Wednesday - Feb 20, 2019

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Oakland – A Fantasy Football Graveyard?

You know a franchise is in trouble when it places its franchise tag on a kicker/punter – as has been the case with

Oakland (and

Cincinnati).

You know a franchise has been badly managed when its record over the last six years is 24-72 (0.333) – which incidentally is even worse than the Lions’ 26-70 over the same period.

But, it’s truly all over when your team’s franchise player is being drafted by the fantasy community no earlier than in Round 20 (JaMarcus Russell). Quite frankly, Elvis hasn’t just left the building at this point – he’s gone on a world tour, been to rehab, gotten remarried twice, acquired three more addictions and discovered Lady Gaga!

So, we are all on relatively safe ground when we say that the franchise has been doing its best impersonation of the football equivalent of the current economic climate in its own special way for the past six years. Does that mean that it’s not fantasy relevant?

In a word? No.

Let’s look at the silver lining of this black cloud loitering over the Raiders and Oakland Coliseum before we hit the panic button and do some transcendental breathing techniques first though; shall we? One thing that

Oakland does do really well is to run the football. Seriously – they REALLY do. They finished 10th overall in the NFL – that’s in the top 30 percent of all teams, ahead of teams with fantasy rushers like Steve Slaton, Ronnie Brown and Maurice-Jones Drew.

Still not impressed with that? Okay, let’s just finesse that into further perspective – they finished 10th in rushing with THE worst (32nd) passing offense in the NFL. In real game terms that means that teams facing the Raiders stacked the box, would place an eighth man in there, play to stuff the run, play after play after play. Why? Because they had no faith in the opposing QB having the ability to beat the blitz, make the right reads, or – if he managed to do all that – make a pass with any degree of accuracy, something that Russell was consistently able to oblige with the opponent’s defensive coaches last season. He managed to complete on just over half of his passes and averaged only 6.6 yards per pass, whilst also managing 12 fumbles in 15 games and only 13 TDs, which isn’t far off the number of interceptions he threw as well (eight).

So to finish in the top third of rushing offense in the NFL with a non-existent passing game and opposing coaches focusing on stopping the run REALLY is a big deal. It’s huge. Massive. It’s bigger than Shaun Rogers and LenDale White (the ’07 version) combined!

Now believe it or not, the Raiders did make arguably their biggest – or at least, most sensible – acquisition in recent years this offseason. No, you definitely won’t be drafting him … and no, you aren’t going to be wildly ecstatic that he’s a tender 39-years-young, but make no mistake – you will love what he is going to do for the fantasy value of two or three Raider players.

Lorenzo Neal.

He is considered one of the best blocking fullbacks in NFL history, blocking for a 1,000+ yard back 11 straight years (1997-2007). The preceding sentence was lifted straight from Neal’s wiki entry.

Now, if you didn’t have Darren McFadden on your fantasy radar before, you should have by now. Neal has blocked for some of the games best fantasy behemoths at the back position – including Corey Dillon and LaDainian Tomlinson. It was also Neal who helped give Joe Flacco the time he needed to adjust to NFL speed and make all his reads. If nothing else, JaMarcus will get more time in the pocket than he has done previously with both a dedicated pass-blocking TE (Brandon Myers) and a FB savvy enough to see a blitz coming from a country mile away after 15 years blocking for some of the greats.

McFadden is over his turf toe injury problems of ’08 and he has looked suitably impressive in OTAs and camp as befitting his first-round pick status, managing to break off some good runs in the preseason opener against

Dallas.

Pfft – camp and preseason, you say? What on Earth do they prove? Quite rightly, they should never be taken as legit proof that he – or anyone else for that matter – will have a good season. So, let’s look at the body of work from during his rookie season. Even struggling with the nagging injury he had for most of last season, he posted 4.4 yards per carry (better than Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Jones-Drew and Ronnie Brown, amongst others) and averaged almost 10 yards per reception (and he was targeted 2.5 times per game last season). So with Neal there you’ve got to like his situation now that he’s healthy. Throw in the fact he has solid platoon support from the likes of Michael Bush and Justin Fargas to keep him fresh and an improved (and really that isn’t me praising it, just that there has to be a progression as further regression would be impossible at 32nd in the league) aerial offense and that will take more eyes off DMC as defensive coaches plan for Zach Miller and Chaz Schilens and the pass more.

