Evaluating Reggie McKenzie's First Year as Raiders' GM
It has been a disastrous season in Oakland to say the least.
The Raiders' playoff hopes for 2012 are a distant memory. Injuries have continued to hurt the team. A former first-round draft pick has been suspended and could possibly be released at the end of the season.
The offense, which was a juggernaut last season, has regressed horribly under the new schemes of Greg Knapp.
Reggie McKenzie came to the Raiders from Green Bay hoping to bring the success of the Packers organization to Oakland with him. McKenzie was known for being able to find gems in the draft and free agency.
Not all of McKenzie's additions have seen playing time or at least enough playing time to be evaluated, but for the players who have, let's take a look.
In Reggie McKenzie's first draft, he had only five picks to work with, so he had to make them count. He struck gold in the fourth round.
Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom was McKenzie's first pick as Oakland's GM, but he has seen little playing time so we can't quite judge him yet. The same can be said for the rest of McKenzie's draftees except for Burris. Burris has given us plenty to judge, and the results have been positive to say the least.
Burris is the first rookie on the Raiders since Thomas Howard in 2006 to record over 100 tackles in his first season. The Raiders, for too long, have had poor tackling from linebackers, which contributes to their near last place defense in the NFL. It is also why safety Tyvon Branch has led the team in tackles for the last few seasons.
Burris is not perfect (he has only one sack in 13 games) but it will be interesting to see his progress going into his second season in 2013. He has the potential to be one of the next great outside linebackers in the NFL.
Cornerback was a position of need for Oakland after the 2011 season, and unfortunately it will be once again after the 2012 season.
McKenzie cut Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson and Lito Sheppard and replaced them with injury prone free agents, Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell. McKenzie deserves some slack for inheriting a horrible salary cap crisis but it is worth considering why he didn't draft a cornerback with one of his five draft picks.
Spencer was inconsistent in his limited playing time before he went on the IR, and he had company there in Bartell. Bartell did return from his injury only to be benched for poor play, and now it is possible that Bartell could be released before the home finale against the Chiefs.
For McKenzie, it will be back to the drawing board to fix the Raiders' secondary for next season.
Streater went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft, and, right about now, there are 31 other teams wishing they had drafted Streater.
Streater was forced into early playing time because of injuries to Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, but recently Streater has earned his playing time with seven receptions for 196 yards and a TD over the last two games.
Streater may not be the best receiver in Oakland yet, but, in the meantime, he has been a reliable replacement while Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey struggle to catch the ball.
McKenzie was wise to quickly sign Streater after the draft.
With the Raiders changing to the zone blocking scheme under offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, McKenzie made his first big free-agent signing giving a five year, $20 million contract to guard Mike Brisiel.
Although the Raiders' run blocking has improved in recent weeks, this offense is nowhere close to the production they had last season when Darren McFadden led the NFL in rushing for six weeks, and Michael Bush went for nearly 1,000 yards while starting only half the season.
Brisiel is not responsible for the struggles of the entire offensive line, but he was given the largest contract of all the Raiders free-agent signings so he has been the guinea pig to see how good McKenzie is at scouting free agents and/or offensive linemen.
Personally, I would say that the blame for the offensive line should fall on Greg Knapp for forcing a new scheme on the players who thrived in the power scheme of the past.
Because of the Raiders' injury woes from Spencer and Bartell, they had to go purge practice squads and the remaining free agent pool for players.
In their quest for cornerbacks, the Raiders found Phillip Adams. Adams didn't do much to gain recognition at first, but he has made an interception in two straight games including an end-zone pick from Peyton Manning.
On any other team, Adams is likely a nickel back at best. But with the injury-depleted secondary in Oakland, Adams is given the chance to shine against the best receivers in football, and he is starting to hold his ground.
Adams is someone I hope McKenzie brings back next season. He can be a part of a revamped Raiders defensive backfield in 2013.
Drafting Juron Criner from Arizona was Reggie McKenzie's way of putting his stamp on the team. No longer did the Raiders draft only for speed. Criner was brought in to be a solid possession receiver rather than the down-field burner that the Raiders had in DHB, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore.
Criner got off to a bad start by being the first rookie holdout of the McKenzie era. It was especially bad when there was a rookie wage scale to cap salary. Criner held out for an additional $14,000 before he reported to the team.
Criner has had little playing time to prove that he is worth that extra $14,000; he has been targeted 34 times and caught just 16 passes through the first 13 games of 2012.
Criner looks even worse when compared to Streater, who went undrafted, and yet is more productive. It's like comparing DHB and Louis Murphy back in 2009 when the two rookies came to Oakland and Murphy (the fourth-round pick) outperformed Heyward-Bey (the seventh-overall pick).
So far, Criner has given the Raider Nation and McKenzie little reason to believe he was worth that extra $14,000; especially in Oakland, where the cap is as tight as it is.
Along with Miles Burris, Wheeler has helped the Raiders move on from Aaron Curry and possibly Rolando McClain by bringing solid tackling to the linebacker position.
McKenzie brought in Wheeler for a one-year deal to replace Kamerion Wimbley. Wheeler hasn't brought the pass rush that Wimbley had (two sacks through 13 games) but Wheeler will likely join Burris in the 100-plus tackle club in Week 15 against the Chiefs.
Considering the salary cap crisis that the Raiders were in, they were unable to keep Wimbley or go out and replace him with a player as sought after as Mario Williams. With the tight cap, Wheeler has been worth more than the $700,000 he signed with Oakland for.
What McKenzie did wrong was only giving Wheeler a one-year contract so he can opt to become an unrestricted free agent if he wishes.
The Last Word
The sample size is small, much like the Raiders 2012 draft class, to judge the players who have been brought in by McKenzie and given enough playing time.
One season may not be enough to evaluate McKenzie as Oakland's GM, especially when he had as little to work with in terms of his draft class and salary cap.
With the Raiders on pace to be drafting in the top five for the 2013 NFL Draft, McKenzie will have a chance to strike gold with a player like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o or perhaps trade down for more picks and wait on the best available cornerback.
One thing is for sure, McKenzie and the Raiders have plenty of work to do after the 2012 season, and if the Raiders put out another disappointing season in 2013, Mark Davis could be announcing his first firing since inheriting the team.