RAIDERS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
While the Broncos are coming off a home win against the mighty (if only in name) Seahawks, the Raiders are traveling to the thin air in Denver on a short week, coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Rams. The Raiders’ offense looked solid from a schematic perspective, with a variety of formations and creative concepts — putting to rest some of the concerns about Gruden as a play-caller after spending so much time away from the game (his deficiencies as a roster-builder, of course, are a different story…), but in spite of Gruden’s best efforts, Derek Carr showed that his 2017 season is not yet in the rearview mirror. Carr was often spooked by ghosts of pressure, and he repeatedly read the field poorly — failing to see open receivers, and throwing to guys who were covered. Traveling to take on the Broncos on a short week would seem to be a near-impossible task for this offense right now. I’m surprised by the implied total of even 20.0, and I won’t be surprised if it trickles down further throughout the week.
RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE
The most concerning thing about Carr’s performance on Monday night was just how unwilling he was to attack in tight windows. With Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson trading in one difficult matchup for another, volume is going to be a concern this week. Cooper saw three targets last week while running 47 pass routes. Jordy saw four targets on 47 pass routes. Each guy lined up in the slot last week at least 24% of the time, which will expose these two to more of superstar Chris Harris, Jr. as well.
While that covers the bad news for Oakland’s wide receivers, the good news is that each guy will see an equal amount of time on Tramaine Brock, who is the clear weak link in this unit. Expect Gruden to scheme some opportunities for Carr to pick on Brock, especially with Cooper. Whether or not Carr is able to convert these plays is obviously a different story.
This passing attack rounds out with Jared Cook, who smashed for us on Monday night and is in another good spot here, against a Denver defense that ranked 31st last year in DVOA against the position, and who allowed the third-most tight end receiving yards. Naturally — because he’s Jared Cook — he disappointed in this matchup both times last season, with stat lines of 3-46-0 (on eight targets) and 1-2-0. Oakland averaged 15.5 points and 19.5 completions in those two contests.
RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE
The Raiders’ run offense is equally underwhelming against a defense that puts a heavy emphasis on stopping the run. Last week, Marshawn Lynch played only 24 of a possible 70 snaps, giving way to Jalen Richard for large chunks of the second half with Oakland falling behind. Richard played 37 snaps and ran 28 pass routes, seeing a whopping 11 targets from a skittish Carr. That sort of usage for Richard is nowhere close to bankable, but he’s actually worth a large-field tourney shot or two if multi-entering, as the Raiders could easily fall behind again, and are once more facing a team that is tough on wide receivers.
Generally speaking, however, backfields are best left alone against Denver. That fundamental fact doesn’t change this week.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
With Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin, and Leon Hall, the Raiders have an improved secondary over what they were trotting out last season, but they are still well below-average, and are an attackable unit for opposing offenses. All three of Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and Courtland Sutton find themselves in an above-average matchup this week.
Sanders stole the show last week with 10 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets — carrying over the rapport he showed with Case Keenum in the preseason, and proving that he is healthy right now and ready to reestablish himself as an elite weapon. Even with his price going up this week, he remains a strong play in a matchup he can win, with bankable volume from his new slot-heavy role.
Behind Sanders, Demaryius and Sutton ran neck-and-neck, each seeing 31 pass routes — and while Sutton saw only five targets to Demaryius’ 10, there will be games this season in which those numbers flip-flop. Demaryius is still the better route-runner, and is the more trustworthy piece of this offense at the moment; but Sutton is the superior athlete, and he is going to have some monster games this season. On weeks in which value is thin, I will feel comfortable rostering Sutton in good matchups on all three sites until his price rises.
Last week, Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt split time and low-upside reps at tight end. This passing attack does not extend beyond that.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
The Raiders’ already-poor run defense is in shambles after losing Justin Ellis to I.R. on Wednesday, and a poor Broncos offensive line should be able to open enough holes for Royce Freeman and Week 1 surprise Phillip Lindsay. Freeman played 29 snaps to Lindsay’s 26, and ran 11 pass routes to Lindsay’s nine. Devontae Booker rounded out this trio with 19 snaps and 15 pass routes of his own.
This would be an excellent spot for DFS production if we could bank on one guy seeing all the work, but it’s tough to isolate one standout player from this group, with such a broad workload split. Freeman is the best bet if you are hoping to capture decent workload in a good matchup with potential clock-killing duties at the end; but a lot of faith and guesswork would have to go into that play, and Denver seems set, at the moment, on riding multiple guys each week.
I will not be going near Raiders players with any significant chunk of my bankroll, though you could make a case that Cooper has week-winning upside, even in a difficult matchup. It has been a long time since the Carr-to-Cooper pairing has shown that upside, but we do know it’s there. I could also see a roster spot justifiably being used on Cook or even Richard, but the other tight ends mentioned in this article stand out to me over Cook; and Richard would require a lot of things to go correctly before paying off again.
On the other side, the Broncos are going to be able to move the ball both on the ground and through the air — and while their ground game is a three-way mess, their passing attack has volume already settled pretty firmly in place for us. Emmanuel Sanders should lead the way once again, making him an option in all formats. Sutton and Demaryius will split around 12 to 18 targets between them, with both carrying upside. Demaryius is the 70/30 favorite to lead in targets between these two, but Sutton has the clearer shot at per-target upside.
The Broncos also appear to be a solid DST play, against a mistake-prone Carr playing on the road. Keenum is interesting as an affordable option with solid floor and upside at the quarterback position.