With free agency winding down and the draft approaching, I decided to break down each position group on the team, to see both where we stand and how we can improve. The Raiders were 16th in points/game (22.4) and 9th in yards/game (379.5), but took a step back in Hue Jackson’s second year as play-caller. Oakland’s offense again falls into the hands of Greg Knapp, with Al Saunders contributing his wealth of knowledge & experience. The offensive starters seem to be more or less set, though there will be competition at several spots. Here is my analysis of each group, along with a letter grade for each.
Did the Raiders give up too much for Carson Palmer? Yes. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be relied upon as a good NFL quarterback. While he was inconsistent in 2011-12, the situation he was put into caused some of that. He was without receiving standout Denarius Moore for 3 games and speedy weapon Jacoby Ford for 8. He entered an unfamiliar offense 7 weeks into the season, with no offseason program to prepare. He’ll have all his weapons and a full integration into training camp.
Terrelle Pryor is the only other quarterback on the roster, and should not be counted upon as the Raiders only backup. Look for a veteran to be brought in. Not an elite group, but there’s potential to be very good. GRADE: B+
Running Back / Full Back
Darren McFadden is a stud. He has explosiveness, catching ability and good vision, along with an ability to elude and even sometimes run over would-be tacklers. Unfortunately, he can’t stay on the field. He’s missed 19 games over his four year career, and the question each year has been when, not if, he would get injured.
Taiwan Jones might be a special weapon too, but has health concerns himself. Losing Michael Bush to the Bears is going to hurt, but the Raiders simply couldn’t afford to pay a reserve running back millions, especially with the number of backs available via free agency or the draft.
Marcel Reece, a former college receiver, has rare catching and running ability for a full back. If need be, he could act as the Raiders short-yardage back, but he is unproven in that regard (47 career carries). Despite the need for more depth, this group is elite. GRADE: A
Wide Receiver / Tight End
This group is all about speed and youth. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey finally had a season worthy of his 7th overall selection (975 yards, 4 TDs), but disappeared in games. In fact, his 8 best games (weeks 3-6 & 14-17) accounted for 818 of his total yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns. A true number 1 receiver must be more consistent than that. Rookie wideout Denaruis Moore created a buzz with three 100-yard games and big play after big play. He seemed to have good chemistry with Palmer, and should only improve with another year in the league. Jacoby Ford has the physical skills to be a dangerous weapon out of the slot, but must be more consistent with his hands and health. Louis Murphy is also in the mix.
The tight end position is much less clear, and even more inexperienced. Third year man Brandon Myers is the starter as of now after the cap-clearing release of Kevin Boss. Myers has 32 career receptions for 250 yards and no TDs. The other two tight ends on the roster, second year players Richard Gordan and David Ausberry, are raw prospects at this point (combined for 3 catches and 16 yards in their first year). This group could use an infusion of talent, and is the weak point on the offense as of now, which brings down the grade a bit. Look for the Raiders to run more four receiver sets, with tight ends relegated to more run-blocking roles. GRADE: B-
This group, for many years a weakness in Oakland, is now a talented, sometimes dominant force. Left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski are pro bowl talents, and should be anchors for the next ten years. It will be interesting to see how they transition from a power blocking scheme to Greg Knapp’s zone blocking system. Newly acquired Mike Brisiel will start at right guard, the position he locked down for four years in Houston. I fully expect a training camp competition for the remaining two spots. At both spots, it’s mediocre veteran versus unproven talent. Cooper Carlisle and Bruce Campbell will be in the hunt for starting left guard, while second-year player Joe Barksdale will push incumbent starter Khalif Barnes at right tackle. This group has tons of talent, but needs to see further development across the board to be considered elite. GRADE: B+