Oakland Raiders: Predicting Top Offensive, Defensive Stat Leaders

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJune 25, 2012

Oakland Raiders: Predicting Top Offensive, Defensive Stat Leaders

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    If 2011 was an indication of things to come, the Raiders should have a prolific offense in 2012.

    Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer have yet to step on the same field and the Raiders have a nice set of receivers, a fullback and a solid offensive line to complement them.

    Predicting the stats of the offensive players is tough, but it can be done. The projections should be realistic and based on reality, but not short-change what these offensive players have done to this point.

    The defense is very different. It's a new scheme and a lot of new personnel, while defensive statistics themselves are much more difficult to predict, that's why fantasy football revolves around offensive players.

    Despite that, there are a few Raiders poised to be stat leaders and who may or may not surprise you.

Top Passer: Carson Palmer

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    Palmer is the unquestioned starter coming into 2012. The Raiders will hope to avoid any injuries to the quarterback they traded so much to acquire last season.

    Despite the abbreviated year and no offseason, Palmer managed to put up a career-high in passing yards per game at 275.3. A big reason for the passing production was the poor defense; playing from behind artificially inflated Palmer's yardage statistics in 2011.

    Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is known for his run-heavy offenses and has never had a quarterback surpass 3600 passing yards, but times are changing. Knapp also hasn't had a quarterback with the passing ability of Palmer as an offensive coordinator

    Knapp spent the last two seasons in Houston coaching Matt Schaub. In the two seasons coached by Knapp, Schaub has averaged 263.42 passing yards per game.

    Palmer Projection: 3846 yards, 22 Touchdowns

Top Receiver: Darrius Heyward-Bey

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    Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford would be other potential choices as the top receiver in Oakland, but it was Heyward-Bey that put up the most yards per game in 2011.

    DHB has a very nice rapport with Palmer, and is one of the three top pass catchers who is the best fit in the west-coast offense. Heyward-Bey has inconsistent hands, but until Moore or Ford actually prove they are more than big-play receivers, Heyward-Bey remains the top option in Oakland

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (@NFLDraftScout) has a friendly bet with Pete Prisco of CBS (@PriscoCBS) that Heyward-Bey will have 1200 yards and 8 Touchdowns in 2012.

    At his 2011 rate of production, Heyward-Bey would have recorded 1114 yards in a 16-game season, but this included him getting benched and only catching one pass for five yards against the Jets.

    Excluding the unexplained benching, Heyward-Bey's production over a 16-game season would have been 1194 yards, 74.6 yards per game.

    Heyward-Bey also had a team-high 115 targets in 2012 according to ESPN.

    Assuming he has a little more luck catching touchdown passes and in the health department, Prisco might make Miller sweat.

    Heyward-Bey Projection: 1150 yards, 7 Touchdowns

Top Running Back: Darren McFadden

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    McFadden is the top option and he'll get a lot of work. Unless the Raiders decide to sign Cedric Benson, there is little worry that Taiwan Jones or Mike Goodson will cut into his opportunities.

    McFadden has played in a zone- and man-blocking scheme and has a career yards per carry average of 4.8.

    2011 injury excluded, McFadden has averaged 13 games per season. Hardly unusual for a running back in the NFL.

    McFadden is also great catching passes and figures to produce a lot of yards through the air.

    McFadden Projection: 1100 rushing yards, 550 receiving yards, 13 Touchdowns

Top Tight End: David Ausberry

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    Tight end is one of the more interesting positions headed into training camp. Carson Palmer said he figures Brandon Myers will get the starting nod, but Ausberry and even Richard Gordon could push for the job.

    Knapp has a long history of using the tight end in the passing game and the most natural pass-catcher is Ausberry.

    Knapp's lowest yardage total from a tight end came from his first years as offensive coordinator in San Francisco, but those players still produced over 300 yards.

    Palmer has never really utilized the tight end, but this could change in Knapp's system.

    Ausberry Projection: 300 yards, 3 Touchdowns

Top Fullback: Marcel Reece

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    With the Runaway Beer Truck, Owen Schmitt, on the roster, the top fullback is actually a question that is up for debate. Although from a stats perspective, Reece is obviously the top performer.

    When Reece was playing well in 2011, the Raiders' offense was playing well. Reece is mostly a weapon in the receiving game and has steadily improved over the last two years.

    It's possible the Raiders will use Reece to replace the production Knapp would normally want out of his tight end and instead use the tight end as a blocker.

    It remains to be seen whether the Raiders will consider using Reece as the short-yardage back, so it's tough to predict his rushing yards.

    Reece Projection: 500 yards from scrimmage, 3 touchdowns

Sack Artist: Matt Shaughnessy

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    Tommy Kelly has 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons. That's more than any other player still on the roster and the ability of the linebackers to rush the passer is still in question.

    It's possible teams start doubling Kelly and not Richard Seymour, and that leads to more sacks by the latter.

    More possible is that Matt Shaughnessy plays like the sack monster Raider Nation hopes he will become. Shaughnessy had 7 sacks in 2010 and appeared to be the most dangerous pass-rusher during training camp in 2011.

    Shaughnessy hurt his shoulder last year and missed 13 games, butis capable of double-digit sacks when healthy.

    Shaughnessy projection: 10 sacks

Top Tackler: Rolando McClain

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    The middle linebacker is at a significant advantage when it comes to making tackles.

    Rolando McClain should be the top tackler based on his draft status, but he had only one more solo tackle and fewer combined than strong safety Tyvon Branch in 2011.

    Patience is wearing thin, and the Raider Nation is expecting big things out of McClain in 2012. Expect more of the same from McClain, just hope Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver can schematically cover up for him.

    McClain Projection: 107 tackles

Interception Machine: Michael Huff

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    Matt Giordano lead the team in interceptions in 2011 with five, while Huff had two. The difference in 2012 will be Huff playing his natural free safety position.

    That means Giordano's opportunities will become Huff's. Added opportunities usually means more production.

    The Raiders will also blitz a lot more in 2012 than they ever have, and added pressure usually creates opportunities for the secondary to make plays.

    Huff is the clear beneficiary of the new defensive scheme and his numbers should reflect that.

    Huff Projection: 7 Interceptions

Fumble Forcers: Aaron Curry & Matt Shaughnessy

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    Curry has four career forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. With the linebackers blitzing in 2012, he'll have even more opportunity to get a strip sack or scoop and score when it's caused by someone else.

    Sack artists routinely end up with a good number of forced fumbles. If the projection of 10 sacks holds, Shaughnessy should be able to convert roughly one-third into fumbles.

    Curry Projection: 2 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries

    Shaughnessy Projection: 3 Forced Fumbles

Pass Defender: Ron Bartell

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    Interceptions are made when a defender can get two hands on the football, but more often defensive backs are reaching in front of receivers to knock away a pass.

    Bartell is viewed as the No. 1 corner in Oakland and will be expected to produce. In the three seasons prior to 2011, Bartell averaged nearly 13 passes defensed.

    Shawntae Spencer isn't bad at defending passes either, and in his last two healthy seasons averaged almost 10 passes defensed.

    The Raiders' veteran corners are more than capable of getting their hands on a football in flight and the Raiders will be counting on the veterans to produce.

    Bartell Projection: 14 Passes Defensed