The Oakland Raiders came into the offseason with over $63 million in cap space, the most in the NFL. But even with all that money, the market wasn't necessarily there for top talent at the positions of need for them. Unfortunately, there’s this little caveat in the current CBA that requires teams to spend a minimum amount of the current salary cap.
When the CBA was signed in 2011, all owners agreed that they would spend an average of 89% of the salary cap from 2013 to 2016. So while the Raiders might not get the best player at a position, they do need to sign players to contracts even if it's a middling veteran.
And spend the Raiders did. They swiped LaMarr Woodley from Pittsburgh, C.J. Wilson from Green Bay, Justin Tuck from the Giants and Antonio Smith from the Texans to bolster the front seven. Then they secured Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers from San Francisco to boost the secondary, later stealing Maurice Jones-Drew from Jacksonville and James Jones from Green Bay to improve the offense.
In bringing in different free agents, re-signing a couple of their own and trading for Matt Schaub, the Raiders have spent nearly $48 million so far this offseason. But how will these players - specifically fantasy ones like Schaub, Jones, and Jones-Drew - impact the Raiders in 2014? They seem to be obvious upgrades in a mediocre offense, but let’s take a look at the numbers and Net Expected Points data to see exactly how they will fit in the Raiders way.
Which Schaub Are the Raiders Getting?
The Raiders are hoping the Matt Schaub they received is more like the 2010 or even the 2012 version, and not like the 2013 one. Spending three years behind Michael Vick in Atlanta could help Schaub's longevity in the league, but he's missed over 20 games in recent years, which is a concern. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of gaining a veteran like Matt Schaub.
According to our team Passing Net Expected Points data, when we adjust for strength of schedule, we see Schaub led the Texans’ passing offense to a top 15 finish in every season he played outside of 2013, where they finished 30th. In three of those seasons, the passing offense was among the top 10 in the NFL according to our data. Matt Schaub was a big part of the Texans rise as a playoff contender, though he rarely gets credit for it.
This gives us one of many reasons to believe that 2013 was not the usual Matt Schaub. Despite only playing in 10 games (starting eight of them), Schaub threw the second-most interceptions of his career (14), and if we extrapolate that number over the course of the season, he would have thrown over 20 interceptions. Yikes.
Then there was the horrid performance of the Texan's running game in 2013, the second worst during Schaub's tenure according to our Adjusted Rushing NEP metrics. Arian Foster played in only six contests, and the Texans had the sixth-worst ground attack in the league as a result, losing a total of 18 points over the course of the season via the run.
But does Schaub need a productive running game to be successful? Let's take a deeper look at our Adjusted Offensive NEP metrics.
|Adj. NEP||Rank||Adj. PNEP||Rank||Adj. RNEP||Rank|
The numbers above reflect total, passing and rushing offenses.
The offense as a whole accumulated a positive NEP mark in all but Schaub's last season as a Texan. We can see the offense's best year under Schaub was 2010, when the running game and Arian Foster were at their peak. Despite the negative aspects from 2013, in Schaub's seven seasons, he wasn't completely dependent on a good running game - he saw three seasons where the Texans running game ranked worse than 20th in efficiency, and outside of last year, his passing metrics when adjusted for strength of schedule were fantastic.
In reality, the 2013 season was an outlier for Schaub - though many have a negative view of the once backup passer, he actually has a proven track record. Every year - outside of 2013 - that Schaub has seen at least 300 pass attempts, he's ranked among the top 15 quarterbacks in the league in Passing Net Expected Points. In fact, despite missing a third of the season in 2008 and 2011, Schaub still finished in the top 15 of our passing metrics. While his 2013 finish showed his floor is along the lines of Geno Smith and EJ Manuel, his ceiling isn't nearly as low as some make it out to be. If Schaub lives up to even 75% of his potential, a sixth-round pick will look like a bargain for the Raiders.
But while Schaub's consistency is in favor, his injury history doesn't help his case. In 2007, Schaub suffered a concussion and later dislocated his left shoulder which required surgery. The next year, his lower body started to get some wear and tear as he hurt his left knee. In the first two seasons as a starter, Schaub missed 10 games.
Schaub ended 2011 with Linsfranc surgery on his right foot. And in 2013, he developed problems again in the same foot as well as his ankle. Could his repeated problems with that foot lead to a breakdown in his mechanics and, as a result, more interceptions than normal? Time will tell, and that's certainly a reason to not be optimistic about his chances in Oakland.
Can James Jones Be a Top Receiver?
James Jones was another big signing by the Raiders that could pay off handsomely. Jones comes from a fast-paced offense that current GM Reggie McKenzie had a hand in putting together while they were both in Green Bay. McKenzie hopes he can be a top receiver for the Raiders, but what do our numbers say?
