Top Five Raiders: 2017-2018 Edition

It’ll be interesting to see the response that this piece gets. To me, these five names are obvious, and there shouldn’t be much debate about who made the list and where they fell.

Now, everyone is different, so perhaps there is a name or two that doesn’t belong for some of my pals? More than likely, many will have the same five names, but in a (slightly) different order. Either way, for those of you that open this article, give it a quick once-over, and think to yourself, “ok, yeah, duh…”, enjoy the various GIF’s and highlights, I suppose.

For the other half of you that are certain I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about or what I’m looking at, I encourage you to enter my mentions, and let me know where it went all wrong. I’d love to talk about it.

Oh, one more thing. There are some “notable” top-whatever lists floating around (as we are in the dead of the offseason, so there’s nothing else to really argue about). Check out where some of these names below fall in the grand scheme of things. You can find Pete Prisco’s (of CBS fame) here, which is a top 100 list. Head over here for PFF’s top 50 list. And lastly, there’s always the NFL’s “Top 100”, which is still unfolding. Voted on by the player’s themselves (JJ let us know that it’s largely a joke, however).

Now with all that out of the way, let’s get after it.

5. WR Amari Cooper

We often hear and debate about players with “high ceilings”. These players, more often than not, are good players; elite talents, even. Generally speaking, you want to roster as many of these good players as you can. In addition to raw talent, these “high ceiling”-types are normally young(er). Age matters, after all.

Amari Cooper is a perfect example of both.

Coop’s a high ceiling player who has yet to turn 23 as of this writing (we’ll be wishing him a happy birthday on June 18th). What’s more, this 22-year old is entering his third year in the league. If you want to get real cliché with it (putting all my inherent bias and fandom aside), it’s safe to say that with Cooper, the sky truly is the limit.

Coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons, the arrow is obviously pointing upward. He’s tethered to the Raiders’ young quarterback Derek Carr, which only enhances his stock. Regardless of quarterback play, Cooper has a chance to be special, hence landing him at the five spot on this list. While I won’t dive into statistical accomplishments (we all have access to those numbers), with Amari Cooper, you’re getting one of the best technicians in the league, building on only two seasons of play. He hasn’t even scratched the surface at this point in his career.

Don’t believe me? Let 89 tell you himself:

The physical side of Cooper’s game has always been there, evidence by his polished route-running and big play ability. What’s going to allow Amari Cooper to take his game to the next level, and perhaps throw his name in the top five conversation, is the growth from a mental standpoint. Fans, media, and teammates alike have always talked about Cooper as the quiet, more reserved type. Year three could be the one when that all changes:

Personally, I love and respect the approach Cooper has taken thus far. He doesn’t celebrate, for example, rarely smiles, and simply goes about his business the right way. My guy spends (some of) his offseason devoting his free time to his book club. This isn’t your typical, “diva” wide receiver. I’m excited to watch Cooper continue to elevate his game, even if that signals some “changes” going forward, in a sense.

This, my friends, is quintessential Amari. This will never change.

4. OC Rodney Hudson

The quarterback-center relationship is so important, and many times, completely overlooked (or at least not discussed nearly enough). During their primes, we heard so much about the “bond” that Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday shared. What Rodney Hudson allows Derek Carr to do should obviously be praised, and highlighted.

It’s difficult for me to move Hudson up this list. The three names that we’ll highlight below are incredible and impactful players in their own right. Make no mistake, this four spot is high, high praise. In 2015, Hudson earned the highest grade in pass-blocking efficiency from PFF, tied with arguably the best center in the game in Travis Frederick. In 2016, the high-level of play continued:

Rodney Hudson is a top three (top two?) center in the game currently. He embodies the “nasty mentality” that the entire offensive line is known for at this point:

3. OG Kelechi Osemele

Speaking of nasty, meet KO.

Kelechi Osemele was Reggie McKenzie’s prize offseason acquisition last year. The Raiders’ had to pay up for Ose’s services, of course; watching him work on Sunday’s, you quickly realize he’s worth every penny and then some. Osemele might be the gem on arguably the most talented offensive line in the league. I mean, check out the kid opposite him:

KO also brings some versatility to the table, adding to his worth, having also seen time at tackle as well.

