Throughout the month of July, the Last Word on Pro Football department will be taking a look at the three most recognizable faces of each NFL team. For this series, we’ll be looking only at active players. Here, the 2019 Oakland Raiders are the focus.
The Raiders are just weeks away from the start of training camp. Now is a good time to take a look at which players are the faces of the franchise. This distinction takes into account players whose success on the field will have a large impact, as well as players who stand out because of personality or other factors.
2019 Oakland Raiders: Faces of the Franchise
You can’t talk about the faces of an organization and exclude your franchise quarterback. Some people seem to forget that Derek Carr finished third in the MVP race back in 2016. While that may seem like a lifetime ago, it’s not crazy to think that he could reach those heights again in 2019.
With a year in Jon Gruden’s system under his belt, and an influx of talent on both sides of the ball, it’s easy to see why many people have Carr pegged as a dark horse MVP candidate heading into the 2019 season. Despite learning a new system, and having virtually no weapons to work with in 2018, Carr still managed to set a career-high in passing yards (4049) and completion percentage (68.9).
There are no more excuses for Derek Carr. He has to insert himself into the conversation for “elite” status in 2019. Anything less than that and Gruden won’t hesitate to hand Carr his walking papers. There’s no more guaranteed money in his contract after the 2019 season, so the team could easily cut ties with the former MVP candidate and use their plethora of draft picks to invest in a new signal-caller to lead the franchise going forward. It’s make or break time for Derek Carr.
Antonio Brown was the prize acquisition of the off-season for the Raiders, as he would be for any organization. Even despite his issues with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown still managed to set a career-high in touchdown receptions (15) last season.
Brown has been widely considered the best wide receiver in football for some time now. Not much reason to think that narrative changes with his move to the Raiders. Even though Carr will be running the offense, one can surmise that the team will go as Brown does. The Raiders will need peak Antonio Brown to push for a playoff spot this season and I truly believe that it’s in the realm of possibility.
Gareon Conley was the Raiders 2017 first-round pick. Due to a shin injury sustained in the off-season before his rookie season, he never had the chance to showcase his talents that made him worthy of being a first-round selection. That narrative changed in 2018, as Conley came on strong towards the end of the season.
Stephon Gilmore led the way in forced incompletion rate last season! pic.twitter.com/WA32Np0z0r
— PFF (@PFF) July 17, 2019
During the 2018 campaign, Conley surrendered only 27 catches, which was the second-least in the NFL. He also only allowed a mere 54 percent of passes completed against him. Another similar season from Conley and the league will finally begin to take notice of the elite-level talent that has yet to be tapped in to. Health is the only real concern here. If he can stay healthy and continue his upward progression, then Conley will be able to establish himself as the face of the Oakland Raiders defense for years to come.