The Oakland Raiders appear to have plenty of pieces in place to make its first postseason since its Super Bowl 37 appearance in 2003. Seriously, it could happen.
They have a potential franchise quarterback in Derek Carr. They possess explosive offensive weapons in receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and tailback Latavius Murray. The offensive line is competent, and Oakland’s defensive front, which could be one of the best in the league, possesses a premier pass rusher in Khalil Mack.
The one leaky faucet in Oakland (not counting the numerous ones that probably are littered throughout O.co Coliseum) might be its secondary, a position group that has been rebuilt from a year ago. If the changes don’t lead to a significant upgrade, the Raiders’ playoff hopes will take a serious hit.
The Raiders defense wasn’t very good against the pass last season and wasn’t particularly good in a number of statistical categories. Oakland ranked 26th in the league after allowing 259 passing yards per game, but surrendered only 25 passing touchdowns.
Football Outsiders ranked Oakland 16th in pass defense with a -1.5 percent Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average rating, which is a metric that gauges value by taking into account numerous factors, such as situation and opponent and comparing it to a league baseline. In other words, Oakland’s secondary was only marginally better than the league average.
The great news for Raiders fans is the unit was completely revamped during the offseason. The most notable departure is the retirement of legendary cornerback and safety Charles Woodson, but the secondary should be improved nonetheless.
The Raiders landed a No. 1 cornerback in March when they signed former Kansas City Chiefs standout Sean Smith to a four-year, $40 million contract during free agency. Smith, 29, provides instant credibility. He picked off two passes and defended 12 total passes in 2015, his third season with the Chiefs. The 6-foot-3 veteran gives Oakland a presence in the secondary that was greatly lacking a year ago, and he is being paid to make a significant impact against the pass.
Smith and David Amerson should give the Raiders a solid starting duo on the outside. Amerson quietly had a solid debut season with Oakland a year ago, logging four interceptions and 60 total tackles while defending a total of 25 passes. Amerson should slot in nicely as the No. 2 corner and should hold his own against No. 2 receivers.
Roughly a month after signing Smith, the Raiders inked former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson to a two-year deal. Nelson provides needed experience as he enters his 10th professional season.
Nelson is coming off of a career year, during which he was named to his first Pro Bowl after picking off a league-leading eight passes. He might not reach eight interceptions in the Bay Area, but he will provide experience and proficiency as a versatile safety.
The wild card could be first-round pick Karl Joseph. An immensely talented safety, Joseph has injury concerns that muddled his draft stock. He played in only four games during his final season with West Virginia, but still recorded 20 total tackles and five interceptions. He should start opposite Nelson if all goes well.
While the Raiders overhauled the starting group, depth will be a concern in the secondary. There are still questions about former seventh-round pick Travis Carrie as a nickel back, and the Raiders continue to hold out hope that 2013 first-round pick DJ Hayden can develop into a respectable depth corner.
All in all, the secondary should be much improved in 2016. With a significant upgrade in both talent and experience, it has the chance to emerge as a top-10 group. It will be aided by a formidable pass rush, so the Raiders might only need competency from its secondary to reach the postseason.