The most recent installment of their Summer of Team Previews over at the Fantasy Fullback Dive (subscribe on iTunes here and Stitcher here) took a look at the Oakland Raiders, with some help from The Press Democrat’s Grant Cohn. Here’s the episode. The Raiders have a great deal of weapons that will make or break fantasy leagues this year, from Marshawn Lynch to Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. And, of course, you’ve got the highest paid player in the league in Derek Carr. So what should we expect out of the Raiders superstars in 2017? Let’s see what our expert had to say.
1. Marshawn Lynch looks fresh and rested after a full year off
It took a bit to figure out the logistics, but after a full year off from football, Beast Mode is back and fulfilling lead back duties for the Raiders. Lynch turned 31 in April, but would theoretically have a bit less wear and tear on his body that your typical 31-year-old back due to last year’s psuedo-retirement. He also now links up with one of the most talented offensive units in football, which should give him ample opportunity to produce and make an impact. So really — how’s he look?
“He looks fresh. This offseason it came down to them either signing Lynch or Adrian Peterson, and I thought Peterson would’ve been a good signing but Lynch is definitely better for a few reasons. He’s younger, he’s not coming off a knee injury, and he’s fresh. I think he’s going to be a big, big addition for the Raiders this year. He’s the best addition of this offseason, clearly.”
When you listen to Grant Cohn talk about Lynch in this interview, you’ll hear that word a lot — “fresh.” We use that a lot in these terms, like how Tom Brady was “fresh” after last year’s 4-game suspension. It’s pretty self explanatory, I guess. When food’s fresh, it tastes good. When your breath is fresh, people aren’t secretly counting down the seconds so they can run away and actually breathe again. And in this case, Lynch needed a little time to freshen up his body. As Cohn indicated later on, Lynch was really worn down at the end of his time in Seattle. Lynch made the Pro Bowl every year from 2011-2014, but averaged over 295 attempts per season in those years. And after a 2015 season that featured a sports hernia surgery and not a lot of success on the field, Lynch needed some time off to let his body recover and bounce back. He’s had that time now, and it only makes us more confident that Beast Mode will be making his triumphant return to the stage in 2017.
2. Michael Crabtree may have outscored Amari Cooper in 2016, but don’t expect that to repeat
“[Crabtree] is in his 30s, and while he’s a good player, he really was gassed at the end of the year, and he was terrible in that playoff game. I believe that… they’re going to have to not only throw the ball to him less, but play him less. He’s going to have to see less snaps. So all that to me means that, yes, Cooper will be the #1 receiver and it won’t be Crabtree.”
With 6 more catches and 3 more TDs on 13 more targets, Michael Crabtree narrowly topped his teammate Amari Cooper in fantasy scoring last season. As Cohn pointed out in the interview, former Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave tended to only use Cooper in early downs, leaving 3rd down and red zone receptions mainly to Crabtree. New OC Todd Downing, however, will likely not possess this tendency and will look to spread the ball evenly on all downs, fully utilizing the multitude of weapons he has on his offense. This, coupled with Cooper’s natural growth as a 3rd-year receiver and Crabtree’s natural decline as a receiver who turns 30 in September, seems to indicate a breakout year on the horizon for Amari Cooper. If Carr can get him the ball and he can make the most of his opportunities, Cooper could make his #25 ADP look silly.
3. The sky is the limit for Derek Carr
The Raiders made headlines this summer when they inked Derek Carr to a 5 year, $125 million extension that made him the highest paid player in the NFL based on average annual salary. All Carr had to do to secure that payday was have a near-MVP season, completing 64% of his passes and throwing for just under 4,000 yards, 28 TDs, and just 6 INTs. As great as he was last season, his lofty salary — along with missing the franchise’s first playoff game since Super Bowl 37 — will leave Raiders fans wanting even more out of their 4th-year QB in 2017. Luckily, Cohn doesn’t see much of a problem with that.
“He clearly has the talent to do anything. The question with him isn’t talent — where he can take the next step is his decision making. A lot of times he trusts his arm so much, and he trusts his receivers, that he’ll throw a lot of 50/50 balls. He’ll just throw it up. And he needs to get past that, and I think he will.”
We here at the RSJ are a little higher on Carr than most — he’s The Wolf’s QB5 right now, compared to 10 on ESPN and 17 (?!) on Yahoo — and for good reason. He was arguably the MVP last year before his late-season injury, and this year’s offensive unit is even more talented than last year’s. We certainly expect big things from Carr this season, but if he doesn’t deliver, don’t expect Raiders fans to take it easy on him.
4. Jared Cook could finally fulfill his potential
“You talk about [Cook] being a ‘mismatch nightmare’… He’s not really a mismatch nightmare against safeties. But in this particular offense, the safeties are more concerned with the wide receivers. So Cook will get a lot of matchups against linebackers, and in that context, he is a mismatch nightmare. He’ll be 1 on 1 against linebackers, and the Raiders are going to like that matchup. So the way I see it is he’s their de facto number 3 receiver.”
Currently the Wolf’s TE15 for 2017, Jared Cook has got something to prove this year. Since his release from the Titans in 2012 after he demanded to be franchise tagged as a WR and not TE, he’s been a guy that’s had flashes of potential mixed with long stretches of mediocrity. Last season with Green Bay was more of the same, as he finished with just 377 yards on 30 receptions but went off in the team’s playoff run, racking up 229 yards and 2 TDs in the team’s 3-game run to the NFC title game.
Cook’s skill set presents a rare combination of size (6’5″, 254 lb.) and speed (4.50 40-yard dash) that should lead to some NFL success, although this has yet to be the case. He’s topped 675 receiving yards just once in his career, way back in 2011, and has just 4 receiving touchdowns in the last 3 seasons. Cohn thinks a change of scenery in Oakland will be good for Cook, allowing him to sneak through defenses that are worried about Lynch, Crabtree, and Cooper, but it still remains to be seen if Jared Cook can become a legit fantasy tight end, or just a week-to-week filler option.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson could have many roles in Oakland’s offense
Speaking of guys that have shown us flashes of talent but generally disappointed, Cordarrelle Patterson fled Minnesota this offseason and inked a 2 year, $8.5 million deal in Oakland. Patterson’s contributions for the Vikings mainly centered around special teams — he’s never topped 50 receptions in a season — and that will likely be his main role in Oakland as well. But our expert is confident that he’ll find the field in other ways.
“They definitely want to use him not just as a special teams weapon. They want to establish him as a weapon on the offense, and not just on end arounds and fly sweeps and reverses. They’re also going to use him in screens, and quick throws down the line of scrimmage where he can become sort of a punt returner on offense… He’s going to let Crabtree sit on the bench and conserve himself and stay fresh throughout the season… He is a step down from Crabtree, but cornerbacks can’t just fall asleep on Patterson, because he’ll run right by them.”
So yes, Patterson will be mainly used in the return man role where he’s thrived thus far in his career, making the Pro Bowl twice in 4 seasons. But the Raiders will certainly try to get creative and use Patterson in ways that he can catch the defense on their toes and break off for a big play when they need one. After all, if you’ve got a guy who’s 6’2″ and runs a sub-4.5 40, aren’t you going to at least try to get him going?
Did I miss anything from our interview? Do you disagree with our experts’ opinions? Find me on Twitter @seankeegs16 and keep an eye out for our next interview and more fantasy-relevant takeaways as we approach the 2017 NFL season.