The Raiders were very aggressive in adding defensive pieces via free agency last year, only to see their revamped defense perform much like the old one – poorly. Now, in addition to some more new faces, there’s also a new head honcho in Jack Del Rio. But will the results be the same?
One of those free agent additions the Raiders made last year was defensive end Justin Tuck, who experienced a career renaissance with the New York Giants in 2013. That resurgence was short-lived, but despite only 43 tackles and five sacks last season Del Rio told Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area the 32-year-old remains a key contributor.
“Tuck has that experience and brings some of that wisdom to the group, so I think that’s very important,” Del Rio said. “A guy that’s been there at the highest level understands what it takes. So a guy like that, that’s buying into your message and doing the things that need to be done and helping others, that’s a positive factor for you.”
That might be, but from an IDP standpoint Tuck’s little more than a late-draft dart throw. Likewise for rookie Mario Edwards. The former Florida State standout has loads of talent and not a whole lot in front of him on the depth chart, but his inconsistency in college doesn’t bode well for Edwards’ odds of making a fantasy impact in Year 1.
The Raiders also brought in a new defensive coordinator in Ken Norton Jr., who told Eddie Paskal of the team’s website he can’t wait to work with second-year sensation Khalil Mack. “Khalil is special,” Norton said. “There are a lot of players that might be similar, but he’s in a class of his own. [Defensive end] Bruce Irvin in Seattle was similar, but at the same time, Khalil’s built. He’s athletic. He’s talented. He’s smart and he’s relentless. He’s amazing and he’s the type of guy that you want to surround him with good football players.”
Norton also praised middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who joined the Raiders in free agency after being released by the New Orleans Saints. “When you have a former middle linebacker as your coordinator,” Norton said, “and a former middle linebacker as your head coach, that position becomes very important. You look at Curtis’ background, he’s played a lot of football for a long time and hasn’t missed any games. He’s very, very productive, very smart, knows how to play ball and knows how to run the defense. I’m glad we have him.”
Both linebackers have more than a little upside as three-down players. Lofton will likely be the steadier IDP LB2/3 with a higher floor, while Mack may be a bit more up-and-down but possesses a much higher fantasy ceiling.
It appeared the Raiders had another up-and-coming youngster in weak-side linebacker Sio Moore, but after the team signed veteran Malcolm Smith it appears they aren’t so sure. It’s a camp battle to watch, but with snaps (much less subpackage snaps) no sure bet for either player the pair are at best a speculative pick and at worst a wasted one.
It’s an annual rite of passage in IDP leagues. Every year, we write off safety Charles Woodson as being just too danged old to make a fantasy dent. And every year, not only does Woodson make a dent, but he thrives. And last year’s fourth-ranked IDP defensive back (and the NFL’s oldest defensive player) told Marty James of The Napa Valley Register he isn’t ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
“I just want to help this team turn it around,” Woodson. “This team has not been where it wants to be for quite some time now, and I want to be a part of the turnaround. I’m looking forward to a very positive season. I think we’ll compete this season with anybody that we play.”
There is of course risk involved with drafting a player who’s much closer to 40 than 30, but at this point we wouldn’t bet against him, either.