Are the Raiders Paper Tigers in 2016??

raiders-tunnel-pixWebster’s dictionary defines a paper tiger as  “one that is outwardly powerful or dangerous but inwardly weak or ineffectual”   Is this a fair representation of the 2016 Oakland Raiders?  Certainly looking at the team on paper, they look like a team that has improved greatly in the offseason. This season The Raiders look like they are headed towards not only for a winning season, but a legitimate contender for the AFC West crown – which they have not done since 2002..With talent like QB Derek Carr, WR Armani Cooper, DB Khalil Mack and LB Bruce Irvin, Oakland hopes to erase the folly of the past 14 season and turn the team back into a respectable franchise.  Let’s forget for a moment all the behind the scenes talk of moving and new stadiums and take a look at a few the players that could possibly bring back the “Just Win Baby” attitude that has been dormant for so long.. Believe it or not, the Oakland Raiders are ready to put the rest of the NFL on notice this season. They’ve quietly put together one of the league’s most exciting young rosters, and plan on using it to end their 13-year playoff drought while possibly adding an AFC West title in the process.  Lets take a brief look at a few of the players that Raider fans across the world are hoping to revive the once beleaguered franchise..

QB Derek Carr
Derek Carr is the Raiders’ unquestioned starter at quarterback, and only an injury is going to change that. After two seasons, he’s already proven himself as a potential franchise quarterback, and one of the top young gunslingers in the NFL.
Believe it or not, the Raiders have managed to put together an outstanding starting offensive line, aided by the offseason addition of Kelechi Osemele and re-signing of Donald Penn. Rodney Hudson returns as the outstanding anchor of the front five and Gabe Jackson is a mauling guard who has quickly emerged as a star in the making.  The hype surrounding  Carr is palpable and warranted heading into his third NFL campaign.  Recently, Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree called Carr a “gunslinger” in the mold of Hall of Famer Brett Farve.   Speaking in reply to Comcast SportsNet’s Amy Gutierrez, Farve had a different take than Crabtree saying “I don’t know if I consider him a gunslinger,” Favre said. “I think he’s a little more polished. And I mean that with all due respect. I think he’s done a tremendous job in Oakland. I like the way he plays. I think he’s a little more polished. I like to watch him. A good player.”
Carr is a microcosm of the optimism swelling in Oakland. The 25-year-old quarterback flashed brilliance at times last season, but also stumbled a bit down the stretch. With a beefed up offensive line and reliable receiver targets, he’s a prime candidate to make big strides in Year 3.
Oakland has a tremendous chance to leap into the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. For that to happen, Carr will need to prove he can be a consistent difference maker for 16 games.
WR Amari Cooper
Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper led the NFL’s rookies in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions during the 2015 season – and the former Alabama All-American’s numbers would have been even better, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said, if not for a foot injury.
“The last five games — people don’t know it – Amari, he could hardly practice,” McKenzie told SiriusXM NFL Radio during the league’s annual meeting. “We held him out of practice. He just could not do the things he did earlier in the season because that foot was bothering him. He showed his toughness by playing every game. Some of the time, he was just a decoy, but he gave it all he had.”
In his 11 pre-December games last season, Cooper caught 58 passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns. In his five games after Dec. 1, Cooper caught 14 passes for 219 yards and two TDs.  The totals came to 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns. Cooper set franchise rookie records for receptions, receiving yards and 100-yard games with five.  Cooper became the Raiders’ first 1,000-yard receiver since 2005 and the 21st rookie in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards. He also became the first NFL rookie since Chicago Bears tight end Mike Ditka in 1961 to record three 100-yard receiving performances in his team’s first six games.  Cooper’s 72 receptions were the most ever for an NFL player 21 years old or younger and his yardage total was the second-highest for that age group.  He earned a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team, finished third in the balloting for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and landed in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.  With that kind of first season, Cooper knows even more will be expected from him in his second NFL campaign.  “I have high expectations for myself, so it’s really nothing different than what I’m putting on myself “You just have to go out there and play the game like you’ve always been playing it, and if you work hard, success will follow.”
