Until Christmas Eve when quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg, the Oakland Raiders were experiencing a magical season. They entered the final week of the regular season 12-3 and with a win would have locked up the No. 2 seed in the AFC. As it was, though, Oakland made its first playoff appearance since 2002.
It took the Raiders 14 years to build into a winner again. Fans who follow this team could see the gradual turnaround, but still, any squad that goes from seven to 12 wins in the span of one offseason is going to be subject to doubt.
Are the Raiders real contenders again or will 2016 prove to be an aberration?
If yours truly had to guess, it will be the former, but here are three Raiders players who could experience a decline in play during the 2017:
Jared Cook, TE
Cook had a good single season with the Green Bay Packers, and at his price, he was fantastic value for the Raiders, but it might still be unrealistic to expect the same type of season from the veteran tight end as he had last year.
The first reason is that Aaron Rodgers will no longer be throwing him passes. While Carr is an up-and-coming signal caller, he’s not yet at Rodgers’ level. Oakland had trouble involving tight end Clive Walford in the offense last year.
Second, Cook posted a career-best 79.0 player grade at Pro Football Focus in 2016. At age 30 he had a “career year” — not a “breakout year”, and there’s definitely a difference. In 2015, he finished with a career-worst 52.6 player grade at PFF.
Cook could certainly still be useful, but it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see him regress slightly in all facets of his game.
Donald Penn, LT
Like many of Oakland’s players, Penn veteran was a rock last fall, but there are still concerns. Penn has been very consistent, posting strong player grades at PFF each of the last three years. In 2016, he reached his peak of 87.3, his best grade since 2008. Penn also made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2010.
But now at 34, it’s hard to imagine him continuing to improve as he has each of the past three years. Normally at his age, offensive linemen begin to decline slightly. Penn also finished the year injured, missing the Wild Card game against Houston.
Penn hasn’t missed a single regular-season game in his 10-year career, but injuries are more common as one gets older. He can still be very good, but another All-Pro type season is wishful thinking.
Karl Joseph, SS
Honestly, it’s hard to pick a third Oakland guy for this category. The Raiders simply don’t have many potential one-hit wonders on their roster, and they actually possess quite a few players, such as the linebacker core, that can’t play much worse, making a decline almost impossible.
So for my third player, I went with the rookie safety. Joseph was solid during his first year, posting 60 total tackles, six passes defended and an interception in 12 games. He earned a player grade of 77.5 at PFF.
It will be interesting to see, though, how he continues to develop in his second year. Joseph missed four games because of a toe injury. A knee ailment also kept him from finishing his senior season at West Virginia in 2015.
If health continues to be an issue, Joseph will have trouble improving and could even see a slight decline.