At 5-6, the Raiders already have two more wins than they had for the entire 2014 season. Plus, they are still mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Their road to a postseason berth is by no means easy, beginning with Sunday’s matchup against the 6-5 Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum (1:05 p.m. kickoff).
But one thing appears certain: The Raiders, after so many bad seasons and more than a decade without a playoff appearance, now have a core of young, elite talent on the roster as a foundation. And the more people see how these young players are performing, the better they look.
This week, for instance, draft analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, did a mock re-draft of the 2014 draft class and he picked three Raiders among the top 15 overall choices.
Quarterback Derek Carr would be the No. 1 overall pick to the Houston Texans, he wrote, with linebacker Khalil Mack going No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams. Left guard Gabe Jackson would be selected 15th by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie took Mack high in the first round, selected Carr at the top of the second round and got Jackson in the third round.
By any evaluation, McKenzie struck gold in last year’s selection process. He then followed that up this season by taking receiver Amari Cooper in the first round, defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. in the second and tight end Clive Walford in the third. All three are contributing in big ways this season.
While the playoffs may slip from their grasp this season – the Raiders would need to win at least four of their five remaining games to qualify at 9-7 – they are well positioned to keep getting better, especially if McKenzie has a third straight quality draft in 2016.
As the Chiefs prepared this week to take on the Raiders, Kansas City coach Andy Reid noted how valuable Carr is to the franchise. Oakland had gone through a carousel of starting quarterbacks since 2003 – 18, in fact – before Carr came along. He’s now among the best young passers in the NFL and gives the team a quality and stability at the position it’s been seeking for a long, long time.
“He was poised last year for a rookie and he’s even more poised now,” Reid told the Kansas City Star. “He gets the ball out fast. I think the Raiders are fortunate to have him. He’s a good football player. Reggie did a good job there.”
Carr ranks No. 6 in the NFL with a 101.5 quarterback rating, having thrown 24 TD passes vs. just six interceptions. He’s also completed 63.5 percent of his throws and taken just 12 sacks.
Thanks to some terrific drafting by McKenzie, with Carr the focal point, it appears the Raiders are on course for a steady rise. And the 2014 draft class was the turning point.