Well it's been quite an offseason for the Oakland Raiders. Tom Cable was named full time head coach. Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler got big contracts. Chris Johnson was signed as the other starting corner after a convincing 2008 season. Cooper Carlisle, Justin Miller, Chris Morris, Jon Condo, Jon Alston, Ricky Brown and Isahaih Ekijubiah were brought back as well. We've aquired from other teams OTs Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears. Pretty much all of last years aquisitions have been released most surprising was SS Gibril Wilson and despite being half of a tie for team lead in sacks Kalimba Edwards. One that wasn't as surprising was Kwame Harris after leading the NFL in penalties. Ronald Curry, who had been with us for quite some time was also cut. Our biggest free agent losses have been center Jake Grove and safety Rashad Baker, who tied Chris Johnson for team lead in INTs (technically it was a 3 way tie since Deangelo Hall had 3 INTs before getting cut during the season) after replacing a benched Michael Huff. As for the Draft, we hold #7 overall and have either #7 or #8 in rounds 2, 3, 4, 6, & 7. Here's a look at the status of each position(A=solid, B=satifactory C=low priority upgrade, D=weak must upgrade) and my proposed solution.
Draft: WR Michael Crabtree is this year's Darren McFadden; the type of player that is hard to pass on, but the WR crop looks pretty thick this year all around. With the emergence of Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens, this puts WR lower on our priority list, but Crabtree will be hard to pass on if available to us. The OT position is quite deep too but the Raiders promised not to draft one after signing Barnes. DT BJ Raji looks like he'd fit well on our DL especially since he has the ability to play the run and stopping the run has been an issue for us for many years now. Philly, who needs an OT, has offered to trade both of their first round picks to us for the #7 overall and I think we should take them up on it since that would allow us to take 3 players with our first 3 picks that would fill big voids. My solution; Trade the #7 overall to Philly for both of their first rounders.
Center D: With the departure of Jake Grove, this becomes a need. John Wade is good enough for maybe a year or two, but there is Alex Mack and Max Unega in the draft. Mack is my preference and there is no sure bet that he will be available in round 2, so this is why I think we should take Philly up on their offer. My solution: Draft Alex Mack in round 1 wherever you can.
Guard B: Robert Galley is now the anchor of the OL but it is at LG and not LT like expected. However he led the way on a lot of major runs this year and was the highest graded offensive lineman on the team for the year. Cooper Carlisle signed a new 5 year deal but I don't know if he'll last that long. There is Paul McQuistain, who was injured for all of 2008, that is thought of more as a guard than as a tackle despite outplaying injured Cornell Green at RT in 2007. My solution: No upgrade needed
Tackle B: Kwame Harris and Cornell Green led the NFL in penalties last season and Harris was cut right away. Harris was actually benched the last 3 games in favor of Mario Henderson, who was only penalized once and did not allow a single sack despite lining up on some of the top pass rushers those 3 weeks. We added Erik Pears and Khalif Barnes to upgrade the OL but we don't know who will start where. Green is expected to be cut. The Raiders also promised not to draft an offensive tackle after signing Barnes. My solution: None needed since Barnes and Pears were signed plus we'll see how consistant Henderson really is.
Wide Receiver B-: Javon Walker was highly invested in to be the #1 receiver and was not when healthy plus battled injuries. Another former all pro was added right before the season started, Ashley Lelie, and only seemed to show up when we played Denver. Then there was Ronald Curry who was with us for a long time and we cut him. All three of their seasons were cut short to injuries. Then there was second year man Johnnie Lee Higgins, who had trouble securing the ball on both receiving and returns, but has the speed of a speeding bullet. Once he became the veteran of our receivers, he really turned his game up and looked like an All Pro. However, the one that impressed me the most was Chaz Schilens, who we picked in the seventh round last year. He seemed to catch everything within his arms reach. When I first saw him catching passes, it was quite amazing and after all the dropped and incomplete passes that I was so accustomed to hearing on our passing plays, it was quite an excitement to hear "OMG he made the catch!!" The first thing that came to my mind was "WOW we finally have a receiver that can catch the football especially on 3rd down." My solution: I would like to add another quality receiver like Crabtree, Darius Heyward-Bay, Hakeem Nicks, or Jeremy Maclin, since Higgins is also the punt returner, but I think Center, DT, and Safety are higher priorities. This is another reason I'd like to trade down for 2 first rounders.
Tight End B: Zach Miller has been a solid target for Jamarcus Russell. Tony Stewart was re-signed as the back up and then there's Darrell Strong who was on the practice squad and called up for special teams last year. I'd say that we're all right here for at least another year. My solution: If a good TE is available late(as in round 6 or 7 when you go for best all around football player), go ahead and take him, but if not, no big deal.
Running Back A: Darren McFadden was one player that the Raiders refused to pass on last year if he was available to them. Michael Bush was injured most of his senior year in college and was drafted in round 4 in 2007, but was rehabilitating his colligiate injury that year. However both emerged to be a good thunder-lightning combo for years to come. They reminded me a lot of the Bo Jackson-Marcus Allen days. Then there's Justin Fargas, who has been around for quite a while, but is injured every year. He had a good year rushing for over 1000 yards in 2007 before going down and out with his anual injury. Many are surprised to see him still around. Of the three, Bush seems like the best all around running back. McFadden reminds me a lot of Charlie Garner...Great receiver out of the backfield, but not the best runner from the backfield despite excellent speed. I really don't think Fargas has much left in him and should only be used as a back up due to his high injury risk. There was also Louis Rankin from the practice squad that they thought pretty high of. The Raiders seemed to be more successful moving the ball in the 3WR/1RB formation, so the don't seem to need a fullback. However, there are times when one becomes necessary and Oren O'neal and Luke Lawton seem to have that position locked down. My solution: Trade Justin Fargas for a late round pick if you have a taker.
