The Oakland Raiders: 13 Months From Greatness
Let's face it, folks, the Raiders are not going to win the Super Bowl this year. They may not even make the playoffs. That's okay, though. Trying to go from the bottom of the league to immediate Super Bowl contenders is a thing of the past for the Oakland Raiders.
If, over the course of the next 13 months, the Raiders can continue the rational, deliberate decision-making they've shown thus far this offseason, they could become regulars in the NFL playoffs as soon as 2010.
And so, with an eye on the future, here is a breakdown of the current team and what needs the Raiders might address in the next two NFL drafts.
Left tackle - With the signing of Khalif Barnes to a one year contract, the Raiders likely won't draft a left tackle in 2009. Barnes will be given exactly the length of his contract to prove himself.
If he doesn't pan out, the Raiders could take a left tackle in the first round of 2010. First though, he needs to beat returning left tackle Mario Henderson for the starting job.
Left Guard - Barring injury, Robert Gallery has this position locked up for the foreseeable future. No draft pick needed in 2009 or 2010.
Center - Samson Satele will start this year and, like Barnes, will be given a chance to prove himself until his contract expires. He has two years left on said contract at a nice, low price of just $500,000-ish a year. Don't look for the Raiders to make any moves at center until at least 2011.
Right Guard - Cooper Carlisle was not great last season, but he was very good the two years prior; he could return to form in 2009. Paul McQuistan is the backup. Depending on what happens in the upcoming season, this is a possible area of focus in the 2010 draft.
Right Tackle - Cornell Green is the incumbent, but expect Erik Pears or the loser of the battle at left tackle to end up at right tackle. Regardless of who starts, there will be players here for a few years who should keep right tackle from being a major need. No picks in 2009 or 2010.
Tight End - Zach Miller will play in a Pro Bowl some day. A good blocking tight end is somewhat lacking but won't be a pressing need as long as the Raiders are as bad as they are at other positions. This could be addressed very late in the 2010 draft.
Half Back - Justin Fargas, Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and Louis Rankin are in this group. There will be no need at this position for several years.
Full Back - Oren O'Neil is the fullback of the future if he can stay healthy. There is some depth, and the chances of the entire stable of full backs being injured in the same year again are slim. Don't anticipate a pick going this way for a few years unless it is prompted by a career-threatening injury to O'Neil.
Quarterback - Russell is the starter for the foreseeable future. Jeff Garcia and Bruce Gradkowski are, without a doubt, an upgrade over the previous backups. No picks in '09 or '10.
Wide Receiver - There is no definite No. 1, but plenty of talent. Javon Walker was unimpressive last season but, if Tom Cable can get his personality under control, he should be able to serve as the veteran presence the Raiders' receivers need. Johnny Lee Higgins is a natural slot receiver.
Between Walker, Higgins, Chaz Schilens, and Arman Shields, the Raiders are close to having a very deep, and capable, receiving corps. Look for the Raiders to get their No. 1-of-the-future in the draft this year. No pick needed in 2010 (or 2011-2015 for that matter).
Spotlight on the Pick: First Round - Michael Crabtree Despite the possibility that the current receiving talent could be sufficient for the Raiders' run-first offense, drafting a wide receiver in 2009 would almost guarantee that at least a few years will pass before the Raiders spend another offseason debating over-the-hill free agents and scratching their itchy, wide-receiver trigger-fingers in the first and second rounds of the draft.
Defensive End - Derrick Burgess was once a Pro Bowl player but has been hobbled the last two seasons. He will be 31 before the 2009 season, his last under contract with the Raiders. Injury issues do not typically get better with age.
On the other end of the line, Jay Richardson has steadily improved on first and second down and sophomore Trevor Scott is a capable pass-rush specialist on third down.
Greyson Gunheim and Derrick Gray are the only backups. Look for the Raiders to address this position very early in the 2010 draft, regardless of whether they resign Burgess.
