and go read our very own Nick Hjetness’ piece on the Oakland Raiders Ultimate Offseason Primer. You will see that Sean Smith is one of the players that McKenzie can possibly cut and take $0 hit in dead money, according to Spotrac.

"“The first and most obvious candidate is Sean Smith. There is conflicting information out there on whether or not the Raiders would take a dead money hit if Smith is cut — Over The Cap says $4.25M in dead money while Spotrac says none. But even if the dead money hit is $0, McKenzie might be inclined to give him another chance, perhaps with just a restructuring of his contract.”"

Next: Raiders Should Re-Sign Andre Holmes

Releasing Smith is something that should be considered if there is in fact no dead money hit, as this year’s draft class is loaded with cornerbacks. Now, I am sure we all want to see Smith improve, but if he sticks around and does not take a step forward in 2017, you can expect him to be searching for employment elsewhere.

Grade: D-