Raiders look like fantasy silver

The Raiders look like a legitimate contender in the NFL this season.

But what about the fantasy potential of their players and position groups? Those don’t look bad either.

Several of Oakland’s players put forth solid fantasy seasons in 2015, and there may be some improvement on the horizon. Running back was the best of 2015, with quarterback and receiver not far behind. Only the tight ends were spread apart, and they’re not on this list due to the underwhelming projections.

It’s not for lack of talent, Raiders tight ends just haven’t shown enough to be considered — but don’t let that rule out drafting Clive Walford towards the end of your draft as a flier.

Here’s a breakdown of who should be solid fantasy contributors, and who may be liabilities.

Wide Receivers

Amari Cooper put forth an amazing rookie campaign, and though he had a very high number of drops, it’s hard to fathom those aren’t cut in half, or better. Cooper’s issue was that he would try to run before securing the ball — something that’s not uncommon among rookie receivers — and the woes were amplified by a hefty target ratio.

Even with several drops, Cooper posted top 20 numbers over the first eight games of the season in standard scoring and then began to taper off. The problem was his touchdown potential. Quarterback Derek Carr would look for anyone with a size mismatch more than Cooper, and when a wide out was targeted, it was usually Michael Crabtree.

The red zone targets from 2015 paint a vivid picture: Crabtree was targeted 13 times from within the 20 yard line and eight times within the 10 yard line. Cooper was targeted eight times within the 20 yard line and not targeted at all from 10 yards out or closer.

That doesn’t mean that Cooper won’t be valuable.

The Alabama product was targeted 130 times in 2015 and Crabtree got 146 looks. Cooper with six touchdowns and Crabtree with nine.

The Raiders, though, were also more of a pass-happy offense as the run game was abandoned in the second half of most games. That could change, and Oakland desperately wants to run a more balanced offense. They’ve added to their offensive line and drafted a smaller running back that they hope will compliment, at least, incumbent starter Latavius Murray.

So where do the Raiders’ top two receivers stand to produce in fantasy for 2016? Both should be serviceable rotation options, with some legitimate upside in a division that seems to be in a rebuilding mode.

Running Backs

As noted above, Latavius Murray wasn’t used much in the second half. He was four yards shy of leading the AFC in rushing yards despite his late game usage, though, and it’s unlikely that he won’t shoulder the bulk of the load in 2016. He also tied for the lead in rushes 20 yards or longer with Jets’ back Chris Ivory, though there is some concern given his boom-or-bust nature.

While Murray breaks long runs, there are still a large number of runs resulting two yards or less. The unofficial count is 83 of his 266 attempts, nearly one third of his runs.

His quarterly breakdown also showed an intriguing line, 37 attempts, 83 yards, 2.2 yards per carry, a vastly different image from the other three quarters.

Murray is either boom or bust, it seems, and with little optimism that he’ll fall in between. But so was Le’Veon Bell, and we know how that played out.

Oakland’s incumbent starting tailback comes with a buyer beware sticker, but massive upside at the same time. Football’s equivalent to a three outcome hitter.

Defense

I love the Raiders’ defensive outlook. I’ll dive into it a little, but there’s almost no reason to go way into details. If you don’t know why, you’re fantasy season is doomed.

Here’s the quick breakdown: a) the league’s best pass rusher being flanked by two other top pass rushers, some interior linemen who excel in eating blocks and with some pass rushing ability of their own b) legitimate safety and cornerback depth, and two very good and near elite cornerbacks c) safety depth with Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson, Nate Allen and potentially Travis Carrie and d) a defensive group in their second year of Ken Norton Jr.’s system, which left offenses confused all too often in 2015.

The cherry on top is a division that is without a quarterback with an elite outlook. Denver will either start a rookie Paxton Lynch or poor quality backup Mark Sanchez. Alex Smith finally threw a touchdown to a wide receiver in 2015 after a full season without doing so, and their offensive line is rough at best, while Jamaal Charles is coming off a torn ACL.

Phillip Rivers is the only guy with a decent outlook, and even then, his offensive line is terrible. If house style allowed for it, that whole sentence would be typed using caps lock.

Yeah, don’t be shocked if Oakland’s defense is the most productive of 2016.

Quarterback

The sky is the limit for Carr, but don’t expect him to finish as the top quarterback. He’s going to be top 10, with little doubt there, but capitalizing on his 2015 season will be tough by any stretch.

As mentioned twice before, the Raiders want to run more. That could lead to opened passing lanes, but that could also mean fewer touchdowns and a decline in passing yards.

I love Carr, I believe he’ll come close to replicating his numbers from 2015, but don’t get too overzealous here. Oakland’s defense will keep teams at bay, and playing in shootouts won’t be common.


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 Raiders football.