Defensive Tackle - Tommy Kelly is supposed to be an up-the-field penetrator but has yet to be lined up next to a gap hog who can take on multiple blockers and give him the opportunity to make plays.
Terdell Sands and Gerrard Warren would be excellent backups, as they have both shown flashes of brilliance, but neither has proven himself as a starter. The Raiders need to draft a defensive tackle this year.
Spotlight on the Pick: Second Round - Ron Brace Of the top defensive tackles in the draft, Ron Brace may be the best fit for the Raiders. He can occupy at least two offensive linemen in passing situations and moves well down the line of scrimmage to collapse running lanes.
Weakside and Middle Linebacker - Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison, respectively, have manned these positions for a few years and don't look to be going anywhere anytime soon. They're both excellent in coverage but have, at times, been suspect as tacklers.
The Raiders need to give them a year or two with new defensive coordinator John Marshall before investing a high pick in a replacement. No picks in 2009; possibly a mid-round pick in 2010.
Strongside Linebacker - Ricky Brown? Jon Alston? Sam Williams? Who do the Raiders have at one of the key spots on their defense? Special teams players. Expect this to be addressed in the 2009 draft.
Spotlight on the Pick: Fourth Round - Zach Follett Follett is known as a hard hitter who spends a lot of time in the opposing team's backfield. Follett would not have been invited for an interview with the Raiders recently if Jim Michalczik, former Cal, and now Raider, assistant coach, had not signed-off on his personality.
Cornerback - Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson could finish the 2009 season as one of the most respected cornerback duos in the league. Stanford Routt is a very good nickel corner.
Don't expect a pick to be used on a corner this year, though one could be drafted in the middle rounds of 2010 to add depth.
Safety - Michael Huff has never lived up to expectations but is expected start at free safety in 2009. Hiram Eugene will be his backup. Tyvon Branch is the projected starter at strong safety. Hiram Eugene will be his backup.
That is not a type-o. Hiram Eugene is projected to back up both safety positions next year. The Raiders need another safety right away.
Spotlight on the Pick: Third Round - ??? The Raiders could go in several directions when drafting a safety. Chip Vaughn is a natural, in-the-box strong safety; Rashad Johnson is an expert ball hawk at free safety; Chris Clemons is an all-around solid player who played both free safety and strong safety in college.
Availability will likely dictate who the Raiders draft, but expect them to grab a safety in round three this year. They may also need to address one of the safety positions in 2010.
Spotlight on the Pick: Round Seven - ??? In the seventh round, the Raiders would do well to find a player with versatility. Clinton McDonald, for example, can play defensive end or defensive tackle; Ramon Foster can play offensive guard or tackle; Philip Hunt is an OLB/DE hybrid.
The Raiders can add flexibility in round seven as there are several good athletes who need to find a position, and a home, in the NFL.
It would be optimistic, under normal circumstances, to expect a team's first four picks to become major contributors in their rookie season. But Brace and Follett would almost certainly start in 2009, and any safety selected would see a lot of playing time. Crabtree would be expected to start right away.
If all four players were solid and filled the need they were intended to, the Raiders would be in a good position come 2010. Here's a look at what they could do in next year's draft
Rounds One and Two: Depending on what happens with Khalif Barnes and Derrick Burgess, left tackle and defensive end could be the two biggest needs coming out of the 2009 season
Round Three: Fill any remaining need at safety
Round Three: Depth at linebacker
Round Five: A guard/center to backup Carlisle and Satele and possibly replace one of them in the future
Round Six: Depth at corner/safety
Round Seven: A blocking tight end
It's hard to believe, but the Raiders could be just one year away from being able to draft for depth instead of desperately trying to fill gaping holes on both offense and defense. It depends on a lot of things going the right way, but isn't far fetched.
One thing's for sure, with a group of coaches who were specifically selected for their ability to teach, a returning head coach who demands players play for each other, and a whole new WE-CAN-WIN! attitude in the locker room, any players drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2009 and 2010 will be in a better position to succeed than those who came before them.
Here's to the Raiders of the future.
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