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2016 IDP TEAM PREVIEW: Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders might not be the Oakland Raiders much longer. As Will Brinson of CBS Sports reports, the Raiders have filed for the trademark rights to “Las Vegas Raiders,” going so far as to also release mock-ups of what a new stadium in Sin City might look like.

A move from Oakland (again) would be especially cruel now. After years as an AFC West tomato can, the Raiders have the makings of a contender in 2016. And while young offensive stars like quarterback Derek Carr and Amari Cooper garner most of the press, much of the source for those playoff aspirations comes from a vastly improved defense.

A defense spearheaded by a leading candidate to take home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 — and a player whose positional eligibility in IDP leagues recently changed at My Fantasy League.

Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.

 

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

That player is third-year superstar Khalil Mack (LB10), whose designation was changed to defensive end fresh off a 57-tackle, 15-sack breakout season. Sports Illustrated didn’t just call Mack one of the NFL’s best edge rushers — they labeled him the best.

“After a very good rookie season in which he showed wisdom beyond his years as a run defender,” they wrote, “Mack turned in the pass rush stats to round out his game as a dual-threat terror last season when he tallied 15 sacks, which was tops among edge players and trailed only J.J. Watt for the league lead. At this point, there’s no edge defender better at defending the run at the point of attack than Mack. The trait that stands out is his tremendously low pad level, which is a big problem for the taller tackles because it allows his to get inside and under their long arms. Combine that with strength and an explosive burst, and the NFL’s next great edge disruptor has arrived.”

Mack told the team’s website he’s only getting started. “I’m very excited,” Mack said. “I’m very excited. Ready to grind and work and that’s what we’ve been doing. Obviously we’ve been working against a great offense as well. We have great pieces over there. We’re just looking forward to getting better every day.”

Mack’s IDP production last year would have placed him second among defensive lineman, trailing only J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. And that’s where he sits now, as an elite DL1 option. In fact, if Watt’s balky back gives you great pause, it wouldn’t be that crazy to make Mack the first defensive lineman taken on draft day — if not the first IDP at any position.

 

LINEBACKERS

The Raiders will have a new defensive play-caller in 2016 in second-year middle linebacker Ben Heeney (LB120). Mack said Heeney has taken well to the new role. “He’s a lot more comfortable,” Mack said. “You can see the confidence in him. He has control of the huddle. He goes out and he does his job and that’s what you want from your Mike linebacker. You want a smart guy. Ben is a smart guy. He controls the huddle, controls the defense and everybody is listening to what he has going on with calls even.”

Heeney told Paul Gutierrez of ESPN he’s ready to get after it in 2016. “We’ve got playmakers all over the field, so it’s definitely fun to be able to give the plays to those guys and see what they can do with them,” Heeney said. “It’s amazing. Being in the middle, just having all these different pieces around me, definitely gives me confidence and makes me feel like I can feel fast.”

I actually featured Heeney here a couple of weeks ago as a potential draft-day value. In the couple of weeks since his ADP has steadily risen. This isn’t to say the youngster doesn’t still have LB3+ IDP upside, but at this point if you want Heeney on your squad you’re going to have to pay retail.

In fact, odd though it may seem, the better value among Oakland LB now is likely weak-side man Malcolm Smith (LB6), who told Eddie Paskal of the Raiders’ website he’s eager to show last year’s big numbers were no fluke. “I’m really excited to just go out there and bang around,” Smith said, “and get some opponents in front of us and show what we can do as a group.”

Smith parlayed 122 tackles (including 99 solos) and four sacks last year into a top-10 fantasy finish, but Average Draft Position data at MFL has Smith being drafted as a fantasy LB2. That’s value — if you address the defensive line early having Smith as your LB1 isn’t a situation that would have me crying in my beer.

Besides, tears make the beer flat.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The retirement of Charles Woodson left the Raiders with a big hole at the back of the defense. The Raiders addressed that issue aggressively in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, selecting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph (DNP) at No. 14. The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock liked the pick.

“With his range, toughness and ability to drop down in the slot and cover man, he’s like a poor man’s Earl Thomas,” Mayock said. “He says he models his game after Brian Dawkins. Some say he’s much like Bob Sanders. This is a dynamic playmaker.”

Those are some heady names to be comparing Joseph to given that he hasn’t played a down in the NFL. And the chips are stacked heavily against Joseph just stepping in and putting up the sort of steady IDP production that was typical of Woodson. But there should be enough opportunity there for Joseph in a full-time role to merit a look as an IDP DB2.

The Raiders also looked to bolster the secondary in free agency with the addition of veteran safety Reggie Nelson (DB11), who tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions in 2015. It marked the second straight season that Nelson has landed inside the top 15 fantasy defensive backs. However, last year’s finish was buoyed by an unsustainable number of big plays. As an upside DB3 I’d pull the trigger on the 32-year-old, but odds are he’ll come off draft boards before that.

Finally, IDP owners in fantasy leagues that require cornerbacks should strongly consider fourth-year pro David Amerson (DB18), who resurrected his career last year with the Raiders. Amerson’s 60 tackles and four interceptions in 2015 might not seem like numbers worth cartwheeling over, but consider this — despite only starting 12 games for the Raiders last year, Amerson was quietly a top-five fantasy option at his position — one who’s flying under the radar in many drafts.

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is a seven-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who was named the organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year for 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.