“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2015 for their respective teams to have a successful 2015 campaign. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl but a successful season doesn’t always result in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No matter what “you” consider to be a success these counterparts are essential to achieving that goal.
Oakland Raiders “counterparts to be counted on” 2015
Amari Cooper – A case could certainly be made for second year quarterback Derek Carr or even Latavius Murray, but the fourth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Amari Cooper, is my offensive “counterpart to be counted on” for the Oakland Raiders. “Silver & Black” absolutely needed to bolster their talent at receiver considering James Jones was their top performer in receptions and touchdowns (73/666/6). Andre Holmes led Oakland in receiving yards with a meager 693. So allow me to put this in perspective for you. The Oakland Raiders were one of only two teams (Jacksonville Jaguars) in the NFL last season that didn’t have a single player reach 700 yards receiving. Wait? What? In a pass-first, pass-happy league not a single Raiders player had 700 yards receiving! That’s not easy to do. I’ll take it a step further. Running backs Le’Veon Bell (83 rec. 854 yards) and Matt Forte (102 rec. 808 yards) would have led the Raiders in receptions and yards. There were 11 tight ends that could have led the Raiders in receiving yards in 2014. Twenty-five teams had two or more players that had more receiving yards than Andre Holmes! Both the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers had four different players that could have led the Raiders in receiving yards!! Do you get the picture?
Despite having not played a single down in the NFL Cooper immediately becomes Oakland’s best receiving threat. Polished, refined and technically flawless Cooper has drawn comparisons to St. Louis Rams’ great Torry Holt. Not only will Cooper be the Raiders’ #1 receiving threat and a legitimate threat for a 1,000 yard rookie season, but more importantly he will make his teammates better. Despite a dearth of pass catching talent Derek Carr’s rookie season was encouraging (3,270/21/12). Now he gets a sure handed receiver that will consistently beat man-to-man coverage in the short, intermediate and deep passing game. And after Cooper takes the top off a few defenses teams won’t be able to stack the box and force the Raiders to be one dimensional which should improve the running game led by Latavius Murray. My expectations for Cooper may seem lofty for a rookie but it is becoming more commonplace for young (rookie) receivers to make an immediate impact (see the 2014 draft class). The high school and college game have become increasingly “open” and the rules at every level facilitate aerial attacks. Therefore, despite their inexperience at the pro level these uber-talented wide receivers are successful sooner with greater frequency. Add Cooper’s tireless dedication to his craft (not even sure this guy has a personality he spends so much time preparing and honing his skills) and you have the makings of an impact player from Day 1. If he can stay healthy, Amari Cooper will assuredly improve every aspect of the Raiders’ offense even when the ball isn’t in his hands.
Mario Edwards Jr. – The Raiders appear to have struck gold with their 1st and 2nd round picks (Khalil Mack, Derek Carr) in 2014 and certainly hope to have replicated that effort with their 2015 1st and 2nd round selections (Amari Cooper, Mario Edwards Jr.). Cooper is going to be very good maybe even great. I’m far less convinced that Edwards will be an impactful player. The lack of production (8.5 sacks) over a three year career at Florida State suggests under-achiever considering the hype.
Edwards’ weight was north of 300 lbs. and he appeared to be playing out of position at times during his junior season. He was steady against the run but lacked explosiveness off the edge as a pass rusher. My colleagues constantly remind me of how well he played against offensive tackle Greg Robinson of the St. Louis Rams (selected 2nd overall in 2014) in the 2013 National Championship but it was the last time I saw Edwards flash. Now down to a svelte 279 lbs. hopefully Mario can maximize his talent, bend the edge and rush the passer. He currently sits atop the Raiders’ depth chart at right defensive end and may be their most talented defensive lineman come Week 1. A scary thought considering that the Raiders’ pass rush is anemic and the talent and production never materialized while Edwards was in college. Oakland ranked 30th in sacks in 2014 (22). Their most accomplished pass rusher is an aging Justin Tuck who led the team with only five sacks. Only five teams gave up more passing touchdowns (29) than the Oakland Raiders in 2014. Certainly, a healthy D.J. Hayden and improved secondary play will help but the pass rush was the root cause to their pass defense deficiencies. Oakland’s front office did virtually nothing to improve their pass rush other than drafting Edwards so he is clearly the defensive “counterpart to be counted on” in 2015. If he can overcome the rookie learning curve quickly and put things together the Raiders could have a shot at their first winning season since 2002.