Projected 53-man Roster

Image

With mandatory Mini-Camps wrapping up and Training Camp 6 weeks away, I thought I’d take a look inside my crystal ball to project who will make the final 53-man roster come week 4 of the preseason. Feel free to agree or disagree, as this is merely an educated speculation.

QB: Palmer, Leinart, Pryor
My take: Carson Palmer is the clear starter, but the battle for back-up QB could get intriguing if Terrelle Pryor continues to impress and improve.

RB: McFadden, Goodson, Jones
My take: This is a speedy, talented group. Darren McFadden is an All-Pro and rushing title-contender when healthy. Taiwan Jones may be the fastest player on the team. Mike Goodson is talented but needs to prove he can hang onto the rock.

FB: Reece, Schmitt
My take: Marcel Reece is a dangerous, versatile weapon who creates mismatches. Owen Schmitt is the classic blocking fullback the Raiders have been missing in recent years.

TE: Ausberry, Myers, Gordon
My take: This is a young, inexperienced group. Brett Myers is the front-runner due to experience and consistency, but David Ausberry is a unique athlete.

WR: Heyward-Bey, Moore, Ford, Criner, Streater
My take: This group needs to take a step forward. DHB, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford all provide speed, but Juron Criner could be the big, possession target this offense needs to take the next step. Rod Streater impressed in mini-camps and could edge out the oft-injured Louis Murphy for the final receiver spot.

OT: Veldheer, Barksdale, Barnes, Hurd
My take: Jared Veldheer is a Pro Bowler in the making at LT. Hopefully Joe Barksdale will push the unimpressive Khaliff Barnes at RT, but his progression is slower than hoped. Sam Hurd makes the cut for depth, as he is versatile and familiar with the team (member of the practice squad last year).

C: Wisniewski, Parsons
My take: Wiz II played well in his limited time at center a year ago. His transition could make or break the cohesiveness of the Raiders offensive line. Alex Parsons provides depth, and has been taking first-team reps in mini-camp while Wisniewski heals up.

OG: Brisiel, Carlisle, Bergstrom, Nix
My take: Mike Brisiel will solidify the RG spot instantly. The aging Cooper Carlisle will be pushed by 3rd round pick Tony Bergstrom for the LG spot. Lucas Nix is a promising rookie who played tackle and guard during his time at Pitt.

DE: Houston, Shaughnessy, Crawford, Tollefson
My take: Lamarr Houston is primed for a big year. Matt Shaughnessy is back from a nasty shoulder injury and was sorely missed last year, especially in run defense. Free agent signing David Tollefson can get after the quarterback, while draftee Jack Crawford has the physical tools to contribute right away.

DT: Seymour, Kelly, Bryant, Bilukidi
My take: Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both have Pro Bowl ability, but must make the leap from very good to dominant in order for this defense to progress. Desmond Bryant is a versatile, athletic big man who rushes the passer well. Christo Bilukidi is very raw but has two great teachers to help refine his talent.

OLB: Wheeler, Curry, Burris, Ihenacho
My take: Phillip Wheeler is a sure tackler who is solid against both the run and the pass. Aaron Curry needs to show his mental makeup can match his physical abilities. Burris is a promising, versatile linebacker who could contribute as a pass rush specialist. Ihenacho stays on as depth.

MLB: McClain, Goethel, Stupar
My take: Rolando McClain needs to perform well on the field this year, or he will be cut by new GM Reggie McKenzie. Off the field antics can be swallowed (to some extent) if the performance is there; so far in McClain’s short career, it has not been. Travis Goethel could be the starter if McClain misses time, and has shown some ability when healthy. 7th round pick Nathan Stupar offers depth at both linebacker positions, but should see most of his time in special teams.

CB: Bartell, Spencer, Van Dyke, Chekwa, Underwood
My take: Free agent acquisitions Ron Bartell and Shantae Spencer have plenty of NFL starting experience, but fell out of favor with their former teams mostly due to injury. Second year corners Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa both have the speed necessary for the position, but need more game experience to make improvements. Brandon Underwood is familiar with GM Reggie McKenzie from their time in Green Bay, and is a wild card of sorts after being buried on the depth chart there.

FS: Huff, Giordano
My take: Michael Huff simply needs to make more plays. Matt Giordano lead the Raiders in INTs with five last year, but has shown inconsistency in coverage.

SS: Branch, Mitchell
My take: Tyvon Branch is one of the most gifted safeties in the league, and will finally be in a defense which utilizes his abilities. Mike Mitchell, pegged as a huge reach when he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL draft, needs to show he’s worthy of playing in the NFL.

