Greetings Raiders fans,
In this inaugural post, I decided to outline what I think are the Raiders’ biggest needs. After an 8-8 season, there are many, and it’s vital we fill these needs to get back atop the AFC West.
1. CB: In a move to correct what new GM Reggie McKenzie called “out of whack” contracts, the Raiders released veteran CB Stanford Routt. Though effective in prior years as a number 2 corner, Routt struggled as a number 1 for much of the 2011-12 campaign, surrendering 8 touchdowns and committing a whopping 17 penalties. On the other side, Lito Sheppard was called off the couch and started much of the year. That gives you a good idea of why the Raiders struggled so much defensively. Michael Huff may be moved to corner, but that leaves a hole at free safety (please, no more Matt Giordano). Young prospects Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa have speed, but cannot yet be relied upon as full time starters (Chekwa may move to safety). Chris Johnson will be back from injury, but will likely have to re-structure his deal ($3.6 million against the cap) in order to stay with the team. The Raiders will likely add 2-3 players, either via free agency or the draft, to push the current corner platoon. Dennis Allen will bring more zone looks to Oakland, and will need corners who have the discipline and aggressiveness to be successful.
2. LB: I will talk about this unit as a whole because it is not yet clear who will play where. All indications are the Raiders will be using, at least in some form or another, a multiple 3-4 defense. This should play more towards the strengths of Kamerion Wimbley & Rolando McClain, but it leaves Aaron Curry’s role in limbo. Can he get after the Quarterback effectively across from Wimbley? Does he have the recognition and coverage skills to play inside, next to McClain (in a word, no)? Those are big questions for a guy set to make $5.7 million in 2012. Whichever position Curry doesn’t play will need to be filled by someone not currently on the roster. Travis Goethel has shown toughness, but simply can’t stay on the field. All other linebackers on the Raiders roster are Special Teams bodies at best. Look for McKenzie to sign/draft multiple outside and inside linebackers for depth and competition.
3. NT: If the Raiders do indeed show more 3-4 looks, they need that classic run stuffing Nose Tackle. A quick look at the roster and only John Henderson ($4.75 million against the cap) resembles a true nose. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both translate well into 3-4 DEs, but lack the strength and size of an every down 0-technique. Lamar Houston will be an interesting piece in the new Dennis Allen defense, but is simply too small to be “that guy” either. Look for Oakland to draft one of these big uglies with one of their compensatory picks or sign a veteran who can fill in for a year or two (or both).
4. OG/C: It’s been well-publicized, but the Raiders are moving back to a zone blocking scheme. Last year’s 2nd round pick Stefen Wisniewski is a stud, but the other two interior lineman positions could be upgraded. Samson Satele is a free agent, and has always been just average. Cooper Carlisle is the Raiders longest-tenured offensive lineman, but is set to make $3 million as his skills continue to diminish (age: 34). Young prospects Bruce Campbell and Joseph Barksdale could play right guard, but both are green, and will more likely battle it out for the starting RT spot. Wisniewski makes for a better left guard in the zone blocking system, but showed ability when playing center last year. Stephon Heyer is a backup at best, and is more suited towards the former power blocking scheme. Oakland will bring in both veterans and rookies who fit the new system, and I expect 3-5 new interior offensive linemen on the roster come July.
5. RT: As mentioned above, Bruce Campbell and Joseph Barksdale are the two likeliest in-house candidates for this spot, but I wouldn’t mind another body for competition. Khalif Barnes was never the answer, and there are no other tackles currently under contract. The Raiders’ front office will need to bring in 1-2 tackles (preferably veterans in the ZBS) to push the young guys.