Below is a chart depicting Jones' advanced numbers in Green Bay. Keep in mind that Reception NEP looks at his contribution on receptions only, while Target NEP analyzes points added on all targets.
|Rec NEP||Target NEP||Rec NEP/Target|
Jones always played second or third fiddle in the Green Bay offense due to sharing time with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and most recently, Jarrett Boykin.
He's done well in recent seasons with the passes he has caught, but not necessarily on all targets. The gap difference in these numbers essentially shows what happens when he doesn't catch a pass - when it's incomplete, intercepted or dropped. Since we know Aaron Rodgers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league, it's a little alarming that Jones Target NEP numbers are a tad low. His best season within the metric, 2012, ranked ninth-best among all Packer wide receiver seasons since 2007, while Greg Jennings - a true top receiver in Green Bay - had five Target NEP seasons that were better than Jones' 2012.
Not only that, but James Jones isn't a young receiver in this league anymore. He's 30 years old, and even during his prime years, showed that he wasn't a true number one threat.
He's displayed his talent on the field, sure, but Schaub will have to target him at least 100 times in 2014 to have a productive season as the top receiver on the team. In terms of fantasy football, Jones will likely play a bench role on your squad at receiver, as the Raiders have moderately talented players at pass-catcher in Rod Streater and Denarius Moore. And there's always a chance that Schaub completely doesn't work out, dropping the wide receiver values in the offense significantly.
Running back Timeshare
It's surprising that the Raiders let Rashad Jennings leave for the Giants, but it was even more puzzling that the Raiders brought in veteran Maurice Jones-Drew to pair with their own (oft-injured) veteran Darren McFadden.
Can these two vets combine to take the Raiders to the next level? Can they both stay healthy? Who will end up the lead back?
MJD has played nice so far, stating that he looks forward to competing for the top running back spot with McFadden. Due to McFadden’s injuries, I think many will pencil in MJD as the starter, but if they both stay healthy and are willing to split time, our numbers indicate that the Raiders may not have much to lose.
|MJD's Career||Yds||TD||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP/P||Success Rate|
MJD was not the lead back for his first three seasons, never exceeding 200 carries in a given year. He then broke loose as his first year as a starter in 2009, contributing 23.18 points to the Jaguars, ranking fourth-highest among all running backs. MJD continued to see close to 300 carries for the two seasons that followed, but considering he's only 28, MJD may still have plenty to give despite injuries in 2012 and 2013.
While Jones-Drew may have missed most of 2012, we forget that, before getting hurt, he was the NFL’s leading rusher. And 2013 was a disappointment due to ongoing recovery from the surgery since he wasn't able to participate in any offseason activities.
He also faced an uphill battle every game with the team fielded around him. Under David Garrard, the Jaguars passing offense posted only three seasons with a positive Net Expected Points value from 2006 to 2010, with one of those seasons barely above zero. It was even worse from 2011 to 2013 as the Jaguars relied on Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, posting three straight seasons of negative NEP, losing an average of -79.87 points per season.
It's not easy being a runner in an offense that throws the ball worse than almost any other team in the league. Perhaps things open up a bit for Jones-Drew in Oakland.
The incumbent running back on the Raiders, Darren McFadden, has had to deal with some of the same issues MJD has dealt with. Obviously McFadden hasn’t been on the field as much as MJD, but we can still see he has a couple impactful years in his career so far.
|McFadden's Career||Yds||TD||Rush NEP||Rush NEP/P||Success Rate|
Despite missing 29 games throughout his career, McFadden did post a 1,000 rushing yards in 2010, showing why no one has given up on him yet. McFadden has never been truly effective running the ball though, relying partly on volume to accumulate what he can.
However, like MJD, he hasn’t had the best quarterback situation either. In the six seasons McFadden has played, the Raiders have only posted two seasons of positive NEP for their passing offense, both under Carson Palmer. Similar to MJD, McFadden had his best season when the passing offense was able to post a good NEP and suffered, in part, when the passing offense was non-existent.
But that’s what makes the tandem of McFadden and MJD look promising. Both backs have shown better seasons when their play was limited in some fashion or another. If they can spell each other for stretches, they both have a better shot at staying healthy. A redone offensive line should help matters as well, especially for McFadden. It's not often you see a team with two potential starting running backs.
The biggest factor to the success of MJD and McFadden will be quarterback play though. Neither back is used to having a high-caliber starting quarterback in the backfield with them. Jones-Drew had his best season when David Gerrard posted the 20th-best Pass NEP by a quarterback (with at least 200 dropbacks) in 2009; McFadden posted his best season when Carson Palmer posted the 13th-best Pass NEP by a quarterback in 2011.
If Schaub proves to be above average in the passing offense with James Jones, Rod Streater, and Denarius Moore, that will take pressure off of McFadden/Jones-Drew tandem. If less pressure for both, we may see the best seasons to date for both backs.
If everything comes together right for the Raiders with MJD, Schaub, Jones, and the re-tooled defense, Reggie McKenzie may make some of us look foolish. I wouldn't say they're a Super Bowl contender right now, but crazier things have happened.