K/P: Janikowski, Lechler LS: Condo
My take: The best special teams unit in the NFL. If they play to the level they’re capable of, all three should make the Pro Bowl.

State of the Raiders: Defense

This is the second of a three part series. My first post covered the offense; this post will cover the defense. Now that the free agency dust has more or less settle, the Raiders starters seem to be set. Last year, the defense was flat out bad. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Hue Jackson was replaced by the defensive-minded Dennis Allen. The 2011 Oakland Raiders were 29th in points against/game (27.1) and 29th in yards allowed (387.6). These numbers alone do not tell the whole story. If you, like me, watched the games, then you know the pain of watching the defense cave in the most important times of games. Against Buffalo and Detroit the team lost on last minute drives. In five of the other six losses, the defense never even showed up to the game (I blame the week 7 loss to the Chiefs on the 7 turnovers committed by quarterbacks). Yet, a new scheme is coming to Oakland, and there still exists quite a bit of talent, especially on the defensive line. Here is a breakdown of each positional group, along with a letter grade.

Defensive Line

This group is made up of a wealth of talent and experience. Richard Seymour is coming off a Pro Bowl year, and has become a true leader in the locker room. Fellow DT Tommy Kelly had numbers similar to Seymour’s, and some could argue he was deserving of a nod to Hawaii as well. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has impressed so far during his two year career, and has rare physical ability. DE Matt Shaugnessy has a clean bill of health, and is an above-average starter with a high motor. Desmond Bryant offers versatility in reserve as both a pass-rushing DT or a run-stuffing DE. The Raiders are also reportedly interested in former Giants defensive end David Tollefson, who would offer some much needed pass-rushing abilities. Versatility is the key with the defensive line. If Dennis Allen does implement a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense, he’ll have plenty of toys up front to play with. This unit can pressure the quarterback and stop the run, but needs the rest of the team to improve to see its true potential unfold. Grade: A-

Linebackers

Going into the 2011-12 season, I knew we had one of the largest 4-3 linebacker cores in the league. Yes, they were big and fast. But I had my doubts – could they cover? The resounding answer was no, no they couldn’t. Aaron Curry brought more speed and aggressiveness, but still lacks the football IQ and coverage skills necessary of a Will linebacker. Rolando McClain consistently proved to be… inconsistent. Aside from a mid-season arrest, McClain’s season was full of incorrect angles, poor coverage, and over-aggression against the run. He is very talented and was a leader at Alabama, so it is disappointing to see him acclimate to the NFL so slowly. Incumbent starting Sam linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was cut, but offered little more than pass rush. In fact, I find him to be highly over-rated; he’s never tallied more than 69 tackles in a season, despite playing in all but one game for his teams during his six-year career. To put that in perspective, free agent acquisition Philip Wheeler scored 80 tackles in only 11 starts last year. While not the pass rusher Wimbley is, Wheeler is better both in coverage and against the run, and should bring in some much-needed discipline.

This unit is in serious need of depth. Travis Goethl is a serviceable player but has durability concerns. Practice squader Carl Ihenacho is the only other linebacker currently on the roster. Yikes. Look for at least two more players to be brought in for depth and special teams. There’s lots of talent here, but Dennis Allen will need to bring along Curry and McClain (especially) if there will be any improvements from last year. Grade: B-

Secondary

Where do I begin? This unit was so bad that both incumbent starting cornerbacks were cut. They were so bad, Matt Giordano got significant playing time. I think Calvin Johnson just scored again. All kidding aside, a big goal for GM Reggie McKenzie this offseason was to overhaul a broken coverage unit. Stanford Routt’s silly contract was terminated. Chris Johnson was sent packing as well. This left 2011 draft picks Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke as the only NFL-level talent (at corner) on the team. Reggie McKenzie, however, saw an inexpensive solution: enter Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Both are big, fast, and experienced cover corners. While not elite talents, they come on-the-cheap, and will at least offer more consistency than last year’s unit. McKenzie pulled from his Packers days by adding CBs Pat LeeĀ  and Brandon Underwood, but neither should see much playing time aside from special teams duties.

The safety positions are set in stone, with incumbent starters Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch giving it another go. My hope is that both thrive in Dennis Allen’s more aggressive/less man-oriented defense. Branch is a stud, and it will be interesting to see how a true defensive mind uses him. Huff will need to be better in coverage and make more plays, or his bloated contract could be ended at year’s end. Talent-wise, this unit is about the same on paper. Can a new scheme make that big of a difference? Let’s hope so. Grade: C+

Offseason Needs

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.