What to Watch for in the Oakland Raiders' Second-Year Players

D.J. O'ConnorSenior Analyst IIIJuly 23, 2012

What to Watch for in the Oakland Raiders' Second-Year Players

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    Despite missing most of their offseason practice time last year due to the lockout, the Raiders rookies of 2011 showed promise for the future.

    Whether it was a flashy catch by Denarius Moore or a mauling block by Stefen Wisniewski, the 2011 draft class looks ready to enter their sophomore seasons.

    Typically, the Raiders youngsters emerge into stars in their third year (Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey, to name a couple), but that doesn't mean we should overlook a very important second season in the NFL for the 2011 draft class.

Stefen Wisniewski

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    Because of the trade for Richard Seymour from New England in 2009, the Raiders were without a first-round pick in 2011.  But having to wait until the 48th overall pick to make a selection didn't stop Oakland from landing an immediate starter.

    Although Wisniewski is in this picture as a center, he was primarily a guard for his rookie season.  It may be for the best that he didn't have to come in and immediately be the signal-caller for the offensive line after a lockout-shortened offseason.

    In his sophomore season, watch to see how well he handles the transition from guard to center.  Keep in mind that he was a center in college at Penn State, so the position is not all that new to him.

    Also, he did well in his time as an injury replacement for Samson Satele at center last year, so I would expect to see Wisniewski continue to dominate defensive tackles and nose guards in his second season.

Demarcus Van Dyke

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    Talk about a trial by fire.  In his first NFL game, Van Dyke was matched up against Larry Fitzgerald in a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.  

    Van Dyke was a part of a horrible defense in Oakland.  Whether defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, the players or both are to blame doesn't matter anymore.  General manager Reggie McKenzie came in and cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball with new coaches and new players.

    Van Dyke is still on the roster, but it is not looking good for him entering training camp.  Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell have been signed to one-year contracts and are likely going to be the starters come Week 1.

    Look for Van Dyke to step in as a nickel or dime back on defense or maybe even on special teams coverage in his second year as a pro.  With Spencer and Bartell here on one-year contracts, Spencer can show what he can do this year, and, if he impresses, he will make them expendable.  

    Conversely, Van Dyke could be just another one of those guys who could run fast but couldn't cover a good receiver.

Joe Barksdale

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    Barksdale, an offensive tackle from LSU, has a great opportunity in front of him.  

    Khalif Barnes has not been a stalwart at right tackle, and the door is open for Barksdale to push Barnes to the bench with a strong training camp and preseason.  

    With new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp moving to a West Coast offense, Barksdale can emerge as a more athletic tackle than Barnes, making him a better fit for the new scheme.

    Barksdale also played guard at LSU, so he has some versatility should the Raiders need a fill-in at either of the guard spots.

    Barksdale is young, so he isn't at a make-or-break point in his career.  If he fails to pass Barnes on the depth chart this year, he will surely be ready to fight for the job again next year. 

Chimdi Chekwa

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    Much like fellow 2011 draft classmate Van Dyke, Chekwa was given a vote of no confidence by the new coaches and front office.

    The Raiders brought in new corners, okay fine.  Chekwa can also play some safety.  Will he get playing time there in 2012?

    No.  The Raiders franchised and re-sgined Tyvon Branch and also re-signed back-up Matt Giordano.  With Mike Mitchell and Michael Huff still on the roster, as well as undrafted free agent Aaron Henry pushing himself onto the 53-man roster, there may no longer be that safety spot for Chekwa.

    Much like Van Dyke, expect to see Chekwa playing in nickel, dime or quarter defensive packages or in special teams coverage.

Taiwan Jones

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    Jones showed us that he has a skill set similar to Darren McFadden's—an all too familiar skill set.  Jones runs very fast and has the big-play ability every time he gets the ball, but, as with McFadden, you have to wonder if he can last 16 games.

    Jones enters a crucial second season in the NFL.  The Raiders acquired Mike Goodson from Carolina to compete in the backfield for carries and/or catches.  Losing Michael Bush opens the door for both Goodson and Jones to fight for the back-up spot to Darren McFadden.  

    Look for Jones to get playing time in 2012 regardless of his spot on the depth chart. Considering how he can run as well as McFadden, the Raiders would be wise to give Jones some carries to the outside to relieve McFadden and reduce his number of carries, keeping his injury history in mind.

Denarius Moore

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    While most of the other 2011 draft picks are on the bench or fighting for playing time, Denarius Moore turned out to be the steal of the 2011 draft as a fifth-round pick who worked his way into a starting spot within a year.

    Moore showed that he could run and catch with the best of them, and if it hadn't been for a hamstring injury he suffered in San Diego, he could have been in consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Darrius Heyward-Bey finally arrived last year and seems to be the Raiders' No. 1 receiver, but Moore is not far behind.  

    As a rookie, Moore had the element of surprise, but now he is well known around the league and will be taken seriously as teams game-plan to play the Raiders.

    Moore should be put to the test in 2012. Let's see if he passes and proves to be a younger version of Larry Fitzgerald.

Richard Gordon

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    Gordon has a chance to become a starter in just his second season as a pro.  Over the last two years, the Raiders have lost Zach Miller and Kevin Boss, leaving the door wide open for a tight end to separate himself from the pack.

    Gordon is behind Brandon Myers and David Ausberry, and with a strong camp he could earn some snaps in the regular season.

    Gordon was always a better blocker than a receiver at his position.  Maybe he could be utilized in running situations as a blocking tight end.

David Ausberry

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    Let me know if you have heard anything bad about Ausberry this offseason, because I have not.

    Ausberry is in great shape, and the wide receiver-turned-tight end is running routes very well entering his sophomore season with the Raiders.

    Judging from minicamp and OTAs, he is seriously making a push for the starting tight end job.  Just because of experience, I would give the job to Brandon Myers entering camp. But if Ausberry continues his great offseason, then the job can be his.

    Watch to see if Ausberry can reach the top of the depth chart this early in his career.  If he has a disappointing camp, look for the Raiders to sign a free agent with the little cap room that they have.

Conclusion

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    Aside from Stefen Wisniewski, Denarius Moore and David Ausberry, it doesn't look like many other second-year Raiders will be making too much noise in the NFL in 2012.  Most of the 2011 draft picks are buried on the depth chart or are just situational players at this point.  

    These guys are still young though, and they can still find ways to contribute to the 2012 Raiders.