 

“Mauler”, “finisher”, “bully” – choose your favorite, you won’t be wrong.

2. DE/LB Khalil Mack

Enough said, I think.

Khalil Mack, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is on his own tier (own planet, even). On that tier, he joins only four or five other names. There’s Aaron Donald and Von Miller, most assuredly. JJ Watt is coming off injury, but we know what his résumé looks like. You may still be able to make the argument for Luke Kuechly as well, although his game has tapered off some (and more notably, after the scary concussion he suffered last season).

Regardless of where exactly you have Khalil ranked amongst those names, it’s pretty obvious that he’s one of the league’s best players. The scariest part is, much like teammate Amari Cooper, we’re just seeing Mack get warmed up.

My man synced Mack’s highlights vs. Carolina last season with Stone Cold’s intro music, so this is obviously the clip I want to share:

1. QB Derek Carr

I try my hardest to stay out of discussions and debates that surround Derek Carr. It never really quite works out that way, but I honestly give it my best effort.

Despite the success the Raiders’ 25-year old franchise quarterback found last season, according to my timeline, the jury’s still out.

Weird, right?

We were looking at a bonafide MVP candidate in 2016. When a broken fibula cut the signal caller’s season short, fans and media alike witnessed what Derek Carr means to this franchise. Without 4 under center, I’m not sure the Raiders win more than a game or two. This team, despite Khalil Mack’s otherworldly abilities, free agent acquisitions, and/or home runs via the draft, will only go as far as Derek Carr takes them.

He made the list as a result, obviously.

We can talk about the box score numbers. We can talk about the touchdown to interception ratios. We can revisit his yards per attempt. While all that’s fun and valid, and tells maybe a quarter of the story, I’d rather spend the time highlighting what makes this kid so special. Simply stated, Derek Carr just has “it”. He demonstrated “it” throughout the 2016 season. Below are the games the stood out to me. We can circle the comeback games alone (there were multiple) and build a case.

Saints (Week 1): 13-play scoring drive, chewing up 5 minutes, and ending in a 2-point conversion to take the lead (holding on to win).

Ravens (Week 4): Carr delivers a dime to Michael Crabtree (15 with the hat trick on the day) to take the lead with just over 2 minutes to play.

Buccaneers (Week 8): 1:36 scoring drive in overtime, Seth Roberts making it happening between two defenders for the walk-off. Light work for the quarterback, as well: 40/59, 513 yards and 4 scores.

Texans (Week 11): The Raiders’ quarterback would finish a cozy 21/31, 295 yards and 3 touchdowns (1 INT) against a Houston team that would finish the 2016 season as the league’s best defense. This is also a good excuse to watch this Cooper highlight:

Panthers (Week 12): This game wasn’t particularly close prior to Carr’s hand (pinky?) injury, as the Raiders were up 24-7. It honestly felt like score should’ve been double that, though. The Chosen One eventually reentered the game to lead another late-surge (glove on and all).

Bills (Week 13): Down 24-9 with 9 minutes left in the third quarter, Derek locked in and handled business once more.

Last thing, while we’re on the subject:

No, Derek Carr isn’t the best quarterback in the league. He may not even be top ten – yet. But he’s a lot closer than some folks give him credit for. Another strong outing in 2017, now that the injury’s behind him, could safely push him into that top tier conversation.

I’ve seen some funny lists floating around this offseason. If your “rankings” have players like Ryan Tannehill, Carson Palmer, or Sam Bradford ranked above Derek Carr at this point, we need to talk. Dak’s going to have an argument if he continues to show out. Mariota’s got a bunch of new toys but is coming off injury himself. I’m not sure a healthy Mariota and healthy Carr is particularly close, anyway (and I’m a Mariota fanboy). Eli? When? Maybe two or three years ago, but certainly not entering 2017.

Lose the outdated, incorrect narratives entering 2017. We can leave behind all the questions that Carr has provided answers for at this point, too.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive

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