Preseason is and always has been useless, as far as gauging the progress of any team with any accuracy. And unfortunately there are always a few teams whose outlooks change drastically from sheer bad luck.
While the Raiders managed to get through the preseason without any catastrophic injuries, there are still some serious questions on both sides of the ball. The Arizona game (the third game of the preseason generally being the only one worth checking out) is an indicator of both the best and worst aspects of the team.
On one hand, the defense was excellent, intercepting and sacking Carson Palmer almost at will; on the other hand, the offense petered out time after time, having to settle for field goals, and Derek Carr finally throwing a pick-six as the offense was showing a chance to punch it in the end zone.
Some of the roster moves were interesting as well — while neither Trent Richardson nor Christian Ponder were surprise cuts, both had guaranteed money. So the Raiders are out $2.1M between those two. Players that had shown solid play during preseason, such as DTs Shelby Harris and Ricky Lumpkin, and RB Michael Dyer, were more of a surprise. But there are always a few of those as teams are forced to get down to the final 53.
The trade of Sio Moore was also something of a surprise, as was Jack Del Rio’s assertion afterward that Moore wasn’t going to make the team anyway. Despite missing five games, Moore was third in tackles last season, and had been one of the few bright spots in what is turning out to be a lousy 2013 draft class for Reggie McKenzie. First-round pick DJ Hayden continues to struggle, and second-rounder Menelik Watson is out for the year already (and it’s entirely likely that Austin Howard will perform better at RT than Watson would have anyway). Only 6th-rounders Latavius Murray and Mychal Rivera still seem capable of meeting or exceeding their draft potential.
The 2014 and 2015 drafts have certainly been better so far. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson all look to be key players for years to come, and later-round picks such as Justin Ellis, TJ Carrie, and Keith McGill all show potential. The Raiders first five draft picks for 2015 all show real potential as well, with Amari Cooper and Ben Heeney standing out with their preseason play.
While Moore’s trade still is a bit surprising, at this point it seems reasonable to take it on faith that former LBs Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton, Jr. know the position inside out, felt good with the current roster depth, and felt that Moore was either too injured still, or had an attitude problem.
The biggest question on offense is whether the run game can get going enough to open up the passing game, and make use of Cooper and Crabtree. That seems to have been the main struggle throughout the preseason, and the o-line needs to solidify and get some push for the running backs to be effective.
On defense, while the line appears to be more solid with the addition of Dan Williams, the secondary still appears to be the most vulnerable area. This is definitely the season for Hayden to prove himself, and Carrie has an opportunity to improve on his performance last season. Both of them — as well as all the other CBs — need to be picking Charles Woodson’s brain every waking moment.