If you keep one eye on the schedule – and only one, picking a player solely for his schedule is a sure fire way to get caught out – but facing Denver twice, Kansas City twice, Cleveland and Cincinnati are all games you’d expect a lot of success with the rushing game.

San Diego is more of a wild card as they could be Jekyll or Hyde with equal ease. Then you have a few games or more difficulty with the New York Jets,

Philadelphia,

Pittsburgh and

Baltimore. It’s still a whole lot more of an easy ride than most pigskin carriers will face this season!

So, if you’re drafting late in the first round and missed on the players you were originally targeting, or if by some minor miracle he falls into your lap in the second – for any number of reasons – you’d do well to take a ride on the D-Mac train all season long, as if you miss this one out of the station it won’t be coming back around until next season.

McFadden aside? Other news coming out of Raiders camp has been its usual mixed bag. Some people have Russell making progress – others have him as overweight and missing on simple reads and his timing being off. Some have him leaving camp early, whilst others will stress that he had an informal week of practice with most of his WRs on their own time.

All in all, what this translates down to is more check downs and plays to the tight end Miller. Now entering his third year, Miller has shown progress in each season (last season he had 778 receiving yards) – leading all OAK players in reception yardage and beating out other TEs such as Antonio Gates, Tony Scheffler, John Carlson and Greg Olsen. He finished sixth overall in receiving yards for any second-year player. No small potatoes.

The Oakland

Tribune is also reporting that rookie TE Brandon Myers will be serving as the primary pass-blocker, which will free up Miller to get further down field, and at 6’5” he’s a big target with soft hands that gets up well. He’s projected as low as the No. 10 TE in all drafts and as high as No. 6. The more Russell struggles, the more passes he’ll get.

The dearth of talent at WR and the fact that Darius Heyward-Bey has had a serious case of the dropsies early on, showing all the suppleness and deftness of a bag of cement with his hands, only increasing Miller’s importance in the passing game.

Javon Walker? Yeah, it’s true he’s able to play now, but you have to wonder how much it’s worth getting excited about that when last season he was saying he was going to retire from the NFL. It’s also worth pointing out that there is a world apart from being able to play and being match fit. You never, ever want to hear a player on your roster talk about retirement (are you listening No. 4?!) as whenever their production tails off in the second half of the season or when they start dropping balls in the fourth quarter, or when they are trailing by a large margin you’ll always wonder …

If you need a WR3 though and are deep, deep into your draft you could do a lot worse than pick up Schilens. Could you do better? Sure you could – but where else in the draft will you be able to find a player that is guaranteed to play almost every offensive down? He’s currently the WR1 at OAK which I suppose is a bit like saying Mussolini was your favorite dictator; it is what is … it’s not his fault Russell is his QB, but they have started to develop the sort of chemistry that every QB needs with his WR to be successful (Brady and Moss, Romo and T.O., Manning and Harrison, anyone and Calvin Johnson)

He’s ticking all the right boxes; performed well at camp, has great measurables (6’4”, 225 lbs., 4.33 40-yard dash) and had a good rookie year – averaging 15 yards per reception with 15 receptions and two TDs last year. You throw in his competition? A player coming off a broken ankle and considering retirement on a paycheck so fat you could make momma jokes about it and another second-year WR who is the main kick returner and will probably end up as the WR2 on the depth chart (Johnnie Lee Higgins).

In fact, the only “Dark Horse” that might emerge into contention – if a first-round pick has ever been called that before – would be Heyward-Bey who has been spectacularly mediocre at best so far. He’s been woeful since signing, although credit where its due as he’s since been playing well in training and might move up the depth chart if – and its a big if – he can keep that up.

Bottom line? Schilens is a current WR1 and will end up no lower than a WR2 at worst. At the bottom of any draft, that’s value for money.

So,

Oakland? It’s a place of football history and it’s a place of prestige and pride, but it’s also a place that is caught in a really bad slump – one that’s even worse than

Detroit. If you are really going to draft from the stable of players here then there are really only three players worthy of drafting with fantasy status – McFadden, Miller and Schilens – and you really, really, REALLY want to be targeting McFadden …

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