We wrapped up the AFC East and now, we’ll look at the AFC West. I truly believe this is the best division in all of football from a competitive standpoint. We’ll kick it off with the “Las Vegas” Oakland Raiders.
For a team that was once the laughing stock of the NFL, even more so than the Browns, the Raiders have had a tremendous splurge of young talent in the last several drafts, as well as spending the right money on free agents. First and foremost, quarterback Derek Carr has supplanted himself as one of the top 10 guys in the league. He has a great arm with superb accuracy and is a phenomenal leader on and off the field. He has a great cast of weapons with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver and newly added free agent tight end Jared Cook. The Raiders offense did welcome Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement to join his hometown team. Lynch might be that final piece for Oakland, as he gives them a consistent power runner who can take pressure off of the passing game. It helps too that Oakland has one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
The Oakland defense is also a huge strength. The pass rush is led by Khalil Mack, one of the game’s best young edge rushers. Mack is consistently in the defensive player of the year talk. The Raiders also have a great, young safety in Karl Joseph who the team selected a year ago. Joseph is solid in coverage and can slide down into the box to take away the impending run. It’s also worth noting the Raiders added Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley in this year’s draft. Conley had some red flags with a rape allegation in his name which caused him to slip. Nothing has come of it and now, Oakland has one of the draft’s best cornerback prospects, something that immediately upgrades their secondary.
The only real weakness Oakland has is their secondary but they did a fine job adding to it in the draft. Conley and rookie safety Obi Melifonwu bring a dynamic skill set the Raiders desperately needed to sure up their secondary, which was a weak spot for the team last year. Health too will be a key for the Raiders to continue their climb in the AFC title picture, as some injuries, most notably Derek Carr’s leg injury, halted any chance of making noise in the playoffs last season.
Players To Look Out For:
First, above all, will be Marshawn Lynch. Reports indicate that Lynch is in fantastic shape, maybe even better than in his Seattle days which would be amazing news for the Raiders. Latavius Murray was a solid runner for the team last season but he split time with younger backs the Raiders had drafted. Murray’s skill-set compared to Lynch’s vary in a lot of ways. Lynch is your big bruiser, between the guards runner who can win you a close game just by taking carry after carry. On defense, I really am curious to see defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Edwards Jr. had some injury concerns last year, but he is a guy who could really add a dynamic presence to the Oakland pass rush, especially playing opposite someone like Khalil Mack who demands double teams regularly.
Oakland went from being dismal to just being a fun team to watch to, now, a legitimate force in the AFC. They have stars everywhere on their roster and head coach Jack Del Rio is one of the best leaders and overall coaches in the game. Even though they play in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, providing they stay healthy, Oakland is absolutely worthy of meeting up with the Patriots in an AFC title game. 2016 was a silver lining for the Silver and Black and 2017 is the year they can finally assert themselves as a powerhouse.
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