Breaking down new-look Raiders: How do Jordy Nelson, Doug Martin fit?

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The Raiders are trying to push themselves forward by throwing it back to what worked in the past. With the rehiring of Jon Gruden as head coach, the philosophy is "comfortably" getting the players out of their comfort zone.

While Gruden will call the plays, Greg Olson returns as his offensive coordinator. Oakland's base 4-3 defense will transition under former Bengals coordinator Paul Guenther.

Derek Carr has the smarts and natural West Coast passing attributes to rebound from a down 2017 season, but the quarterback will need to adjust to his new supporting cast after a big shake-up. Khalil Mack also fell a little last season from his Defensive Player of the Year and All-Pro level. With a remade back seven and a bolstered line rotation, Oakland's goal will be putting Mack in better positions to produce.

Here is a deeper dive into the Black Hole to examine what the key changes on the depth chart mean for the Raiders' 2018 outlook.

Running back

Last season, Marshawn Lynch defied his age (now 32) and became a bright spot in a disappointing year for Oakland's offense. But there's already a sense that Gruden and Olson don't want to lean heavily on Beast Mode this season. Former Buccaneer Doug Martin was signed to give them a slightly younger and more versatile option for early downs.

Martin has gone from a roster flyer in Tampa to a viable alternative for Oakland; his skills in both the running and passing games mesh better with his new team. The Raiders were predictable with Lynch on power downs, then speedsters Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington as the change-of-pace backs on third downs. With his burst and receiving pop returning a bit, Martin can earn key touches in a split with Lynch.

Raiders still playing in a dump 

Wide receiver

The Raiders parted ways with Michael Crabtree and Cordarrelle Patterson; they brought in Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer. Amari Cooper is coming off a down season, but he will be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the first time in his career and will be treated as such by the new coaching staff.

Trickling down from Cooper and his additional targets, how the Raiders use Nelson and Bryant will be interesting to watch. Nelson is 33 and doesn't have the home-run speed he once had, but he can still grab jump balls in scoring position. Bryant has both the size to be a red-zone monster and the speed to be a downfield playmaker, but he needs to keep his head on straight in order to get opportunities to show off his skills.

It would make the most sense for Oakland to use Nelson as a Saints-style "big slot" receiver, with Bryant lining up outside opposite Cooper in frequent three-wide sets. Nelson was good on inside routes two years ago, and for the betterment of Carr and the other wideouts, it's time for the former Packer to stay in the slot full-time. Bryant is teasing Gruden but needs to do a lot more to gain trust for that regular role.

Switzer will take over Patterson's role as the primary return man, but he might not see regular work in the offense. The same goes for former No. 3 wideout Seth Roberts, who was on the roster bubble in the preseason. The Raiders' last receiver spot likely will come down to third-year speedster Johnny Holton or rookie seventh-round possession man Marcel Ateman.

Offensive line

The interior of Oakland's line remains intact with guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson. At tackle, Donald Penn is 35 and coming off a major foot (Lisfranc) injury; it was enough of a concern for the Raiders to draft UCLA's Kolton Miller in the first round.

The Raiders are looking at throwing Miller into the fire at left tackle as they're hoping Penn, slowing down, can handle a potential transttion to right tackle post-recovery. Either way, the Raiders need Miller to be ready to play well.

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Defensive line

Defensive end got a lot stronger — assuming there will be some solution in sight to the Khalil Mack situation — with Mack now flanked by former starting strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin in his new regular role with the hopes of a better bookend pass rush for Guenther.

The other returnees are Mario Edwards Jr. and tackles Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis. Gone from the roster, though, are Denico Autry and Jihad Ward. Three rookies — tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst and end Arden Key — have joined the group, and former 49ers end Tank Carradine was signed for extra help against the run.

In order to make up for an anemic four-man pass rush beyond Mack last season, the Raiders often blitzed extra men. Guenther's approach will be different; he will send different combinations of four men and try to create more one-on-one situations for Mack. The position change for Irvin also helps there.

Edwards now tries to contribute more as a rotational end, while Vanderdoes can sweat Hall and Hurst getting the first shot at three-technique tackle.

Ellis is good at stopping the run and will stay dedicated to that job at nose tackle. Guenther doesn't have a Geno Atkins in Oakland like he did in Cincinnati, so he will hope to tap into someone's pass-rush upside. If Hurst is healthy, he would gain the inside edge first over Vanderdoes. The coordinator also will try to get to the QB situationally with Hall and/or Key, depending on how well and how quickly they develop.

One thing is for sure: With "Double A Gap" principles and emphasis on interior pressure, the Raiders' front four will be much more active in trying to disrupt pass plays to match how well they can defend the run.


Cory James (cut) and NaVorro Bowman (not re-signed) are gone. The Raiders replaced them first with their top free-agent addition in former Lion Tahir Whitehead and then with former Chief Derrick Johnson. To aid in the transition to Guenther's scheme, Oakland also added former Bengal and Viking Emmanuel Lamur.

Whitehead played the weak side in Detroit, and Johnson was a 3-4 inside fixture in Kansas City. Because Whitehead is such an active run defender and good blitzer as well as decent cover man, he can line up either on the weak or strong side. Johnson, still a "Will" at heart, can make plays in coverage with fewer upfield assignments, making 4-3 middle a comfortable new spot.

With Irvin transitioning to end from strong side, that leaves Lamur — another good, natural leader — battling with undrafted second-year player Nicholas Morrow for the third spot. No matter where his three versatile starters and top backup line up initially, Guenther will take advantage of their experience and put them in spots to make plays.



Now that they have moved on from the disappointing duo of David Amerson and Sean Smith, the Raiders should be excited about their new starters. Gareon Conley, last year's first-rounder, flashed enough dynamic athleticism for Oakland to think he can emerge as a playmaker. Former Colt Rashaan Melvin had some stretches of shutdown play last season. The two mesh well as different kinds of cover men in terms of size and speed.

The player who will be tough for Oakland to replace, however, is T.J. Carrie, one of the game's best slot corners who cashed in with the Browns as a free agent. The Raiders' best option at the position now is Shareece Wright (31), followed by Leon Hall (33). Rookie Nick Nelson is coming off a pre-draft knee injury and won't be in the mix.

Overall, the Raiders will be much improved outside, but they also will be much more vulnerable against inside routes.

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Reggie Nelson, who will turn 35 during the season, was re-signed to start at free safety because he was a Pro Bowler in 2016 and has a good history of success with Guenther. The coordinator will trust Nelson to support Conley and Melvin.

Newcomer Marcus Gilchrist is a good swing fallback for Nelson and strong safety Karl Joseph. Obi Melifonwu, meanwhile, has faced a longer-than-expected recovery from a season-ending hip injury.

Joseph is a good run defender and an asset in the pass rush, but he has been bad in coverage. Gilchrist is more well-rounded but does not have much upside. Joseph should be able hold his ground with Gilchrist being a valuable backup, but the starter will be pushed to round out his game in his third season after being a high first-round pick.