Quarterback B: Jamarcus Russell really looked better once he got a receiver tandem in Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens that was able to get open and catch the football plus Mario Henderson at left tackle shutting down top notch pass rushers. Andrew Walter, however, is still the back up, but I believe in him if Russell goes down now that I've seen our offense improve in the areas that the QB relies on most. My solution: If a capable veteran is available sign him as a #2 QB and trade Walter for more draft picks because he is still young and may have a chance to succeed at this level.
Defensive End C: Derrick Burgess is not the all pro that he once was and may have some trade value to him on draft day. He has also battled multiple injuries the last 2 years. Jay Richardson is a good rotational player at best. However, Trevor Scott showed to be a pass rushing force for years to come after tying the team and NFL rookie sack lead with 5. Greyson Gunheim came off the practice squad and didn't see much playing time, but showed some promise when he got his playing time and may be developable. Kalimba Edwards, who was the other half of the team sack lead tie was cut. My solution: Draft one in a late round
Defensive Tackle D: Tommy Kelly is great at penitrating the line of scrimage as well as Gerrard Warren. This is a great combo for passing downs. Kelly seemed to be slowed by his 2007 injury but seemed to be regaining his form in late 2008. I expect Kelly to be back in form for 2009. However, we still need a solid runstuffer and stopping the run has been an issue for us for quite a few years and we have yet to address that problem. We haven't had an all pro at this position since the late Darrell Russell and before him Chester McGlockton. Since then Rod Coleman left us and became an all pro. Russell's counter part Grady Jackson left prior to that. Then there was John Parella, Sam Adams, Ted Washington, & Warren Sapp. BJ Raji would be a good fit here, but I like Raji's collegiate counterpart Ron Brace too. I also like free agent DT Tank Johnson, who has stayed out of trouble since leaving Chicago and wasn't a good fit for Dallas's 3-4 defense, but was effective in Chicago's 4-3 like we play. My solution: Sign Tank Johnson and draft Ron Brace; Cut Terdell Sands. Then have a rotation of Kelly-Johnson as starters and Warren-Brace as back ups; use Warren and Kelly on passing downs and put Brace on the nose in goalline formation with Kelly on one side and Tank on the other.
Linebacker B: Kirk Morrison and Tom Howard have the great Raider speed that Al Davis loves. Howard has the WLB locked down. Morrison is definatly a starter next year, but will it be at MLB or SLB? I thought Jon Alston played well at SLB last year and should be considered the starter for the 2009 season leaving Morrison in the middle. Morrison was questioned as to whether or not he's big enough to play the middle and was criticized as to being part of the problem of the run defense being weak. Morrison has been the team's leading tackler ever since he joined it and Howard was right behind him his first 3 years and was 3rd with 97 last year. The Raiders also thought very high of Marquis Cooper, who joined the team after the season started and hoped he would compete for a starting job in 2009, but unfortunately we lost him at sea and will be greatly missed; God Bless His Sole. The rest of the backups are mainly special teamers and we really don't have much depth here. The Raiders have been notorious for finding solid LBs in later rounds like Greg Biekert, who was a 6th round pick and Rod Martin who was a 12th round pick and won 2 superbowls and holds the superbowl record for most INTs in the big game with 3. My solution: Keep Howard, Morrison, and Alston as starters and draft some depth in a later round.
Corner A: Nnamdi Asomugha got a nice contract and Chris Johnson was retained after playing well in place of the departed Deangelo Hall. Justin Miller was retained to handle kickoff return duties. This was actually a major concern going into the offseason, but now the secondary issue has shifted to safety with a surprise cut of Gibril Wilson and departure of Rashad Baker. My solution: A little depth wouldn't hurt.
Safety D: Gibril Wilson was second on the team in tackles 129, racked up a safety, 2 INTs, 2 sacks and a forced fumble and was surprisingly cut at the end of the season. They blamed him for lots of mistackles that led to big runs, but when a player has over 100 tackles and is second on the team in that area, he's doing his part in that area. Rashad Baker finished the season with a career high and tied for team lead 3 INTs and the Raiders didn't even attempt to retain him due to his lack of speed. This position is very weak in the draft and the best free agent I know of for SS is Roy Williams, who has been a liability in pass coverage, but would definatly help our run defense out a lot. However, Tyvon Branch showed good promise before injuring his wrist halfway through the season and I think would be a good fit at either safety position. Michael Huff was drafted #7 overall in 2006 and has 1 career INT and it came in 2007. Hiram Eugene was signed to the practice squad that year and has been called up since then and has 0 career INTs, but showed to be a better tackler and major factor on special teams. Then there is Darrick Brown, who was signed to the practice squad last year and called up for special teams. He might have a chance to make the team this year as a back up safety at most, but would have to have an amazing training camp and preseason to do so. My solution: Sign SS Roy Williams; try Tyvon Branch at FS; Trade Michael Huff for a late round pick if there's any takers; draft the best available safety in a late round if you can.
My Mock Draft:
1. trade with Philly for both of their first rounders and take WR Darius Hayward-Bay with the first and C Alex Mack with the second
2. DT Ron Brace
3. Best available Safety
4. Best available DE
5. Trade Michael Huff for a pick and take best available linebacker
6. Best available DB
7. Best available football player