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Can the Broncos stop the Raiders’ Darren Waller?

The Denver Broncos’ defense will get a test at tight end to start the season with the Oakland Raiders.

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals
Will the Broncos be able to contain the 6’6” Waller?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For this week’s Monday Night matchup with the Oakland Raiders, I had the privilege of speaking with Silver and Black Pride’s Cyril Penn. Penn is a video scout for Sports Info Solutions in addition to his work with SB Nation.

1st and 10

The NFL Media seems to be all over the board on the Raiders this year. I’ve seen some predict a 6-10 finish while others have Oakland as a surprise playoff contender. Where do you have them and why?

Penn: I’m predicting a 5-11 finish for the Silver & Black. The AFC West is debatably the toughest division in the NFL at the moment, which will make it tough for the Raiders to sneak into the playoff picture. Plus, the Raiders team chemistry must be fractured after the “Antonio Brown saga.”

While Oakland has upgraded at essentially every position compared to last year’s deplorable showing, they’re relying a bit too heavily on young players. They need left tackle Kolton Miller to take a big leap forward and major contributions from their horde of rookies if they intend to compete for a playoff spot.

A 5-11 finish feels right, going 2-4 against the AFC West and 3-7 the rest of the way. I had initially predicted a 7-9 finish, but in the wake of the AB drama, the Raiders don’t possess enough star power to contend.

2nd and 8

Are there any big-time breakout players coming that people are sleeping on?

Penn: It’s hard to have any true sleepers on a team featured on Hard Knocks. Tight End Darren Waller is the obvious choice to break out. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound former college wide receiver will be the clear top target at a position that Jon Gruden likes to feature on offense. That should make him an ideal option at the back-end of fantasy rosters and an interesting buy-low target on DFS sites. With Brown gone, Waller will be fed a lot of targets.

Gareon Conley already broke out as a dominant cornerback last season, but nobody seemed to notice because the Raiders’ defense around him was atrocious. If you’re looking for a deep cut, Conley’s current backup, Keisean Nixon, has outperformed second-round pick Trayvon Mullen thus far and could eventually usurp Daryl Worley for the No. 2 CB spot by season’s end.

Nixon is an undrafted rookie who only started one game at South Carolina prior to his senior year but balled out in training camp to unexpectedly make the team. Pro Football Focus named Nixon to their Preseason All-Rookie Team after quarterbacks posted a 42.4 passer rating when targeting him. Oh, and he’s also Snoop Dogg’s nephew.

3rd and 4

Heading into tonight’s game, what matchups look favorable to the Raiders?

Penn: The Raiders’ secondary is massively improved from last year and should frustrate Joe Flacco and the Broncos receivers.

Besides the aforementioned cornerbacks, the safety trio of Lamarcus Joyner, Jonathan Abram and Karl Joseph could be one of the best in the league. The Raiders use the Nickel package as their base-set on defense and will try to erase Emmanuel Sanders’ impact with Joyner covering him in the slot.

That will put the onus on Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton to win battles against the other defensive backs. Flacco is still trying to develop chemistry with those youthful receivers, and I expect the Raiders to hinder that development in week one.

4th and 1

What weaknesses or issues concern you that the Broncos could exploit?

Penn: It’s no secret that Oakland’s biggest roster hole is at linebacker. Nobody is sure of what the plan is for that unit after the Raiders unexpectedly cut Brandon Marshall. They’re currently slated to start Vontaze Burfict, Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow at linebacker. Probably one of the worst position groups in the league at the moment.

As such, I fully expect Denver to create mismatches with Phillip Lindsay against Oakland linebackers in pass coverage. If the Broncos send Lindsay on array of outs, seams and angle routes, there’s no way the Raider linebackers will be able to keep up with his speed.

The most obvious concern for Oakland, however, has to be the Bradley Chubb and Von Miller duo.

With Gabe Jackson injured and Richie Incognito suspended, the Broncos should take full advantage by matching up Chubb and Miller against replacements Denzelle Good and Jordan Devey on stunts and twists. If the Raiders’ offensive line can’t hold up, their passing game will be neutralized.