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Raiders vs. Packers Q&A: Oakland loaded with young talent

Marcus Allen Krause of SB Nation's Oakland Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride answers our questions about Khalil Mack's rise, Reggie McKenzie's roster makeover and what he expects from Raiders vs. Packers.

Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Later today, the Green Bay Packers see some familiar faces when the Oakland Raiders arrive at Lambeau Field. Marcus Allen Krause of Silver and Black Pride was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Raiders and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

APC: The Raiders were the darlings of the offseason, adding some of the biggest names in free agency and the draft to build on the core of their roster. How close is Oakland to contending for the AFC West crown?

The optimist says they already are there, the pessimist says another year away. They have worked very hard to overhaul the roster since Reggie McKenzie was hired as the GM and are at the point where his plan has really come together nicely. Now with Derek Carr being in the same system two years in a row for the first time and the team chemistry between the players being outstanding I definitely am leaning towards the optimist side of it.

Whether they will actually win the crown this year with the Kansas City Chiefs looking very good (along with the defending champion Broncos in the division as well) is too bold of a prediction to make without seeing the team in a meaningful game. However, there is every reason to believe they can compete for it.

APC: Derek Carr is one of the NFL's bright young stars at quarterback. As he enters his third season, how much improvement does he realistically have left in him, and how much of his 2015 success should be credited to the arrival of wide receiver Amari Cooper?

Though he is already playing very well, there certainly is always room for improvement and quite a bit of it actually. He started out last season on fire but faded down the stretch, though his struggles did coincide with Amari Cooper having a foot injury and center Rodney Hudson being hobbled at the same time. His 32 td's to 13 int's is impressive, but his 7 yard average last year definitely needs improvement. He is a great leader who is capable of more for sure, and if he can make as big of a jump again as he did from his rookie year to his sophomore year then the sky's the limit for him.

The arrival of a receiver like Amari Cooper will help any quarterback out for sure, but it wasn't just him that helped Carr improve so much. They also had the before mentioned Rodney Hudson leading better offensive line play, the emergence of a stronger running game with Latavius Murray, and Michael Crabtree opposite of Cooper was one of the most underrated signings of last year. Carr himself jumped a lot mentally from year one to year two and deserves plenty of credit himself, but he also had a lot more help than he did as a rookie as well.

APC: We have now entered Year 5 of the Reggie McKenzie era in Oakland. How has the tenor of his reign as general manager changed over the past few seasons, and how satisfied are Raiders fans with his performance on the whole?

He was on the hotseat after the Dennis Allen era ended, though some fans get mad when you dare mention that. Despite being in such a gigantic hole there were a lot of issues that could have ended McKenzie's time with the Raiders with a less patient owner (cough, cough, Al Davis, cough). He was stuck in a terrible place cleansing the team of bad contracts and then his first two drafts failed to pay dividends. He never fully lost support of the fans, but there was a lot of contention on if he was a capable GM or not.

Then the 2014 draft happened and all was forgiven. In the first he nabbed Khalil Mack, in the 2nd he got Derek Carr, in the 3rd he got the Raiders starting G Gabe Jackson who has been outstanding, and then in the 4th he got starting DT Justin Ellis. He has been great for the Raiders ever since and pretty much every single Raider fan is glad that he didn't get fired after the DA era. He survived the beginning when he had to fix everything and now has been golden the past couple of years with great drafts and excellent work in free agency plus he is a master cap manipulator thanks to things he learned in Green Bay. He deserves as much praise as almost any GM in the league now and Raider Nation is very satisfied with him.

APC: Khalil Mack has already earned a reputation as one of the most feared pass rushers around, and he has only played two years of NFL football. Where does he rank alongside AFC West stars Von Miller and Justin Houston heading into the season, and do you expect that to change by year's end?

I think those three are all 1A, 1B, and 1C for the top OLB's in the league, and all three of them have reasons for their team's fans to think they have the best OLB in the league. When you watch Mack play it is unreal how dominant he is, whatever you ask of him he does and he does it well. He gets so much attention for his pass rushing prowess, but he is just as good and maybe better at defending the run. He also is still young and learning after playing at a smaller school in college at Buffalo so it is pretty insane to think that he still could get even better.

With that being said, Justin Houston and Von Miller are both absolutely elite players as well. It's tough to put Mack ahead of either of those guys with Von being so disruptive for one of the best defenses in NFL history last year and Houston is a sack machine having nearly broken the league record. Just being able to be talked about at the same level of those guys is an honor, I wouldn't even know how to separate those three in terms of ranking them.

APC: Who is the under-the-radar player for Oakland that fans should look out for during Thursday's game?

The Raiders 5th round rookie running back DeAndre Washington has been impressive so far throughout camp and played very well last week against the Arizona Cardinals. He had 8 carries for 43 yards rushing plus a pass reception for 32 yards where he ran the route perfectly. He has a bit of a bowling ball, Maurice Jones-Drew look to him and he showed some shiftiness to him last week. He is one of the players that I am most looking forward to watching this week to see if he can add on to his impressive debut.

We'd like to thank Marcus and Silver and Black Pride for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Raiders. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Raiders vs. Packers.

Jason B. Hirschhorn is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and covers the NFL for Sports on Earth and SB Nation. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.