Quarterback Derek Carr and Wide Receiver Amari Cooper
As an analyst for NFL Network, Bucky Brooks spends his days breaking down all 32 NFL teams, and heading into the 2016 season he and his colleagues have lofty expectations for the Oakland Raiders.
"I think everybody has high hopes for the Raiders this year," said Brooks. "Outstanding defense; you have [defensive end] Khalil Mack coming back off a two-time [First-Team All-Pro] season, which is kind of crazy to be named All-Pro at two spots, but you have him anchoring a talented defensive line. They have some upgrades in the secondary with [cornerback] Sean Smith coming over. This is a team that appears ready to make a serious run in the AFC, and I think winning the division be a huge accomplishment, and going far in the playoffs would be the thing that everybody would expect from them."
While the Silver and Black didn't reach all their goals in 2015, the team definitely showed a marked improvement in Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first year the helm, and one key to that improvement was the maturation of quarterback Derek Carr.
Now, Carr is entering his third season under center, and Brooks is hoping that the gunslinger's development will continue – particularly as it pertains to his command of the offense.
"More ownership of the offense, we saw that from him," Brooks said when asked about Carr's sophomore campaign. "We saw him play with more confidence. You saw the touchdowns go up. You saw the connection he had with Amari Cooper – that should be even better this year because they know each other. Cooper will be more settled in as a second-year player."
Carr and Cooper proved to be one of the more dynamic quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the NFL last season, and with another year of experience together, Brooks believes that can spearhead a dynamic Raiders' offense.
"I think they can really have a prolific offense," Brooks said. "The big thing will be how much they entrust him to have ownership at the line of scrimmage. Will they let him check and adjust? Will they run no huddle? Things that he did very, very well at Fresno State. The expectation is for him to play at almost a Pro Bowl level. If he does that, I think things look good for them to go into the playoffs."
Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been ardent throughout the offseason that his goal is for the team to win double-digit games and to host a home playoff game, and with the moves the Silver and Black have made this offseason, Brooks believes that goal is attainable.
"I think it's realistic," said Brooks. "The big thing about having a home playoff game – it gives you an opportunity to win. Home field advantage is huge in the postseason, and so every team that makes the tournament wants to have a game in front of their owns fans because you feed off the energy of your fans, so putting that out there and making that a very reachable and attainable goal. I think Jack Del Rio understands what he has and he's trying to get his guys to kind of step up to the expectation and the standard."