Raiders talent gap no longer an excuse

The time for excuses are over. The Raiders have all the talent they need to compete.

New offensive guard Kelechi Osemele said:

“Regardless of what goes on from here on out, we definitely have more than enough pieces to where there can be no more excuses as far as there being a gap. We definitely have what we need. We just need to put it together, build chemistry and go out there and execute on Sundays.”

Osemele comes from a team that recently won a Super Bowl, the Ravens. He was a major part of that championship — an offense that is built around the run and coupled with a punishing defense — Osemele would create large holes for running back Ray Rice to burst through.

And it wasn’t just the runner’s talent. Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Javorius Allen were three more success stories that followed Rice. So you can see the case Osemele is making.

But he wasn’t the only one that feels like Oakland is ready to take the leap into the postseason.

Cornerback Sean Smith, who the Raiders reportedly agreed to terms with at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, said:

“They have a bunch of young talent, know what I mean, who’s ready to take that next step. The coaching staff is amazing. You couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff. I just felt like with a few more pieces, this team is ready to contend, for real, for real this time.”

Osemele and Smith were two of the most coveted names in free agency. Both were in the top 25 on about every list available online.

Smith could have stayed put in Kansas City, a team who has been in the playoffs for two of the last three years. Or really, a myriad of others, though the 49ers and Raiders were said to have been the frontrunners before the ink dried.

Any team with a reasonable amount of salary cap space would have loved to nab Osemele. And linebacker Bruce Irvin, who nearly won back to back Super Bowls with the Seahawks.

What this says is that through all the nonsense that free agents say while standing next to a team’s public relations member, knowing that they can’t just talk money, is the three newest Raiders actually mean it.

Maybe Irvin can tell it better:

“Me and Mack is scary. But then you add Aldon into that, that’s even scarier. I am just happy to be a part of it and be in a great situation, in a great town that’s just waiting for success. I feel like we’re really on the verge of really taking off and turning this thing around up here.”

Aldon Smith, who the Raiders signed just before the 2015 season got underway, remains a viable candidate to return to Oakland, though he’ll need to serve a 10 game suspension first.

And that’s assuming he isn’t in court custody for alcohol related offenses. But the thought of Smith and Khalil Mack being backed by Irvin and Sean Smith — not to mention some others who could be joining the Raiders — turns to the vision of one of the fiercest defenses in the league.

Oakland went 7-9 last season, and was in just about every game. They beat the Super Bowl champions, went blow for blow with the Steelers, and upset the Ravens during a week 2 thriller.

More to that, the Raiders lost four games by a touchdown or less, and in two games, on mistakes that can be naturally erased. A better defensive showing would mean that, on paper, the Raiders could certainly be an 11 win team.

Surely things change. But part of that is working in Oakland’s favor. A changing of the guard is taking place, right Mr. Smith?

“Oh, it has definitely switched. Clearly.”

The AFC West is down one Peyton Manning and one Brock Osweiler. As it stands today, the Broncos 2016 starting quarterback isn’t on the roster. And they lost half of their defensive starters.

The Chiefs have had significant problems throwing to wide receivers, and have added a solid right tackle to the fold.

San Diego, who were the third worst team in football last year, added a receiver with a high ceiling but who lacks a track record.

It’s clear that the Raiders and Chiefs will be dueling for the top spot in the AFC West. But with more room to grow into their Ferragamo loafers, Oakland’s young and talented roster is being given serious fanfare to win their division.

And of course there’s the growth of third year quarterback Derek Carr, who Smith is happy to not have to deal with:

“Just knowing that I’m on his team now and I don’t have to worry about those Brett Favre like passes splitting between two defenders trying to get a guy a reception anymore is going to be great for me.”


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.