Oakland Raiders 2015 Year in Review: Another Step Forward
The 2015 NFL season was a bit of an up year for the Oakland Raiders, who finished 7-9, which gave them as many wins as they received in 2014 and 2013 combined and more wins than they have had in a season since 2011.
While a 13th straight season without a winning record -- and a 13th straight season finishing third or worse in the AFC West -- this year gave fans in Oakland a little bit more to be optimistic about.
General manager Reggie McKenzie had a tough task when he took the reigns of this team in 2012 -- and while he has not yet produced a team with a winning record, he has put together a team that looks close to making the next step -- drafting impact players on both sides of the ball and leaving the team with the second most salary cap space in the league, according to overthecap.com.
There's a lot to be hopeful about, but as the numbers will show, there's still a lot to be done.
What Went Right
Oakland was able to improve on their 2014 season pretty significantly on both sides of the ball.
Our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), indicates how many points a team scores or gives up above or below what should be expected of them. There's more in our glossary, but the team-based version of this metric, which we can adjust for strength of schedule, can tell us how well the team as a unit performed relative to expectation.
On offense, Oakland -- through the air and on the ground -- improved year-over-year in 2015.
The Adjusted Passing NEP per play went from -0.05 in 2014 to 0.10 in 2015. That mark is the best Oakland has achieved since 2002, when passing success was harder to come by. Oakland was the 29th ranked passing offense by that metric in 2014, and they rocketed up to 18th overall in 2015.
This has a ton (quite obviously) to do with much improved quarterback play. In the last decade plus, Oakland has struggled for consistency at the quarterback position. Since 2002, only five times has a quarterback had more than 480 drop backs in a season for Oakland (30 per game over a 16 game season). Derek Carr, on a per drop back basis, was the best Oakland quarterback since Rich Gannon in 2002 with at least 480 drop backs in a season, with a 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back.
Carr's play similarly help bolster the wide receivers. Rookie Amari Cooper was a standout in the passing game. Of all Oakland players with at least 100 targets, Cooper had the highest Reception NEP per target of any Oakland player since Randy Moss in 2005. Cooper also was the first Oakland receiver with more than 1,000 yards in a season since Moss in 2005. Cooper's fellow receiver, Michael Crabtree, had a nice season with 922 yards as well.
The running game also improved slightly from 2014 to 2015. Oakland's Adjusted Rushing NEP per play in 2014 was -0.11, and in 2015, it improved to -0.04. Though the improvement is incremental and both numbers are down from their 0.01 in 2013, Oakland did move from 32nd in the league in 2014 to 22nd with that increase.
That boost should be largely attributed to Latavius Murray, who in 2015 posted a -0.07 Rushing NEP per carry, up from last year's lead back Darren McFadden, who posted a -0.15 Rushing NEP per play in 2014.
Oakland was also incrementally better, at least statistically, stopping the pass in 2015 over 2014. Their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play has gotten better each year since 2012. With respect to Defensive NEP, the lower number the better, as this represents points allowed (as opposed to points scored).
Oakland was at 0.19 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play in 2012 (31st overall), 0.17 in 2013 (30th), 0.14 in 2014 (25th), and 0.11 in 2015 (16th). This is a pretty solid upward trend for the passing defense overall, likely bolstered a bit by second year man Khalil Mack's ability to rush the passer. Mack's 15 sacks last year were good for second in the league in 2015, behind only J.J. Watt, and includes a monstrous 5-sack performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
What Went Wrong
While a lot of the improvements look good on paper, there's definitely still room for Oakland to get much better in 2016.
Carr's performance was solid among Oakland quarterbacks, but across the league as a whole in 2015, it still ranked fairly low.
Of 21 quarterbacks in 2015 with at least 480 drop backs, Carr ranked 18th in Passing NEP per play, ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill, and Teddy Bridgewater. Again, though Carr represents an improvement over what Oakland fans have come to know, on a league-wide basis, he was still pretty far below the median.
Amari Cooper suffers a somewhat similar fate -- while he was better than what Oakland fans have gotten in a decade, there's still a ton of room for improvement. Of all 42 players in 2015 with at least 100 targets, Cooper ranked 27th in Reception NEP per target. Crabtree fares even worse, ranking 35th.
Murray, similarly, represented an improvement over the 2014 regime but, on a league-wide basis, is still below the median. Of the 30 players in 2015 with at least 150 rushes, Murray ranked 25th in Rushing NEP per play.
Even the units where Oakland improved as a whole need to get better. Both sides of the ball showed promise in 2015, but none of the four were top-10 units. Only one -- the passing defense -- is (barely) in the top half of the league.
Additionally, the rushing defense slipped from 14th in the league in 2014 to 20th in 2015 in rushing defense, per our metrics. With that slip, and the loss of every-game starter Charles Woodson due to retirement, there are some holes Oakland needs to fill in order to hold steady -- even with Khalil Mack.
Where to Go From Here?
Despite some of the concerns, the Raiders do appear headed in the right direction. Though no unit is yet elite, the team made significant strides from 2014 to 2015, and the 2015 team is, from an individual performance perspective, one of the best Oakland has had in over a decade.
There's still work to be done, but Cooper, who will be 22 in June, and Carr, who will be 25 in March, are a young and improving tandem.
Oakland will probably look to address some of the defensive woes in the draft and in free agency. With a ton of cap room, the Raiders are likely in play for some of the top free agents on the defensive side of the ball.
With that space, a defense with a young stud like Mack (who just turned 25), and an offense that is on the right track, there's no reason to think that Oakland can't make even more significant strides in 2016.