We took to social media earlier this week to fnd out what was on your mind as the Raiders closed out the season. You asked, and Raiders.com Senior Editor Jerry Knaak answered.
From Connor S: Are you going to watch the playoffs now? Who do you think is the favorite to win the Super Bowl?
JK: Of course. I am a football fanatic. You have to like what Carolina has done this season. Their defense has been playing lights out for several years now, and the offense has caught up. However, several teams appear to be peaking at the right time. The Steelers offense is humming along, and Antonio Brown is virtually unstoppable. Just based on who is in the playoff field, home field advantage, defense, quarterback play, I’d have to say a Carolina vs. Pittsburgh Super Bowl.
From Aaron J: Do you think teams improve more over the course of the season or in the offseason?
JK: Both. I think the foundation is set in the offseason, and it begins with the strength and conditioning program. The coaching staff and philosophy continuity helps as players don’t have to learn a whole new system. From mini-camps to training camp, the draft and free agency, rosters are bolstered, and skills are honed in the offseason. During the season, a team or a particular unit definitely can get better as the season goes along. Especially if there are a lot of new pieces. It takes time to gel.
From Paul M: Who on this team would it concern you most to lose for next season?
JK: Charles Woodson. Hands down. Woodson made game-changing and game-saving plays, and he was the senior leader of the defense. His leadership, communication, and example will be sorely missed at a critical position. He was the last line of defense; he was the motivational speaker, the consummate professional. Not only will the Raiders need to replace a safety, but a leader as well.
Oliver T: If you could add one position or piece this offseason, what would it be?
JK: A shut-down corner would be my choice. David Amerson was claimed off waivers and had a phenomenal season for a cast-off. He punctuated his season with a pick-six against the Chiefs in the season-finale, and he set a team record for most passes defensed. Pairing Amerson with a shut-down corner on the other side would allow TJ Carrie to play the slot or move to safety (or both).
From Mark C: Which rookie from this season do you think will make the biggest jump next year?
JK: Until his injury, I would have said Mario Edwards Jr. But his status is unknown according to Head Coach Jack Del Rio, so I will reserve comment on him. That being the case I am going to go with linebacker Ben Heeney on defense and tight end Clive Walford on offense. Heeney really came on during the last several weeks after linebacker Neiron Ball’s injury. Walford is a sky’s the limit kind of guy. He plays faster than he times, he’s big and catches everything. He just needs more opportunities.
From Travis R: Who on the current team is most likely to try and fill Charles Woodson’s shoes?
JK: Nate Allen and Woodson were supposed to be interchangeable, but Allen was injured much of the year. Larry Asante has flashed but would need to develop consistency. Carrie has the speed and the range but maybe not the size. He did play well at safety during his brief stint at the spot. Carrie would be my choice if I was doing the choosing and I had to choose from the current roster.
From Alice T: Which free agents or current Raiders do you think are the top priorities to bring back?
JK: Marquette King has become a legitimate special teams weapon. The last few weeks of the season, his ability to flip the field and pin teams deep in their own territory was on full display. He set a team record for most punts downed inside the 20, and he earned his first AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award (Week 16 vs. San Diego). Donald Penn has been a pleasant surprise at left tackle, and Justin Tuck would probably want to finish out his career with the Raiders.
From Jimmy P: Who is your biggest surprise player from this year’s team?
JK: For me it has to be wide receiver Michael Crabtree. I don’t think anyone knew exactly what the Raiders were getting when the team signed him. He has been a model teammate, led the team in receptions with 85 catches, was second in receiving yards with 922, and led the team in touchdown grabs with nine.
From John B: Do you think the offense or the defense is going to require more work to turn this team into a playoff team?
JK: If you look at what happened during the second half of the season, I’d have to say the offense. Although the offense was much improved from 2014, production definitely dipped in the last eight games of the year. Conversely, the defense really turned it on the last five or six games of the year. Coverage as better and the pass rush was ferocious. If momentum into the offseason is a thing, then the defense has a leg up.
From Urijah S: Do you think we’ll be able to keep the offensive line intact for Derek? What about Menelik Watson?
JK: With Mike Tice as offensive line coach, I believe the Raiders offensive line, whatever pieces are added or subtracted will be a productive unit. Watson certainly has to be considered. He was going to be the starter at right tackle when he was lost for the season with a torn Achilles. Donald Penn has been a solid left tackle but is a pending free agent. Gabe Jackson is set at right guard and Rodney Hudson will be the center for the foreseeable future. Rookie guard Jon Feliciano got some extended playing time the last few weeks. Austin Howard was injured late in the year, and J’Marcus Webb had to move to right tackle. I believe a capable unit will be assembled to power the running game and keep Derek Carr upright.