Our own Hayden Nadolny is back with latest series: a look at the Raiders current roster by position. Nadolny explores the current status of the Raiders special teams corps.
The Raiders special teams unit had a few major personnel changes going into 2017. Overall, the unit was a mixed bag in 2017, which is not exactly ideal for a unit that coaches need to know what they’re getting 100% of the time. As seen time and time again, special teams can be the difference between a win and a loss, whether it be from shifting field position, or making a crucial field goal.
King goes from strength to strength, seemingly improving with each year. He is arguably the best punter in the league, and was far less of a distraction in 2017 than the previous season. For all of the Raiders’ personnel issues they have had since the turn of the millennium, they really have hit it out of the park with their punters (Shane Lechler and King). King is contracted with the Raiders for the next 3 years at less than 3 million per season. He is as valuable a commodity the Raiders have that is not Derek Carr or Khalil Mack. And now, he’s added EDM musician to his resume but there’s no denying he’s a great fit in Oakland.
Tavecchio is an exclusive rights free agent, but for all intents and purposes, he will be with the Raiders until, at the very least, final cutdowns. He had a ripper start to the year, hitting 3 50+ yard field goals against Tennessee. He also had the game winner against Kansas City on Thursday Night Football. However, as the season progressed, he went into a significant form slump, making only seven of his final 12 field goal attempts. There is no chance that Jon Gruden accepts that kind of conversion rate this year. Tavecchio will most definitely have competition to keep his spot this season.
I touched on Patterson in our wide receiver edition of State of the Raiders Roster, but he deserves extra mention here as a special teams ace. There were times early on in the year where he looked uncomfortable, specifically speaking, he was unsure as to whether or not he should bring the ball out of the endzone. Once he fixed this up he was a threat to break for a big gain every kickoff. Although he didn’t hit paydirt, he played an important part in the field position game, flipping the field plenty of times. Patterson also excelled as a gunner on punt coverage. He is a unique weapon who special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia will love to have at his arsenal.
Richard had a great year on punt returns in 2016, but in 2017 he looked every bit of an undrafted rookie in this role. Specifically, his game against the Giants where he had multiple fumbles catching punts was simply inexcusable. Richard is a nice change of pace back, but he should not be in the punt returner role moving forward given his fumble issues in the role last season.
Farewell to a Raider great:
I would be doing a disservice not to acknowledge the feats of departing kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Seabass was literally part of the furniture in Oakland. He won’t receive as much credit as someone like Adam Vinatieri once retired, but Seabass changed the kicking game in the NFL. At the time he was drafted, few coaches had faith in their kicker past 50 yards. Janikowski broke that mold, and now we are seeing a gluttony of kickers booming it as far as 60 yards (hello Justin Tucker). Janikowski was always a great conversation whenever I encountered him, a guy that the locker room always enjoyed having around. His legacy with the Silver and Black will remain entrenched in the franchise’s deep history.
Impending free agent:
Condo has been with the Raiders for over a decade as their trusted long snapper. There were rumours abound late last year that Condo would not be retained by Reggie McKenzie this season. Given that McKenzie has signed two long snappers to future contracts, this may prove to be the case.
The Raiders have part of the puzzle already in place on special teams, but they need more reliability and consistency in some key areas. It would be disingenuous of myself to suggest any specific free agent kickers because there is not much separating any of them, and kickers at times can go from being elite one year, to out of the league the next (and vice versa).
Tavecchio at the very least needs competition at the kicker position going into training camp. If the Raiders want to really emphasise special teams as a potential difference maker of their team, putting Amari Cooper on the punt team would be an exciting move. Cooper doesn’t have much experience in this spot, though he was used in this role early in his pro career by Jack Del Rio. Gruden has not been averse to using his star players on special teams in the past either, with Tim Brown seeing plenty of time as a punt returner. There are sure to be a group of people who would be concerned about the increased injury risk for Cooper, but the injury risk on a punt return is no greater than running a route over the middle exposing yourself to a big hit by a safety or linebacker. Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the league, and yet he is still put out on punt returns for the Steelers. Hence, it’s not as if Cooper should be given special treatment in this regard. Getting the ball in your top playmaker’s hands an addition 4-5 times per game can only be seen from my perspective as a positive move.