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Raiders season preview: Moving in right direction

*Around the NFL's season preview continues with the AFC West *

Change we can believe in

The Raiders have a roster that looks NFL caliber for the first time in years. This is progress. Last year's rookie class was a home run led by future starKhalil Mack even if you don't believe in quarterback Derek Carr as much as Raider Nation does. (Third- and fourth-round picks Gabe Jackson and Justin Ellis were quietly effective.)

Oakland got rid of the right people this offseason (LaMarr Woodley, Darren McFadden, Matt Schaub) and brought in sensible veterans like center Rodney Hudson, defensive tackle Dan Williams, linebacker Curtis Lofton, and wideout Michael Crabtree.

More importantly, general manager Reggie McKenzie added another draft class and his young group of players had another offseason to develop. No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper is another building block. We just wouldn't be so sure that the coaching change was an upgrade. Jack Del Rio proved he can lead a team in Jacksonville, but his schemes were often underwhelming. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has underperformed throughout his career. Carr believers should not be thrilled he's taking over.

Biggest Concern

The secondary could be among the worst in the league with Charles Woodson and Nate Allen at safety, while T.J. Carrie was opposite D.J. Hayden as a starter in the preseason. While Mack is a beast as a pass rusher and run stopper, it's not like he has a lot of help on the roster among pure pass rushers. That will put a lot of heat on this secondary.

Training camp surprise

It wasn't a surprise that the Raiders wasted money on Trent Richardson. It was only a surprise he didn't even survive until the final roster cuts. It's not a huge concern, with Latavius Murray and Roy Helu forming an upgraded 1-2 punch in the backfield.

The bigger issue was Derek Carr's struggles in the preseason. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise in a new offense, but there are mixed feelings about Carr's upside around the league. Some see his toughness, athleticism and arm strength and see a future star. We watched all his rookie tape and didn't come away impressed. While his weapons are improved, Carr is working in a new offense again and doesn't always show great instincts. As much as this roster looks better, a poor season from Carr could cover up any growth elsewhere.

What we'll be saying in February

Playing better doesn't mean playing well for a team where six wins would represent big progress.

Predicted finish: Last place in AFC West, No. 15 in AFC, No. 28 in Around The NFL's Power Poll.

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