Written by Ryan Lipton Photo via Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
With NFL free agency nearly over and the NFL draft squarely in the rear-view mirror for the Oakland Raiders, the time to look forward is now.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has done a commendable job at stockpiling talent at key positions while not overplaying his hand this offseason, but the team still has some vital questions to answer this season.
Here are the four biggest causes for concern heading into 2017 for Oakland.
No. 4, No help in the middle of the defense
McKenzie didn’t do a lot this offseason to address the team’s concern at inside linebacker, only signing former Miami Dolphins inside linebacker Jelani Jenkins and drafting Marquel Lee in the fifth round.
This is somewhat confusing after McKenzie allowed team leader in tackles Malcolm Smith to walk in free agency and has still not entertained re-signing Perry Riley at the time of publication despite his posting a top-20 season at his position in 2016.
Unfortunately, Jenkins posted the worst Pro Football Focus grade of all qualifying linebackers in the NFL last year (31.3), and Lee is expected to struggle in coverage as he’s known as a downhill linebacker primarily.
McKenzie also cut the team’s healthiest and most productive defensive tackle last season in Dan Williams, leaving yet another cavernous void to fill in the center of the team’s defense. The move was made to make salary cap room for Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, but the replacements McKenzie have brought in again are suspect.
After leaping much higher than they had to in order to draft a fifth-round prospect in Raiders rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, McKenzie did snare a good value selection in the seventh round in DT Treyvon Hester.
However, relying on two rookies and the services of players such as Raiders defensive tackles Darius Latham and Justin Ellis (each of whom struggled mightily last season) seems risky at best.
When that fact is partnered with the massive question marks at middle linebacker, Oakland may find themselves in quite the conundrum up the middle of their defense in 2017.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.