The Oakland Raiders' biggest problem heading into the 2012 NFL Draft is a lack of depth. Reggie McKenzie said he believes the Raiders are an outside linebacker away from having a starter at every position, but injuries happen and players don't always perform. McKenzie is well aware that if he is still looking for starters, his team has depth issues.
The depth issues leave the Raiders in a perilous situation just one or two injuries from the NFL basement.
Perhaps no team knows better what one or two injuries can do to a season than the Raiders. In 2011, the Raiders lost Jason Campbell, which prompted the trade for Carson Palmer in the hopes of making a playoff run only to lose Darren McFadden for the season the following week. The Raiders then lost Jacoby Ford for six games and Denarius Moore for three.
Injuries were a big reason why the Raiders stumbled down the stretch, losing four of the final five games. Addressing the Raiders' lack of depth at several key positions will be one of McKenzie's primary draft goals.
Outside of depth at a few key positions, the Raiders will need to find a starting outside linebacker. The free-agent options at outside linebacker are dwindling and McKenzie might wait until after the draft before pulling the trigger on a veteran.
Inside every general manager is a desire to always draft the best player available, but it is also his duty to put the best team on the field and a dozen defensive ends aren't going to help the team at cornerback.
What draft philosophy is best?
Like every other GM, McKenzie will draft players based on team need unless the player sticks out like a sore thumb on the Raiders' draft board.
The question is: What are the team needs McKenzie should address in the 2012 NFL Draft?
By McKenzie's own admission the team is a starting outside linebacker away from having all of the starters. McKenzie must find an outside linebacker or two in the draft.
Even if McKenzie opts to sign a veteran to start at strong-side linebacker, the Raiders would have little depth behind the veteran and weak-side linebacker Aaron Curry.
Carl Ihenacho is the only other outside linebacker on the roster and he has yet to play in a NFL game. Travis Goethel is a middle linebacker that could slide outside on first and second downs only.
For whatever reason, it seems as though linebacker is one of the easier positions to address in the middle rounds, which is where McKenzie will do all of his work this year.
You can never have too many defensive linemen. The big boys wear down, so it's important to have a steady rotation of players to keep them fresh.
The Raiders also haven't been able to stop the run for years and the team recently released their best run-stopper John Henderson. The Raiders should be looking for a stout defensive tackle in the draft and McKenzie has already started examining such players.
According to Scout.com, the Raiders will have nose tackle Josh Chapman in for a visit. Chapman is just the kind of space-eater the Raiders need and he's capable of playing in the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
Chapman would likely be out of the Raiders' draft range if not for an ACL injury he played through last season and had surgery on in January.
The defensive line is also about applying pressure to the quarterback. Kamerion Wimbley was a good nickel rusher and the Raiders need to find a way to replace his production.
The Raiders will probably use Desmond Bryant in that role at times, but tying him up and making him unable to give Tommy Kelly or Richard Seymour a rest could have unintended consequences.
It's possible the Raiders can address this problem when they bring in an outside linebacker, but until then Mason Brodine and Hall Davis are the only backups at defensive end on the roster.
Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski and Mike Brisiel are players that McKenzie will build the line around. Khalif Barnes and Cooper Carlisle are stopgap players that McKenzie will try to replace in the near future.
The depth consists of Joseph Barksdale, Bruce Campbell, Alex Parsons and Zach Hurd. Barksdale may push for a starting job and Parsons might surprise, but the Raiders need to find a player or two that they can develop into starters.
The nice thing about the zone-blocking system is that the Raiders should be able to find eventual starters in later rounds as the zone-blocking system doesn't value man-blocking strength as much as it does agility and pass-blocking technique.
Carson Palmer is the unquestioned starter and Terrelle Pryor was drafted via the supplemental draft last season. The only other quarterback on the roster is Rhett Bomar.
The Raiders need to decide quickly if Pryor is the quarterback of the future or if they need to find their guy in the draft. Now is the time to find the quarterback of the future, because the Palmer window will not last forever.
The Raiders had a chance to find their next quarterback when Gannon was still playing, but failed. Andrew Walter and JaMarcus Russell didn't work out and the Raiders are still recovering.
If a quarterback fit can be found then McKenzie should pull the trigger. McKenzie already has a plan for the future and any plan must start and end with the quarterback.
Middle Linebacker/Inside Linebacker
When the best compliment the coach can come up with is that the player was a first-round pick and is receptive to the new coaching staff, he's probably not in the team's future plans.
The Raiders are hoping they can salvage Rolando McClain's career, but they have their fingers and toes crossed. McClain has been a disappointment and will need to improve significantly in the new defensive scheme to be the long-term answer in the middle of the Raiders defense.
If the Raiders plan to use the 3-4 defense, they will also need an additional inside linebacker. It only seems logical to find a middle/inside linebacker in the draft rather than free agency.
Travis Goethel is an intriguing player that is currently on the roster, but his injury history and lack of elite athleticism make him a long-shot to start over McClain. He would more likely be one of two inside linebackers.
A strong-side linebacker prospect that can eventually move inside might be a good option and free up the Raiders to use multiple fronts.
The Raiders need to build from the inside out and make sure the quarterback and middle linebacker are the right players to lead the team.
Tight ends, receivers and corner backs can all be drafted down the line once the building blocks are in place to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl. That's not to say the Raiders won't draft a player at those positions, but they will most likely be backups and developmental players.