2014 Team Outlook: Oakland Raiders
QB Matt Schaub, OAK - Bye Week Fill-in
Matt Schaub joins Raider nation after a nightmarish year that was painful to watch. The former Houston Texans QB posted a career-low quarterback rating (73.0), as well as ranking near the bottom of many other QB categories. Schaub struggled mightily with his confidence as evidenced by a NFL record four-game streak of giving up a pick-six. It was so bad that Schaub was benched in favor of Case Keenum at midseason when it became apparent that a season previously filled with Super Bowl aspirations was a lost cause. As the last man standing, the veteran QB started Week 17 and finished the season with a paltry 10 TDs and 14 INTs. Now sporting the silver and black, Schaub is looking to put 2013 well behind him and regain the form that placed him in the Pro Bowl twice and led the league in passing once (2009). While it's likely the Raiders will benefit from the quarterback's experience, the drafting of Derek Carr (the presumed quarterback of the Raiders' future) signifies that Schaub will need to regain his confidence to hold the starter's role for any great length of time. Also working against him is the fact that he is surrounded by a weaker supporting cast than those on the Texans. There is no Andre Johnson or Owen Daniels around to make tough catches. He will need to rely on an aging Maurice Jones-Drew and the perpetually injured Darren McFadden is a run-down version of Arian Foster in his prime. Schaub comes to camp as the starter, but watch closely to see if Carr make a push for competition. Whether it's Schaub or Carr under center, the Oakland QB position is a fantasy bye-week fill in at best and that's assuming the matchup is in their favor.
QB Derek Carr, OAK - Dynasty Only
The Raiders can only hope they have found a savior to their organization. Carson Palmer wasn't it; Terrelle Pryor wasn't it and Matt Schaub is likely a short-term band-aid at best. Derek Carr was drafted in the second round and reports indicate that the Raiders are pleased with their choice. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has raved about Carr's accuracy in OTAs and while it's not live game action, Oakland likes what they've seen. The Fresno State alum brings a strong arm, good size, precise passing and a hard-working mentality to the team. It helps that he learned from his older brother [David Carr] who spent nine years as a quarterback in the NFL. Carr will likely also benefit from Matt Schaub taking him under his wing as he goes through the normal growing pains as a rookie, but the belief is that Carr will be under center to start at some point this year. Even if he starts, Carr shouldn't be considered for fantasy purposes just yet (unless you are talking dynasty leagues).
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, OAK - Quality Backup
Maurice Jones-Drew is just one of the many new faces joining the Oakland Raiders in an attempt to ignite an offense short on reliability in recent years. A change of scenery seemed to be a long time coming for MJD, whose last couple years have been headlined by a holdout, rumors of being traded and various injuries. Coming off foot surgery that sidelined him for more than half of the 2012 season, the former Jaguar posted a career-low 3.4 yards per carry on 234 rushes in 2013. Although he was still a pass-catching threat out of the backfield with 43 receptions, Jones-Drew struggled to find the stride that made him one of the more consistent, durable threats since he burst onto the NFL scene in 2006. Many point to the heavy mileage (267 touches per year spanning eight years) as an obvious reason for his steep decline, but the Raiders are counting on MJD to join Darren McFadden and make running back a position of strength. While it's uncertain exactly how the Raiders plan to mix and match their veteran backs, it's expected to be a healthy competition which can only help the Raiders. MJD is currently falling to the 10th round (114.09 ADP) in drafts. You are not drafting the Jones-Drew of old, but given his skill-set and the likelihood of an annual McFadden injury or two, it is fine to roll the dice and draft the former UCLA back as a RB3/flex with PPR upside.
Editor's note: McFadden apparently looked great at OTAs and was praised by the media for being as healthy as ever. It is possible MJD plays second-fiddle to McFadden. This situation will be made clearer as the offseason progresses into the regular season.
RB Darren McFadden, OAK - Gamble (high risk)
CALL THE INFIRMARY: It's hard to believe that the upcoming season will be the seventh for Darren McFadden. Every year experts gush about his skill-set, potential to dominate and clear bill of health, yet every year he misses games. In fact, McFadden has missed a remarkable 29-of-96 games (30-percent) during his up-and-down career; that doesn't factor in the fantasy nightmare that comes along with leaving games early with knee and hamstring injuries. Fantasy owners know all too well the pain that comes from Run DMC's questionable status that seems to be a weekly occurrence on the injury report. At just 26 years old, the injuries seem to have taken their toll on the back as seen by his poor 3.3 yards per carry average over the past two years. Now that MJD has joined the Raiders, it appears that the last group of McFadden supporters have finally jumped ship, judging by the former Arkansas standout being the 44th RB off the board in fantasy drafts (ADP: 128.64). Jones-Drew and McFadden are both wild cards this year. Both are strong red-zone runners and are equally capable of being a factor receiving the ball (making them fantasy-worthy if given the lion's share of touches). According to his agent, McFadden reportedly turned down better paying offers from other teams in order to return to the Raiders because he "has something to prove." Playing time will dictate whether there is any value here, but the injury risk will always be a concern.
Editor's note: The media reported McFadden looking excellent during OTAs. We'll see how that translates to the field in a couple more months when the pads go on.
RB Latavius Murray, OAK - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
While the fantasy world continues to try and figure out the apparent time-share between Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, it may be Latavius Murray who steals the show. Granted, Murray's best opportunity for playing time is if the two veteran backs continue to regress, but the former Central Florida back has the attention of his offensive coordinator Greg Olson. He was quoted as saying Murray has "the biggest upside" in the crowded Raiders' backfield. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound back has serious jets and is looking to play catch-up after missing his entire rookie year with an ankle injury. Murray can be had late in drafts and should be considered a viable sleeper in deep leagues.
Editor's note: If the planets do align, Murray has huge potential. Unfortunately, he needs both MJD and McFadden to get injured at the same time... Maybe that's not as crazy as it seems.
RB Marcel Reece, OAK - Low Potential
Marcel Reece is one of the few fullbacks that occasionally posts an impressive stat-line for fantasy purposes. A poor man's Mike Tolbert, Reece has made his presence felt with 84 receptions over the past two years. Reece should be on the field a lot in 2014, blocking for the flavor of the day in the Raiders' backfield. Expect a few high-volume reception days, but Reece should not be considered a fantasy option for your team.