The Oakland Raiders had a rough season in 2011. After a 4-2 start, Jason Campbell suffered a season-ending injury, forcing the desperate Raiders to give up their first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft to the Bengals in exchange for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. Only a week later, Oakland lost dynamic running back Darren McFadden to an injury as well. Without two of their best and most valuable offensive players, the Raiders struggled in the second half of the season.
Following a season plagued by inconsistency, injuries and the passing of owner Al Davis, the Raiders are looking to turn the program around in 2012. Reggie McKenzie, Oakland’s general manager, fired head coach Hue Jackson, replacing him with former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen this off-season. McKenzie hopes Allen will be able to improve on Oakland’s 8-8 record last season.
These improvements must start with the 2012 NFL draft.
Unfortunately for the Allen, Oakland does not even have a pick until the end of the third round. With limited early picks, it is essential that the Raiders find great value in each selection.
Though they could use some fresh talent and depth at nearly every position, there are five points of need that stand out to me: a pass-rushing outside linebacker, a stout run-stopping nose tackle, depth at cornerback, a sturdy offensive tackle, and a solid backup quarterback.
Let’s take a look at five players the Raiders should target in the middle rounds in the 2012 NFL draft.
With new coach Dennis Allen taking over, the Raiders will likely be switching to a 3-4 scheme on defense. The loss of Kamerion Wimbley creates a glaring need for a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Oakland must find a valuable option at this position in the middle rounds of the 2012 NFL draft.
They need look no further than Demario Davis.
The former Arkansas State star is one of the most athletic and powerful players in this year’s draft. Davis has great size at 235 pounds and was a top performer in the combine among linebackers, especially in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and bench press. With these physical skills, he can truly play sideline-to-sideline with exceptional closing speed. Davis is a textbook tackler; always staying low and delivering powerful blows.
Davis plays with great intensity. He is extremely effective when blitzing and has a strong first step. Though he plays well downhill, he has a little more trouble dropping back, especially in zone coverage. He was also given a lot of freedom at Arkansas State, meaning he may have trouble settling into a more specific position in the pros.
These negatives are a small price to pay for the intensity and work ethic Davis would bring to Oakland. He is an instinctive player whose power and athleticism could disrupt offenses from an outside position. His small school label will likely allow the Raiders to get a bargain on him in the middle rounds.
Another position that needs to be addressed in the 2012 NFL draft is nose tackle. A switch to the 3-4 is likely on defense, and the Raiders lack a true zero gap tackle. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly will probably become the starters on the ends, but Oakland needs a stout tackle to clog the middle.
Josh Chapman is an example of a great value player that the Raiders could snag in the middle rounds. The 310-pound lineman has immense experience as a nose tackle in Alabama's 3-4 scheme and could be a perfect fit between Seymour and Kelly.
Chapman is extremely powerful. He has great push off the line, and is virtually impossible to take on one-on-one. He is very effective as a run-stopper, often driving the offensive line well into the backfield. Chapman is also tough as nails. He's got a real nasty streak, and played with a torn ACL during the 2011 season.
Though he is a great run-stopper, Chapman struggles in the pass rush. His block shedding leaves a lot to be desired, and he does not collapse the pocket as much as he should. Chapman's conditioning has also been suspect at times, so Oakland will need to keep an eye on his weight.
Ultimately, Chapman is a raw talent who could improve in a couple aspects of the game. However, he is a smart player with great recognition skills. His sheer power at nose tackle will make him an effective hole filler in the NFL. The Raiders could get good value on Chapman as well, as many teams may be deterred by his ACL problems.
After a rough 2011 season, the Oakland secondary took an even bigger hit this off-season with the loss of Stanford Routt. New head coach Dennis Allen could definitely afford some depth at cornerback. He must address this hole in the 2012 draft.
Omar Bolden is likely to become a great value in the draft. Before missing the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, Bolden was a unanimous first-team Pac-10 selection in 2010 at Arizona State. That season, he had seven pass breakups and three interceptions.
At 5'10" and 202 pounds, Bolden is a big, athletic cover-corner. He had a ton of experience at Arizona State and emerged as a true leader. Aside from his undeniable talent at cornerback, Bolden also excelled as a kick returner, and could contribute to Oakland's special teams.
Despite his upside, Bolden is a risk considering he hasn't played competitively in over a year. He reassured many scouts, however, when he ran a 4.45, 40-yard dash at Arizona State's pro day. This at least shows that Bolden's speed has fully recovered from his knee injury.
Bolden will likely last until the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft. This should make him quite a bargain for the Raiders. Bolden's excellent quickness, closing speed and tackling abilities should outweigh his risk, especially after his impressive pro day performance.
The Raiders could use help across the board on the offensive line. Dennis Allen needs a good value pick in the middle rounds of the 2012 draft that can help protect Carson Palmer.
Nate Potter is an excellent option for Oakland. Since his sophomore season, Potter has acted as the rock that protected Kellen Moore's blind side. He is an excellent pass protector with quick feet, allowing him to mirror pass-rushers with ease.
Along with his great technique comes immense experience. Potter started 28 games at Boise State, and has an extremely high football IQ. At the next level, he will likely be able to help out anywhere on the offensive line. Potter could be put at tackle on either side of the ball, and even move inside to guard if he is needed there.
Potter does have some room for improvement. His 6'6" frame is not quite filled out. At 300 pounds, Potter could afford to gain some bulk. This would also help with his struggles in the run game, as he does not drive block effectively or blow people up off the line.
Considering Potter's experience and versatility, he could be a great pick for the Raiders in the 2012 draft. After Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin are off the board, Potter will become valuable. Oakland should definitely target this seasoned tackle that could help their line across the board.
Carson Palmer is not getting any younger, and did not exactly blow up the stat sheets in 2011. Oakland needs depth at quarterback. Badly. I seriously doubt that Terrelle Pryor and Rhett Bomar will be effective passers for the Raiders in the near future.
Nick Foles is one of the most underrated players in the 2012 NFL draft. With a 6'5", 243 pound frame, he has prototypical NFL size. As a senior at Arizona, Foles threw for 4,329 yards and 28 touchdowns. Though this can in part be attributed to Arizona's pass-happy attack, he also completed an impressive 69.1 percent of his throws.
Foles has exceptional accuracy with his short and medium range throws, always putting the ball where his receivers could make a play. He is also smart; capable of reading defenses and calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.
The former Arizona star could improve in his long-range throws where his accuracy struggles. After conducting a spread aerial attack for so long, many scouts are concerned that Foles will have trouble under center with his elongated release and questionable footwork. He also has no mobility. But, then again, neither does Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Foles could easily last until the middle rounds and become one of the best bargains of the 2012 draft. Oakland should without a doubt target this guy. He has the potential to be a solid NFL starter, and the Raiders need all the help they can get under center.