The Raiders looked like they were headed for a long playoff run last season in Week 16 against the Colts. It was the fourth quarter, and Oakland was beating Indianapolis 33-25.
And then it happened.
Quarterback Derek Carr, who was an MVP candidate, was sacked by Colts linebacker Trent Cole, and he suffered a broken fibula, which ended his season. The Raiders then lost to the Broncos in Week 17, which cost them the AFC West division title and a first-round bye, and Oakland was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Houston.
It was a crushing blow to a team that played great all season. And it's a testament to how good Carr was in 2016 -- and how good he should be again this year.
Carr finished as the No. 11 Fantasy quarterback last season by completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions, and he ran for 70 yards. He finished just eight points behind the No. 7 Fantasy quarterback in Blake Bortles, so Carr would have been even better if he played in Week 17.
He's expected to be fine for training camp, so Fantasy owners don't have to worry about his health. And he got some new weapons this offseason with the additions of running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to go with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
Carr improved from being the No. 13 Fantasy quarterback in 2015, and he should continue to get better this season, which should result in his first 4,000-yard campaign. He's averaged 30 touchdowns and 9.5 interceptions the past two seasons, and his standout receiving corps and elite offensive line only enhances his ability.
Now, Carr does have some flaws. He's struggled within his division the past two years with only three games with at least 20 Fantasy points in 11 meetings against the AFC West, and he's only averaging 15.9 points against the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers.
That's something he's going to have to solve, which won't be easy, but it should give Fantasy owners some cause for concern with Carr on Draft Day. The hope would be Cooper continues to get better in his third season, Crabtree remains a consistent threat and the addition of Cook opens up the offense with an improved tight end situation.
Carr should not be considered among the elite Fantasy quarterbacks on Draft Day, which is the group of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. But he's in that next tier of Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton.
He's worth drafting with a mid- to late-round pick in all leagues. And Carr will hopefully lead Fantasy owners to the playoffs, as well as getting the Raiders back there also after last season's disappointing finish.
Bust: Marshawn Lynch
The positives for Lynch coming out of retirement are he gets to play behind an amazing offensive line, and he steps into a good role with Latavius Murray gone as a free agent to Minnesota. Murray had 195 carries for 788 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns and 33 catches for 264 yards last year, and the Raiders should give Lynch the majority of those carries, especially in the red zone (Murray had nine touchdowns inside the 5-yard line). Oakland's offensive line was also ranked No. 4 in the NFL last season by Pro Football Focus. But Lynch is 31 and hasn't played football in over a year after he retired following the 2015 season. And that season was rough for him since he was limited to seven games because of hamstring and abdomen injuries, and he finished with just 111 carries for 417 yards (3.76 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and 13 catches for 80 yards. Now, prior to 2015, Lynch had at least 1,200 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in four consecutive seasons in Seattle, and he averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry each year. But it's hard to expect Lynch to get back to that level at this point in his career, and he will also lose touches to Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, with both second-year running backs worth drafting with late-round picks in case Lynch fails in his comeback. We consider Lynch a No. 2 Fantasy running back at best on Draft Day, and he's only worth drafting in Round 5 or later in the majority of leagues.
Third-year breakout: Amari Cooper
Cooper has been a good Fantasy receiver for the past two years, but we want him to be great this season. And this is the year for it to happen since this is his third season in the NFL. As a rookie in 2015, Cooper was the No. 22 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues with 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns on 130 targets. He improved in 2016 with 83 catches for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns on 132 targets, which made him the No. 14 receiver. Now is the time for him to ascend into the top 10, and that should fall on his shoulders. And the steady improvement over two years is a good sign. Cooper's targets have remained consistent so far, although it would be nice to see him have more than Crabtree (145 targets each year). And we'd like to see Cooper more involved in the red zone than Crabtree, who had 21 targets inside the 20 in 2016 compared to just 13 for Cooper, who had no catches inside the 10-yard line last year. Those things will hopefully improve this season, and Cooper has a high ceiling in what should be an explosive offense. He's worth drafting in Round 2 in the majority of leagues, and this should be his best year in the NFL to date.
Still going strong: Michael Crabtree
Cooper continues to get the majority of attention among Fantasy owners when it comes to the Raiders receivers, and we hope this is the year he's better than Crabtree. But for the past two seasons, Crabtree has been Oakland's best weapon in the passing game. He was the No. 19 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues in 2015 with 85 catches for 922 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 targets, and he followed that up in 2016 with 89 catches for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns on 145 targets to finish as the No. 11 receiver. As we said with Cooper, Crabtree was great in the red zone last year with six touchdowns on 21 targets inside the 20-yard line and four touchdowns on eight targets inside the 10, and it's clear he has a solid rapport with Carr. While Cooper may pass Crabtree in terms of production this season, it's not like Crabtree will disappear. He's among the best No. 2 Fantasy receivers you can target in all leagues, and he's worth drafting by Round 5 in standard leagues and Round 4 in PPR.