We all remember the hay days of the Oakland Raiders. From Plunkett, to the Snake, to the Lyle Alzado days, the Raiders are arguably the most historic franchise in professional sports. However, since the 2002 Super Bowl which resulted in a loss to former Raider coach and now NFL analyst and personality Jon Gruden, the Raiders have been mediocre at best. Since the departure of former Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, the Raiders were on a slippery slope to rock bottom for over a decade.
Despite the move to Las Vegas, Raiders fans are happy again, and rightfully so. The Raiders went 12-4 in the regular season locking up a top seed in the AFC. Much of the Raider success is due to the new highest paid player in professional football: Derek Carr. Carr faced skepticism when he entered the 2014 NFL draft, much due to his gene pool. His brother David, a former 1st overall pick for the Houston Texans did not pan out as Houston hoped and eventually became a journey man quarterback in a subpar 10 year career. To be fair, David never got a fair shake. Despite being a 1st overall pick out of Fresno, David was drafted to an expansion team where he would be pummeled year after year and to this day still holds the record for being sacked most times in a season. Despite the mishaps of his older brother, Derek slipped to the second round where he would then be drafted by the now Las Vegas Raiders.
In just three seasons, Carr has blossomed into that franchise quarterback that so many teams have long coveted for their organization. In just three seasons, Carr has proved effective with a 61% passing completion percentage and has notched 81 touchdown passes in his short career. Now I am going to hit a nerve with the Raider nation, the injury. In the final week of the 2016 regular season, Raider nation had their hearts ripped out when their franchise quarterback broke his fibula and learned he would miss the post season. Due to the Carr injury, quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Connor Cook were forced to step in. As Raiders fans know, this did not pan out so well resulting in an early exit for the young and talented team.
As good as Derek Carr has been, he is not he soul source of the Raiders recent success. As noted above, Carr was taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. The Raiders first round pick of 2014 has brought back the legacy of the Raiders of old: Khalil Mack. Khalil Mack is a freight train off the edge, and like Carr, in just three seasons has proved to be one of the best in the business. Mack is the leader of a stingy raider defense who made great strides in 2016 and will soon be one of the best in football if all continues to fall into place. Mack embodies what it is to be a Raider and is bringing that bad boy attitude back to Raider nation.
Outside of the picks of 2014, the Raiders have continued to hit on draft picks in recent years. Pro bowl receiver Amari Cooper has blossomed into a legit number one target, Karl Joseph has been a solid defensive back, and the Raiders have bolstered up both their offensive and defensive line through the draft. But most recently, the Raiders addressed one of their few weak points, the secondary. This past draft, the Raiders spent their first two picks in the secondary on former buckeye Gareon Conley and UCONN product Obi Melifonwu. If the Raiders secondary can play even half as good as they look on paper in 2017, the silver and black will be a defense to be reckoned with.
With Carr returning and the addition of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, it is hard to argue that the Raiders will be anything less than a contender in 2017. Coming off a tragic 2016 season, the Raider nation was left with a bad taste in their mouth. Don’t worry Raider faithful, the days of Jamarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey days are over. Look for the Raiders to come back in 2017 even stronger and win the AFC West.