Around this time last year, the Oakland Raiders were being touted as Super Bowl contenders. Having Derek Carr on offense and Khalil Mack on defense enticed people into following the narrative that the Raiders were finally ready to return to their former greatness. However, the team went just 6-10 in 2017, missing the postseason entirely.
In light of that disappointing season, the Raiders hired Jon Gruden as the team's head coach. Now that we're entering the dry, boring part of the offseason, the Raiders are again being discussed as Super Bowl contenders. Yet, are they really in a situation where they can compete for a title?
An Offense set to Explode
The wide receiver duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree imploded last year. Neither had more than 700 yards receiving. Crabtree is gone now and the team added new receivers in Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant this offseason. Assuming Cooper returns to his pre-2017 form, the Raiders will have one of the best receiving trios in the league.
Even with an improved receiving corps, the offensive line is still the offense's strongest unit. The line boasted three Pro Bowlers last year: guard Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson, and tackle Donald Penn. The team also drafted Kolton Miller to fill their hole at right tackle. Carr will feel very comfortable standing behind his stout protectors and Marshawn Lynch should enjoy another year of running behind them.
The Swiss Cheese Defense
On paper, the Raiders defense looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. There are points where everything is solid, but there are holes all over the place. In this case, the secondary has to be a huge concern for Gruden's team. Even the linebacker corps looks talent-depleted.
The team's starting cornerbacks are largely unproven and their backups have rarely played well in past seasons. The best defensive back on the team is third-year safety Karl Joseph, who's flanked by the aging Reggie Nelson. The Raiders ranked 26th in passing defense last season and because they chose not to focus on improving their secondary, they will likely rank low again this year.
If a defensive positional group is going to save the Raiders, it'll be their defensive line. Mack is one of the best defenders in the whole league and he has some strong players around him. The Raiders also added defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and edge rusher Arden Key in the draft. Although they strengthened their best unit, those draft picks would have been better served fixing the secondary.
The Raiders are a year or two away from being real Super Bowl contenders. Teams with great defenses historically make the big game more often and the Raiders' defense is mediocre at best. They need to fix their cornerback situation before they can be considered legitimate threats.
The offense does boast an astonishing array of fire power, just not enough to hide the defense. The Raiders are also facing renewed competition in the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Both of those teams have new quarterbacks and the Broncos added Bradley Chubb to an already lethal pass rush. I wouldn't be surprised if Gruden gets his team to the postseason, but a Super Bowl run is unlikely.