Safety Obi Melifonwu & Wide Receiver Amari Cooper
The Oakland Raiders made a plethora of offseason moves this year, which in turn resulted in a large amount of excitement, buzz, and speculation. The Silver and Black's offense ranked sixth overall at the conclusion of the 2016 regular season, as well as sixth in rushing yards per game. While the team lost running back Latavius Murray in free agency, the team gained one of the premier veteran backs in the league, acquiring Marshawn Lynch via trade from the Seattle Seahawks.
The move sparked a flurry of debates across the NFL spectrum, and has caused several people to wonder who they're most excited to see from the Raiders this fall. This got me thinking about who I'll be observing as the team takes the field during training camp this year.
Here's a look at six players I'll have my eye on in a couple weeks once the team reports to Napa:
Running Back Marshawn Lynch
No surprise here.
When "Beast Mode" gets going with a full head of steam down-field, he's a locomotive of destruction, and difficult for defenders to take down. Off the field, Lynch has provided a hype train that people from across the league have been hopping on. After retiring at the end of the 2015 season, many felt robbed of Lynch's talent, assuming he still had more left in the tank.
Now, a year removed from the last time he hit the field, the question is if Lynch can return to Pro Bowl form. Judging from his participation in Mini-Camp and OTAs [Organized Team Activities], I believe he can. When training camp commences, it's safe to say I'll be keeping my eyes on the Raiders backfield.
Safety Obi Melifonwu
By now I'm guessing you've heard all the corny Star Wars puns, and jokes regarding rookie Obi Melifonwu, but I'm hoping you've heard more about his outstanding performance at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
If not, here's a quick recap; the former University of Connecticut Huskie opened eyes during the combine, breaking all sorts of records along the way. Among his group, Melifonwu was the top performer in the 40-yard dash (4.4 seconds), vertical jump (44 inches), and broad jump (141 inches).
At 6'4", 224 pounds, the 23-year-old from London boasts a unique combination of size, strength, and raw athletic ability. One position the Raiders had a hard time defending last season was tight end, and it's possible Melifonwu could help with that. I'll be eager to see him suit up in pads for the first time come camp, and see how his skill set translates to the pro level.
Quarterback Derek Carr
As the Raiders signal-caller entered his third season a year ago, many pondered if the former Fresno State quarterback could take the next step, in his professional development.
Well, after compiling 3,937 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, leading seven game-winning drives, completing 63.8 percent of his passes, being looked at as a serious MVP-candidate, earning a Pro Bowl selection, and helping the team return to the post-season for the first time in 14 years last season, I think it's fair to say Carr answered the questions of several analysts.
While Carr helped the team reach the playoffs, he was unable to play due to a broken fibula suffered in Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts. Number 4's injury has been healed for some time now, and he's participated in team activities, but I'm anxious to see how he looks when things get ramped up during camp. Also, I'm excited to see the dynamic between Lynch and Carr grow as they continue working together.
Safety Karl Joseph
This time last year, Joseph had recently been drafted by the Raiders with the No. 14 overall pick, and was rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered during a game at West Virginia University. He wasn't able to fully participate in team activities due to the limitations of his injury, but finally took to the field during training camp.
It was evident throughout the year – as Head Coach Jack Del Rio has also noted on separate occasions – that Joseph was still dealing with the lingering ailments of his injury, as well as others, even though he still managed to total 60 tackles, recover a fumble, and haul in an interception.
After a year in the league, and now healthy, Joseph looks confident and ready to improve on his rookie campaign. Del Rio believes that this year's camp will be an entirely different experience for Joseph, considering he's regained his confidence, and he expects No. 42 to take a step forward in his development.
I happen to agree.
Plus, with the addition of Melifonwu, the Raiders could have their safety pairing of the future in the duo. It'll be interesting to see how they work together, as they continue to learn from veteran safety Reggie Nelson.
**Wide Receiver Amari Cooper
In his first two seasons, Cooper has been named to the Pro Bowl, eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark twice, and hauled in over 70 receptions in both of his NFL seasons. Following his second season in the NFL, the former University of Alabama wide out was named to the NFL's Top 100 Players list for the first time in his career, coming in at No. 53.
Cooper has the ability to take over a game, which he displayed in several games last season, but specifically in Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he erupted for 12 receptions, 173 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
Many look at Year Three as the time when quarterbacks usually figure out the speed of the game, and even though he's not a quarterback, I'm expecting Cooper to expand on his early success in the league this upcoming season.
Last season, Carr was roommates with Cooper at camp, as they continued to grow on and off the field together. The preparation and hard work doesn't truly kick off until training camp, where No. 89 should continue to flash his elite footwork, impressive hands, playmaking ability, and build more cohesion with Carr.
Offensive Lineman Marshall Newhouse
The Silver and Black boasted one of the most-formidable offensive lines last season, and added to it this offseason with the signing of free agent Marshall Newhouse. The 28-year-old Dallas-native joins the team after a two-year stint with the New York Giants, where he started 20 games at right tackle.
Last season, the Raiders split time between Austin Howard and Vadal Alexander at right tackle, along with former Raider and current Denver Bronco Menelik Watson, and it's likely Newhouse sees time there this season. He hasn't been on the team for long, so I'm curious to see how he performs with the rest of the offensive line. The coaching staff will most likely experiment with different players at the right tackle position, but I imagine Newhouse will have ample opportunity to compete for the starting gig.