As well as Cooper has done, his advice to younger players is to try to outdo him.  “Dream of being a better player than I am,” Amari said recently,  “You’re only in high school, so the sky’s the limit for you. Your story isn’t written yet, so be the best you can be and try to be the best to ever do it.”  Eastbay sells athletic apparel, shoes and equipment by direct mail. Cooper has an endorsement deal with Nike.
After selecting Cooper with the fourth choice in the 2015 NFL Draft, Oakland improved from 3-13 in 2014 to 7-9 in 2015. The Raiders haven’t been to the playoffs or posted a winning season since 2002. .
“The future is bright,  (Oakland) has a lot of young players who are coming along, and we’re just excited to see what happens.”
LB Kahlil Mack
The Raiders spent big back in March and are thinking big as the 2016 season starts in a matter of days.. Bruce Irvin, one of the Raiders new acquisitions, hasn’t been shy in talking about the teams goals, and recently told the teams official website that he’s very much looking forward to playing opposite a “beast” in All-Pro pass rusher Kahlil Mack.   “We watched a lot of Oakland film in Seattle, so I would watch Khalil, and the guy is on his way to becoming one of the best rushers in the league – if [he’s] not already,” Irvin said. “I think me being on the other side of him, I’m going to benefit a lot and get one-on-one situations, and I have to win those matchups. Irvin went on to say that (Mack) “Is just a freak, he can play the run. He can rush. He can do all types of stuff, [he’s] the kind of guy you want to play with.”
Irvin has already dubbed he and Mack as “The Slash Brothers.” Irvin had 5.5 sacks last year for the Seahawks and has 22 in his four-year career. Mack had 15 sacks last season and has 19 in his two-year career.   The Raiders added Irvin, safety Reggie Nelson  and cornerback Sean Smith to their defense via free agency, so expectations are high. The praise for Mack isn’t new, either. Raiders LB Malcolm Smith recently compared Mack to Hall of Fame pass rusher Derrick Thomas.   There is nothing quite like a teammate setting wild expectations.   With optimism about the 2016 Raiders booming in the Bay Area, many are beefing up their projections regarding a rise in the AFC West. Mack himself recently boasted the Oakland defense could eventually reach a “Denver Bronco – type” defense. If that lofty prediction is to happen, it will come with Mack owning a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy season. Raider QB Derek Carr took it a step further, believing Mack could blow the NFL’s single-season sack record out of the water. ” I think he is gonna sack the quarterback 30 times” Carr recently told Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. “Watch the tape. He’s held every play. He’s like nobody else in the league. He’s talented.”   Michael Strahan holds the record for most sacks in one season at 22.5. If Mack gets 30 sacks, he won’t just win the Defensive Player of the Year award, he’ll take home the MVP trophy.
While expecting 30 sacks in one season is outlandish (that’s almost two per game), Carr’s underlying point is valid: Mack is ridiculously good. The Oakland pass rusher should reach J.J. Watt-levels in 2016.  With a beefed up defense and a young, growing offense, it’s easy to understand all the love for the Raiders this offseason. But Carr launched the expectations into the next stratosphere with his 30-sack prediction.
Maybe Mack should go on the NFL Network and prophesy a 60-TD season for Carr, just to even the expectation score.   Malcolm Smith has played with a number of defensive powerhouses in his 4 year stint in Seattle, but the new Raiders’ LB still can’t find a comparison for Oakland’s biggest star. “I’ve never seen anybody like Kahlil Mack to be honest with you,” Smith told SiriusXM NFL Radio on a month ago.  “He’s kind of a one-of-a-kind, as far as my football knowledge goes and my time of being in the NFL. Even in college, I don’t think I played against a player who’s kind of dominant as Khalil is in a one-on-one setting, even a two-on-one setting.”  Smith went on to say  “If you guys know somebody similar, I don’t know. Maybe Derrick Thomas.”   In just his second season, the Oakland pass-rusher became the first player in NFL history to earn an All-Pro nod at two different positions, with voters crowning him at linebacker and defensive end.  Still, Smith believes Mack is just beginning to bloom, especially now that Bruce Irvin — another former Seahawk — is on hand to help torture signal-callers. “I think it’s just going to make things better for the rest of us,” Smith said. “We can take some pressure off (Mack with) Bruce getting back there and the other guys getting to the quarterback will make it easier for us in coverage and we’ll make some big plays.”
The bottom line is: Few teams have generated more praise this offseason than the Oakland Raiders. They’ll need Mack and Co. to drop hammers from the first snap to make good on all the high expectations
High expectations?  Certainly.. But as we start the 2016 NFL season in just a few short days, we can finally all agree that the Oakland Raiders are going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch this year.. Stay tuned to WWW.RAIDERSGAB.COM for news and stories all year long and follow me on Twitter at @MLRAIDERSGAB for more !!

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