Can you believe that we're less than three weeks away from the 2017 NFL Draft?
It seems like just yesterday the Oakland Raiders season was wrapping up at NRG Stadium in Houston, but alas, here we are, within shouting distance of one of the premier events of the NFL offseason.
The Scouting Combine and the initial wave of free agency are now both in the rearview mirror, and as expected, the Silver and Black's roster looks a little different now than it did at the end of 2016.
Understandably, you've had questions come up, and now, we have answers.
Here is another edition of the Raiders.com Mailbag.
From Twaun C: What can we expect from our LB corps going into the 2017 season?
EP:Well, I think it's fair to say you'll be seeing some new faces. After leading the Silver and Black with 115 tackles last season, Malcolm Smith signed a five-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers at the onset of free agency, taking his football career to the South Bay after two seasons as a Raider. General Manager Reggie McKenzie didn't stand idly by though, as he signed Jelani Jenkins shortly thereafter, a talented linebacker with 34 career starts to his name. If all goes to plan, the linebacking corps will also be welcoming back a few familiar faces to the fold in 2017 in Ben Heeney and Shilique Calhoun. Heeney appeared in just four games last season, while Calhoun played in 10, and having them healthy and ready to go for training camp should provide a nice level of competition for the group as a whole. What's particularly interesting to me about Sal Sunseri's group is just how young they are. Mid-season addition Perry Riley, Jr. remains unsigned at the moment, so as it currently stands, Andy Mulumba is the oldest linebacker on the roster, and he's just 27 years old. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Raiders infused some more talent to the position group through the Draft, but regardless, it's going to be a young group that will be a lot of fun to watch develop.
From Kyle M: Will Derek Carr be back and ready to go by Training Camp?
EP:After seeing "DC" carted out of the O.co Coliseum on Christmas Eve, that's been the question on everyone's mind; when will he be healthy enough to get back to football activities? Well, a few weeks ago, Derek came up to the Silver & Black Productions studio, and said that not only would he be ready for training camp, but he'd be ready to go for the Offseason Workout Program come April 17. Head Coach Jack Del Rio echoed his starting quarterback's sentiment last week at the NFL Owner's meetings, saying that he anticipated Carr would be physically able to be a full participant in the team's offseason workouts. Now, it's important to keep in mind that Carr – or any of the Raiders for that matter – won't be putting on the pads or running routes on the practice field in two weeks, but the fact that it looks like Carr will be able to participate should allow Raider Nation to collectively exhale and smile. We'll get an even better gauge of how No. 4 is feeling come April 17, as he's scheduled to address the media at approximately 12:30 p.m.
From Taylor G: Which free agent will have the most immediate impact on the field for our team?
EP:We're a long ways away from actually getting some empirical proof to answer this question, but asking me today, my gut says Jared Cook. Let's think of it this way; Cook appeared in just 10 games last season with the Green Bay Packers, and in his 10 games, he finished with 377 receiving yards, which is more than any Raiders tight end totaled in 2016. Now preparing to enter his ninth NFL season, the veteran tight has consistently proven to be a valuable offensive asset, just look at his 17 career touchdowns for evidence of that. Last season, the Silver and Black boasted one of the most dynamic, high-flying offenses in the NFL, but if there was one area that you could say there was room for improvement, it would be the productivity from the tight end position. Week in and week out, we knew what to expect from Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but the immediate productivity – at least in the passing game – that Cook brings to the table, is something I think will pay big-time dividends for the Raiders in 2017.
From Tony A: Do you see the coaching staff utilizing Cordarrelle Patterson as an offensive weapon rather than just a return specialist?
EP:When Cordarrelle Patterson came to the Raiders practice facility to sign his contract, he joked at the time that he was willing and able to play any position he was asked, whether that was wide receiver, running back, or even a little bit of quarterback. Now, I don't think we'll be seeing much of Patterson under center in 2017, but I think that early statement by him certainly shows how versatile he can be this season for the Raiders. Yes, Patterson is a talented return man, he has five kick returns for touchdowns in his career, but the former Tennessee Volunteer is far more than just that. This year, Patterson will be thrown into a quality wide receivers room, with not only just Cooper and Crabtree, but Seth Roberts as well, and I think that having another speedy weapon for Derek Carr to play with will only spell good things for an already-talented group. To answer your question though Tony, I expect offensive coordinator Todd Downing to get Patterson involved in the offense myriad ways, in addition to his duties fielding kicks, and on special teams.
From Eddie W: What does the addition of John Pagano bring to our coaching staff?
EP:First off, great name, Eddie. As far as what Coach Pagano will bring to the Raiders coaching staff, the first thing he'll add is a wealth of experience. With over two decades of NFL coaching experience, as well as 15 as the defensive coordinator for the now Los Angeles Chargers, there won't be many scenarios arising this season that Pagano hasn't seen before. As far as what Pagano – whose title is officially Assistant Head Coach – Defense – will be focusing on during the team's day-to-day activities, it sounds like he'll be spending a lot of team working with the Raiders defensive backs. At the end of the day though, regardless of what position group he's spending the majority of his time coaching up, it never hurts to have another set of knowledgeable eyes on the defense, and his familiarity with the division-rival Chargers is certainly another tally in the positive column.
From John G: Now that Menelik Watson is a Denver Bronco, what's the deal at right tackle?
EP:John, this is another question that is probably better – or more completely –answered once the team gets back to Napa for training camp, but it sounds like that at this point, new addition Marshall Newhouse has the slight advantage for the starting job. That being said, let's all refrain from inking in the former New York Giant as the starter for the time being, but after Coach Del Rio's vote of confidence last week at the NFL Owner's Meetings, Newhouse is a player you should keep an eye on in the coming months. As it stands now, it looks like right tackle is the one position along the line that will likely be up for grabs heading into 2017, and while Newhouse might be the leader in the clubhouse at this moment, don't sleep on Austin Howard or Vadal Alexander. Howard started 11 games last year for the Raiders, while Alexander started five in his rookie campaign. Regardless, with most of the starting offensive line already entrenched, I'll be excited to see the battle at right tackle unfold in the coming months.