I understand why grading an NFL team’s offseason excites so many. It’s the same with preseason college football and basketball rankings. Fans. Opinions. Punches thrown and all that good stuff.
But evaluating players in regular-season games — yeah, I’m the one who offers a report card on the Raiders after each one — and surmising how a team improved or not with free agency and the draft are more opposite than the governors of Nevada and Georgia.
No matter how much some folks scream about what they (don’t) know.
When they begin a virtual offseason program Monday, the Raiders will continue existing in the bizarro world that is sports functioning during a pandemic. Rookies join in May.
It’s about as normal a way of doing things as anchoring the league’s draft from a basement.
Which, by the way, was outstanding.
But judging what the Raiders have done since finishing last season 7-9 isn’t about pass/fail. Not until things begin for real again. All we really have are names on paper.
Some are written in ink, others in a bigger pencil than the weapon hanging from the ear of Lions coach Matt Patricia.
Here, then, is what the Raiders resemble on a few pages from Office Depot’s finest:
Derek Carr apparently likes emojis. The quarterback sent several positive ones to general manager Mike Mayock during the draft.
“I don’t even know how to make emojis,” Mayock said. “I was just looking at all these emojis like, ‘I guess he’s happy.’ Bottom line, what we’re trying to do is get more dynamic on offense, and I think that’s what Derek recognizes as well.”
He probably also recognizes a sense of pressure to deliver more wins.
It has become obvious how enamored Mayock and coach Jon Gruden are with the Kansas City Chiefs. They certainly didn’t hide it when drafting.
It’s probably why, of the top three wide receivers available, they chose by far the fastest in Henry Ruggs. Then they selected versatility in running back/wideout Lynn Bowden Jr. Then they took another receiver in Bryan Edwards. They even tossed in an offensive guard (John Simpson).
None of it means the Raiders have successfully matched skill for skill with the Super Bowl champions. Patrick Mahomes is only 24. My goodness.
But should the rookies wearing silver and black produce at a consistent level, the offense will have improved since last season. It was really good then moving the ball. It just couldn’t score.
The Raiders are still terrific at running back and tight end, rising with youth and age in the slot, solid along the line when healthy, far better at backup quarterback. And now at wide receiver, too. I mean, how couldn’t it be?
Paper regards this as the most promising offense Carr will direct in what will be his seventh season.
Can they outscore the Chiefs on Any Given Sunday? Eh, maybe if all goes … near perfect?
The issue, yet again, will be stopping them. Or most anyone.
The paper isn’t as definitive here.
Even with nine of 12 free agents being on defense, label this assignment incomplete.
Free agency resulted in a jewel of a linebacker (Cory Littleton) and several others who need to be above average for a side ranked last in defensive efficiency in 2019 to have any chance.
Nick Kwiatkoski also will start as a three-down linebacker after a breakout season with Chicago in 2019. He spent most of four years as a reserve.
The Raiders seem more promising up the middle with new faces, beginning with tackle Maliek Collins, traveling past those linebackers and ending with Damarious Randall at free safety. Jeff Heath signed on at strong safety. Erik Harris returns.
There is also Johnathan Abram, who played just 25 snaps as a first-round safety last season before getting hurt. He might as well be a rookie.
Carl Nassib will push second-year end Clelin Ferrell to either get better or step aside opposite Maxx Crosby.
But while those with NFL experience appear upgrades at most spots, there remains a massive question about defending the outside. For this, among others, the Raiders will rely heavily on second-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen and rookie Damon Arnette. Lamarcus Joyner also has moved up from safety.
Things would look sturdier had the team signed Byron Jones or Chris Harris, both free agent cornerbacks who went elsewhere. Maybe also had it worked out a deal with Eli Apple. But things happen.
Visions begin with a blank piece of paper. The story of the Raiders in 2020 won’t be written until things begin for real.
For now, shrug those shoulders for a “Who Knows?” emoji.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.