For Dennis Allen, Reggie McKenzie and Mark Davis, rebuilding the entire Raiders roster has been their main goal over the past several seasons and still continues to be one of their biggest priorities. Especially for general manager Reggie McKenzie, this has been on the most difficult responsibilities to handle, what with terrible salary cap issues that he has had to work through and around.
Luckily for Oakland, he has done a good job of it all, so far.
It is difficult for any team who has not made a playoff appearance for as long as the Raiders have to find comfort in the fact that their team is in rebuilding mode, but this could be the beginning of the turn around that the franchise has been dying for.
Winning football games is something that Oakland has struggled accomplishing for quite some time, but the atmosphere around the organization is starting to change. Being that there is a shaky situation at quarterback, very little offensive firepower for the Raiders to lean on and a defense that is littered with aging veterans, it is hard to envision any real success for the 2014 season. However, with a whole new crop of rookie players itching to make a name for themselves while repping the silver and black and several other notable new faces, expectations will be high to produce early.
There is a good balance of veteran and younger talent on the current roster, which is both a blessing and a curse. The leadership and knowledge that veterans can give to the younger players will be big for their development, but their age and decline in play could hurt their immediate efforts.
For rookies with high expectations like quarterback Derek Carr and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, soaking up any and all information given to them from the seasoned players is vital. As centerpieces for Oakland’s future moving forward, any tips and insights into adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NFL will go a long way.
Looking on paper, I like what I see from Oakland’s 2014 draft class, but will they be able to give the Raider the kind of production that they so badly need?
Entire Draft Class: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker; Derek Carr, quarterback; Gabe Jackson, offensive guard; Justin Ellis, defensive tackle; Keith McGill, cornerback; Travis Carrie, cornerback; Shelby Harris, defensive end; Jonathan Dowling, safety.
Best Immediate Impact Rookie: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker; 6′ 3″, 251 lbs.
Another easy pick to make, Khalil Mack was the second best overall defensive player in the draft and could turn out to actually be a steal for the Raiders as he was vastly considered a consensus Top 3 overall pick. The rest of the rookie class offers a lot for Oakland, but Mack won this spot with ease.
Quarterback Derek Carr, the teams second round pick this year, is someone who many thought would go somewhere in the first round, but slipped down to the Raiders at the top of the second. Looking like another potential steal for Oakland, Carr is determined to make his mark and lead this team at the start of the regular season, but will need to make it past a few hurdles before that can happen.
His biggest obstacle is making it past offseason acquisition, quarterback Matt Schaub. Not to say that is a difficult task by any means, but the coaching staff seems at ease with letting the former Falcons and Texans signal caller start out the season, so it might be a little bit of a wait before we see any of Carr during the regular season.
The only other two rookies who I feel have a shot of seeing the field early are guard Gabe Jackson and undrafted rookie signee, wide receiver Mike Davis, but both will be behind veteran players on the depth chart and will have a pretty steep uphill battle to earn the starting nod.
I included Mike Davis as being a rookie in the mix to see some early playing time because of the strength of the receiving corps, or lack there of. Outside of James Jones and maybe Rod Streater, it is open game for the next few spots on the depth chart and Davis is a guy who has the toughness, grit and determination to make a strong case for himself.
Now, back to the main topic of discussion, Khalil Mack.
Playing at a small Division I school was about the only real knock on Mack’s resume with both his natural pass rushing abilities and freakish athleticism helping to make Mack an immediate threat to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Watching film and breaking down a player like Khalil Mack is an eye opening and exciting experience as you get to see just how much potential this guy has and what he can do on the field with his phenomenal talent. When he bends the edge and rips through blocks with his strength and aggressiveness, it is almost hard not to be enamored with this guy.
Of course, competing in the NFL will still be incredibly difficult for him as the offensive line talent and skill set will far exceed anything he had ever seen when playing at Buffalo, but with the right coaching and ample amounts of playing time, it might not take too long to see some serious numbers pill up for Mack.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will be able to pick and choose where he wants to use Mack on the field in pass rushing situations. During his time at Buffalo, there was not a single spot on the field that Khalil could not get to the backfield from and knowing that, I expect to that Tarver will be drawing out some schemes, stunts and alignments for which to get Mack the opportunity to make a play.
Not forgetting the fact that playing outside linebacker isn’t solely about getting after the quarterback, his coverage skills are actually pretty good. His speed and quickness allow him to drop back or run with tight ends and slot receivers if need be, without the fear of losing his man down or across the field.
With the pick of Mack, the Raiders have found their leader of the defense for years to come. Though he has yet to even hit the playing field, the impact that a player like him brings along will make a huge difference.
In terms of production, I see a very strong defensive rookie of the year campaign in 2014 for Mack. Here are my statistical predictions.
2014 Regular Season Stats: 85 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles.