The Raiders had a renaissance of sorts in 2010. A stellar draft class helped propel them to an 8-8 record and the first non-losing season since 2002.
The draft is nearly a national holiday for NFL fans, but for the Raider Nation it has become the national day of prayer. Praying and hoping Al Davis doesn’t do something completely crazy. Recent examples include drafting a quarterback with questionable work ethic and giving him $30 million guaranteed and drafting a raw and unproven receiver with questionable hands with the seventh overall selection.
It is Al Davis who calls all the shots on draft picks and his recent track record in recent years suggested the man may have lost touch with the modern NFL. Then came 2010, with what appears to be a great haul of picks including Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston and Jacoby Ford. The Raiders also used picks to acquire Kamerion Wimbley and Jason Campbell.
Coach Davis, as new head coach Hue Jackson calls him, has just one glaring team need and a host of less significant ones. Will Davis reach for players with elite athletic ability or draft football players? Will he draft offensive lineman to give Jason Campbell a fighting chance?
The Raiders drafts are often a dichotomy between what is predictable and what is unpredictable. When given the choice between two similarly graded players, Davis will chose the faster one. While he may predictably target speed players he will also have a player or two graded absurdly higher than anyone expects making the Raiders draft picks wildly unpredictable.
What should Al Davis be looking to do in the 2011 NFL draft? Who might he have graded significantly higher than others? Allow me to examine each position group.
Starter: Jason Campbell
Backup: Kyle Boller
Third String: Open
With just one-year remaining on Jason Campbell’s contract, don’t be surprised if the Raiders consider drafting a quaterback to develop. There is a significant correlation between teams with new head coaches that draft a quarterback. Hue Jackson admitted during his pre-draft press conference he would love to add a young arm.
Colin Kaepernick’s quarterback coach of eight years is Roger Theder. Theder coached with Raiders offensive coordinator Al Saunders at Cal and was Jim Plunkett’s quarterback coach at Stanford. Kaepernick also has a big arm and the leadership qualities Hue Jackson requires. Based on all the smoke being blown around, the Raiders would have to move up to get the University of Nevada product.
Ryan Mallett. His off-the-field issues will scare the Raiders away with the JaMarcus Russell era just one year in their rearview mirror. It will not matter at all to the Raiders that he has a huge arm and a great football IQ. He’s one the Raiders will keep off their list.
Don’t be surprised if…
The Raiders trade up to get a quarterback early.
Starter: Darren McFadden
Backup: Michael Bush (RFA)
Third String: Michael Bennett
Special Teams: Rock Cartwright, Louis Rankin
Michael Bush could become a free agent under the rules of the new CBA. This is considered a remote possibility as Bush is likely to remain restricted because his first season was washed-out while he recovered from his broken leg. With McFadden’s injury history, Bush’s questionable future and Bennett’s age, you can’t rule out the possibility the Raiders could select a running back. Can a team have too many quality running backs?
Taiwan Jones. He’s lightning fast and a player the Raiders could add to their dynamic offense. The Raiders wont let him slip too far. He’s a playmaker and the team can figure out how to get the ball into his hands later.
Mark Ingram. He’ll either free fall or be long gone. It doesn’t matter, because the Raiders wouldn’t go for him. He’s too much like Bush and doesn’t have the elite speed to wow Davis.
Don’t be surprised if…
The Raiders draft Taiwan Jones and do it earlier than anyone expects. You can’t put it past Al Davis.
Starter: Marcel Reece
Working without a lead-blocking fullback is becoming increasingly common in the NFL. A blocking fullback can probably be found in free agency if they decide one is needed to complement Reece. There aren’t many scenarios that make drafting a fullback a smart. The CBA situation could mean a few could sneak in late in the draft, we should know more today.
Starter: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Starter: Jacoby Ford
Starter: Chaz Schilens
Backup: Louis Murphy
Heyward-Bey gets one more year to become a productive receiver, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to grant him a starter tag. Heyward-Bey puts in the work, but significant questions remain with his game, Jacoby Ford needs to take the next step, which means he could really become something special. Chaz Schilens just needs to stay healthy long enough to be productive. Louis Murphy seemed to take a back seat to Ford last season. He didn’t really take the leap the Raiders were hoping for after his rookie season.
Edmond Gates, the burner from Abilene Christian is a small school gem who should be drafted in the first three rounds. Ricardo Lockette is a speed demon with no football skills, but he is very fast. Julio Jones will be selected early, but is the type of prospect the Raiders would normally be very interested in.
Vincent Brown. A sleeper on many draft boards. He runs good routes and has good size, but he lacks the kind of speed that Al Davis requires from his receivers.
Don’t be surprised if…
The Raiders draft a receiver in the first four rounds. If the Raiders draft a receiver they have concerns about Schilens ability to stay healthy or Heyward-Bey’s ability to become a quality player or both.
LT: Jared Veldheer
LG: Daniel Loper
OC: Roy Schuening
RG: Cooper Carlisle
RG2: Bruce Campbell
LG2: Alex Parsons
Mario Henderson, Langston Walker, Robert Gallery, and Samson Satele are free agents. Gallery and the Raiders have already parted ways publicly. Mario Henderson brief play at right tackle late in 2010 may convince the Raiders to re-sign him when they can. The Raiders may also opt to keep Walker also as depth. Henderson and Satele could also be back playing under restricted free agent tenders depending on the labor battle.
Of the lineman the Raiders have under contract only Veldheer and Loper are assured of a spot next season. Cooper Carlilse is a zone blocking guard whose play has declined they past few seasons. With the switch from zone blocking back to a drive blocking scheme Carlisle’s days in silver and black may be numbered.
Bruce Campbell hardly sniffed a snap in 2010 and no one knows how ready he is to step in and play. Roy Scheuning is the only center on the roster and Satele will have to adjust to a new blocking scheme if he sticks around.
The Raiders need a handful of quality offensive lineman and as many as three starters.
Stefan Wisniewski. He is Steve Wisneiswki’s nephew and as you would expect is a technically sound center/guard prospect with a high floor. Marcus Cannon is a big guy that may be the nasty drive blocking guy the Raiders are looking for in the second round to play right tackle or guard. He has cancer, but it should be cleared up by training camp. Derek Sherrod may also fall slightly and is a solid tackle prospect with upside. Will Rackley and David Mims are both small school propects will upside, but how much they can help initially is unknown. Players like John Moffitt can step in and play right away, but have a low ceiling are not long-term solutions.
The Raiders are not in the position to rule any live body out, but the smaller more nimble offensive lineman that have been the preference of Tom Cable and his zone blocking system will give way to bigger and “meaner” players preferred by Hue Jackson.
Starter: Richard Seymour
Starter: Tommy Kelly
Backup: John Henderson
Backup: Desmond Bryant
While the play against the run hasn’t significantly improved, Seymour and Kelly are fantastic pass rushers. John Henderson is the run stopper. Desmond Bryant is a productive rotational player. This is a strong group and the only reason the Raiders might look to defensive tackle in the draft is amazing value or for a run stopper late. If the Raiders intend to play the 34 they may be looking for a prototype nose tackle.
If the Raiders want to switch to the 34, Phil Taylor is a big mountain of man that is needed at nose tackle. Jurrell Casey has huge talent and likely will go after the first tier of tackles are off the board. Casey possesses everything needed to be a dominant tackle and fits the Raiders propensity to go after interior players that are better pass rushers than run stoppers.
Jerrell Powe might be another 34 nose tackle prospect that could be had later in the draft. Powe comes with major concerns however and even Seymour’s influence may not help him. There are questions about his maturity, overall smarts, weight and to top it off he is already 24. Someone will draft him, but the Raiders should stay far away.
Starter: Lamaar Houston
Starter: Matt Shaughnessy
Backup: Trevor Scott
Backup: Jarvis Moss
Mention: Kamerion Wimbley
Trevor Scott, once the up-and-coming player in the Raiders front seven, was relegated to a reserve role last season with the rise of Matt Shaughnessy. Scott was tried at linebacker, but didn’t impress the coaches enough during camp and Quentin Groves earned the starting spot. Houston may eventually shift inside, but is a stout player that comes out on passing downs and is replaced by Wimbley. There isn’t a ton of depth, but Seymour can also slide out and play end in a pinch. The Raiders could look for a depth player late.
Greg Romeus has a ton of upside, but has major injury concerns. He’s the type of player who could spend a season as a reserve and develop into a nice placer. Sometimes patience pays off and Romeus has almost everything you look for in a defensive end. He’s not a freak, but he is a solid player that could contribute.
Christian Ballard would be yet another defensive end upwards of 290 pounds. He’s a poor man’s Lamarr Houston. He has upside, but the Raiders have enough bulk at end and he isn’t going to wow anybody with his pass rush. The Raiders require pass rush from their ends. Ballard seems to fit better in a 34 front.
Don’t be surprised if…
Quarterbacks push the top-rated defensive ends down the board and the Raiders see too much value to pass on in the middle of the second round.
WLB: Quentin Groves
MLB: Rolando McClain
SLB: Kamerion Wimbley
Backup: Travis Goethel
Backup: Ricky Brown
The Raiders haven’t solved the riddle on the weak side, but they plugged the hole with Groves. The Raiders like Goethel and he could threaten Groves spot in camp. McClain and Wimbley are solidly the starters at their positions, but there isn’t much depth. The Raiders should be looking for a good outside player who can play WLB.
Mark Herzlich is another player with tremendous upside who has injury concerns that the Raiders could consider. Quan Sturdivant is the type of player with coverage skills that could develop into a nice Will linebacker.
Martez Wilson is probably one of the highest rated prospects that doesn’t fit the Raiders defense. He’s best suited for as a 34 rush backer or on the strong side. He would be a bit out of place on the Raiders roster and they would have trouble finding a position for him to play without restrictions.
Starter: Stanford Routt
Starter: Chris Johnson
Backup: Jeremy Ware
Backup: Walter McFadden
Nnamdi Asomugha is a free agent and there is more than a good chance he will not be with the Raiders in 2011. That means Ware and McFadden will have to step up and be solid nickel players and be able to fill in for injured starters also. Last season Michael Huff was basically filling this role as the rookies lost favor late in the year. Chris Johnson may get his opportunity to start again. Rod Woodson joined the coaching staff and brings his Hall of Fame credentials to the table. He will need to help develop the Raiders young talent and Routt to take his game to a level worthy of his contract.
Jimmy Smith has been much talked about, but should be gone long before the Raiders make their first selection of 2011. Brandon Burton would be a good fit for the Raiders in the fourth round. Burton is a good press man corner who could come in and play immediately. Aaron Williams also fits the press man scheme and reminds some of Nnamdi Asomugha.
Brandon Harris looks like a solid starting NFL corner, but he’s a much better fit for off-man or zone. He’s been “falling” down draft boards during the season of smokescreens. Reality is some teams many like him a lot. If he’s available in the second round, the Raiders may still pass.
Starter: Hiram Eugene
Starter: Tyvon Branch
Backup: Mike Mitchell
Backup: Stevie Brown
Michael Huff is a free agent and will probably demand too much for the Raiders to retain his services. If the Raiders don’t retain Huff one of Eugene or Brown will be thrust into a starting role. The Raiders could be in the market for a free safety, but the Raiders should be content with Branch and Mitchell locking down the strong side. The pickings are also slim at safety in this draft.
Why not replace one Longhorn with another? Some scouts believe Aaron Williams is best suited to play free safety in the NFL. He’s got the size and physicality to do it, but he lacks great awareness. He’s an exciting prospect if he falls into the laps of the Raiders at pick 48. Rahim Moore is the only other safety that projects to starting early, and plays the pass very well. He may be considered if the Raiders are not content with their safety group.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Raiders to bring in more depth at safety if the players are not going to contribute immediately. Besides the two listed above, the rest are developmental safeties. The Raiders could draft one late, but there are far more pressing needs.