Oakland Raiders: 5 Integral Players for a 2012 Turnaround
The Oakland Raiders need a flawless offseason if they want to make any noise in the AFC West next year.
Their 2011-2012 campaign had a promising start. Running back Darren McFadden looked unstoppable and Jason Campbell was solid as the starting quarterback.
But things quickly changed when these two suffered season-ending injuries before the midway point of the season, prompting the pricey Carson Palmer trade.
The end result was an 8-8 finish, good for third place in the AFC West.
The Raiders will have a hard time bringing in new talent this offseason because they have little money to spend on free agents and only a few late-round selections in the upcoming draft.
This slide show will highlight five players who must step up their game so that the Raiders can make a turnaround in 2012.
Darren McFadden, RB
Darren McFadden is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He has the size, speed, elusiveness and physicality every franchise wants in their premiere back. His only negative is that he cannot remain healthy.
In his four-year career, McFadden has yet to play more than 13 games in one season.
Last year was especially disappointing, as he was on pace to rush for close to 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 7. McFadden cannot be replaced in the Raiders' lineup. He is a complete running back who is just as dangerous catching balls out of the backfield as he is rushing up the middle.
For this reason, it is not a surprise that six of Oaklands' eight losses came after McFadden's injury.
Simply put, they need him healthy for 16 games or else they are a sub-.500 team.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB
DeMarcus Van Dyke's 4.28 second 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine basically guaranteed him a spot on the Oakland Raiders' depth chart.
As assumed, the one and only Al Davis drafted him in the third round.
Van Dyke saw a good amount of playing time as a rookie, but he never did anything to make people wonder why he was not drafted higher.
The departure of Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt this offseason has the Raiders incredible thin in the secondary.
Considering Oakland gave up the second-most passing touchdowns in 2011, finding a talented cornerback is priority No. 1 this offseason. With little money to spend in free agency and no draft pick until the fifth round, the Raiders' best bet is to hope that their second year speedster develops into a worthy starter.
He will need his reaction time to catch up with his fast legs if he wants to improve next season. Something that must happen if the Raiders want anything more than a laughable secondary in 2012.
Taiwan Jones, RB
Taiwan Jones, like DeMarcus Van Dyke, was picked by the Oakland Raiders in last year's draft because of his 40-yard dash time. As a rookie, he had little impact. But with Darren McFadden's injury history and Michael Bush's possible departure, Jones may be asked to play a more vital role in 2012.
While Bush is a big power back, Jones is a slender speedster. The 6-foot, 194-pounder has the wiggle to break free and the speed to finish plays in the end zone.
Should McFadden miss extended time with an injury next season, Jones needs to show the talent advertised by his sub-4.30 speed.
Jones must step up in 2012 so that Oakland's offense can remain productive when McFadden is off the field.
Aaron Curry, LB
After a dominant collegiate career at Wake Forest, Aaron Curry was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the fourth overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft.
After two unimpressive seasons, Seattle traded him during Week 5 to the Oakland Raiders for a 2012 seventh-round pick and a conditional pick in the 2013 draft, a move Oakland made to fix their leaky run defense.
The change of scenery did not transform him into the difference maker he promised to be coming out of college, although he did flash some potential while learning the Raiders' defense on the fly.
Curry has the ability to be the type of player that can carry a defense. If he can remember how to be the playmaker he was in college, the Raiders' front seven will be a past issue.
With a full offseason with the Raiders, Curry must prove his doubters wrong by showing that he is more valuable than your average seventh-round pick.
Denarius Moore, WR
Denarius Moore, a fifth-round pick in 2011, is the definition of an underachiever.
Despite being only 6-foot,195 pounds, the former Tennessee Volunteer has elite speed and the rare sassiness necessary to steal jump balls away from defenders.
In his rookie year, Moore had 33 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns. Impressive for most fifth-rounders, but a little bit disappointing for Moore.
I say this because of the potential Moore displayed in his first career start where he gained 146 yards (23 percent of his season total). If it were not for nagging injuries, Moore would have gained over 1,000 yards and gone down as one of the biggest steals in NFL draft history.
Instead, he will continue to fly under the radar until he can put together a full season.
Moore is a true difference maker as long as he is healthy. The Raiders need his one or two spectacular plays per game if they want to keep pace in the AFC West.