The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Start date: July 24 for rookies; July 28 for veterans
Location: Napa, Calif.
1. What does Marshawn Lynch have left in the tank?
Most people think of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree when they think of the high-powered Raiders offense. What they don’t realize is that 32 percent of the offense’s yards came on the ground, 11th-most in the league. So the Raiders want to establish the run at the very least, and that onus will fall on Marshawn Lynch. The un-retired Beast Mode is back in the Bay Area where he grew up and, hopefully for Raiders faithful, motivated. Lynch didn’t play in 2016, and he struggled in 2015, tying a career low at 3.8 yards per carry. If Lynch is in shape and back to his old self, he can be an important weapon for 15 or so carries per game. If he’s not, we’ll learn a lot about Oakland’s young backups, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, quickly.
2. Who steps up along the defensive line?
Khalil Mack is an absolutely dominant force. But he needs help for this team to take the next step defensively. The Raiders were mediocre at best against the run, and that was due in large part to poor play up the middle. Dan Williams is a goner after a disappointing 2016. Justin Ellis has the size (331 pounds) and talent to patch up the holes, but he needs to perform better. Darius Latham will be looked to step up in his second year, and rookie Eddie Vanderdoes could contribute as a rotational player in the middle as well. But perhaps no bounce-back year is more important than that of Mario Edwards. The former Florida State star showed real promise as a rookie but proceeded to play in just two games in 2016. He has to hold up in 2017 because his backup, Jihad Ward, looked lost last year as his replacement.
3. How soon (and how much) can the top two draft picks help an inconsistent secondary?
The Raiders allowed 12.5 yards per completion last year, dead last in the NFL. Sean Smith remained very solid at one outside spot. But David Amerson, who played the best football of his career for the Silver and Black in 2015, regressed sharply in 2016. Quarterbacks posted a 102.2 rating when targeting him, a 35-point increase from 2015. In turn, the team drafted the talented Gareon Conley with their first pick amid off-field issues. Then they drafted the versatile Obi Melifonwu with their second pick. Conley is expected to slide into the slot corner position, and Melifonwu can back up either safety spots. Both are expected to contribute immediately. If they can, this draft is a huge win for Oakland. If they can’t, the Raiders will go into the regular season scrambling on the back end. For a team that wants to contend for a title, that’s never a good sign.
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