Two weeks of preseason football are by no means an absolute indication of how the regular season that lies ahead will unfold. However, the relatively small sample size nevertheless allows objective eyes to glean some developing trends.
Based on these early trends, here are the Raiders that we anticipate will garner notable team distinctions, both laudable and dubious, at season's end.
The San Diego State wide receiver, selected by Oakland in the seventh round in this April's draft, has garnered the most of the hype this preseason and deservedly so.
He's had a solid training camp, impressing teammates and coaches alike, all the while seemingly climbing the depth chart. Dennis Allen described Butler as "a nice surprise" to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, and his strong work in training camp appears to have carried over into the preseason, where he's already caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in two games.
Furthermore, reports indicate that his on-field chemistry with presumptive starting quarterback Matt Flynn is developing quite nicely. Chris McClain of Silver and Black Report tweeted that the two had the best connection of practice a week ago.
Nice ball by Flynn to Butler who beat the defense deep over the middle. Nice touch on the throw. Best of practice.— Chris McClain (@ChrisMcClain) August 13, 2013
Considering Oakland’s unsettled pecking order at wide receiver, it is not a stretch to entertain thoughts of this rookie wideout being featured prominently in the Raiders’ offense this season.
If Butler manages to stay healthy throughout the year, it's hard to imagine any other rookie on the roster eclipsing this 6'3", 214-pound speedster's contributions to the offense.
Although cornerback D.J. Hayden was the earlier selection during this past April's draft and therefore a logical choice to be the Raiders defensive Rookie of the Year, I anticipate that Sio Moore will have the more impactful freshman campaign.
Coming out of college, Moore was billed as a versatile, all-purpose, high-energy linebacker with legitimate playmaking ability. So far, Moore has lived up to that billing.
By all accounts, Moore possesses all of the qualities, both tangible and intangible, that the Raiders so desperately covet in a prospective leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Sio Moore has the makings of a solid pro for many years to come, and he should contribute right away to a defense whose core was decimated in the offseason.
At long last, Terrelle Pryor seems to be grasping the nuances of the pro game in this his third season in the league.
Most observers would agree that Matt Flynn is entrenched as Oakland’s starting quarterback. But whereas Flynn has played like the proverbial "game manager" this preseason, Pryor by comparison has displayed, if only for brief glimpses, the playmaking ability that he possesses.
If the first two preseason games are any indication, Pryor figures to get significantly more playing time this year than in seasons past.
Although his play has been erratic at times, Pryor nevertheless seems at ease helming the offense in offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s option package. We should expect more of the same during the regular season.
This is not to suggest that he should supplant Flynn as the starting quarterback, far from it. Not yet at least. At the moment, Flynn is clearly the steadier signal-caller and therefore the team's best choice at quarterback.
But Pryor's gradual progress signals that he may very well be on his way to becoming a serviceable NFL quarterback.
This selection is not so much an indictment of Flynn himself, but rather a commentary on what may prove to be a highly ineffective offensive line (yet again) this season.
As evidenced last week against the Saints, the loss of starting left tackle Jared Veldheer to a torn tricep does not augur well for the beginning of the Matt Flynn era in Oakland.
In the absence of Veldheer, the first-team offensive line struggled mightily to protect Flynn from the Saints’ pass rush, as he was sacked on five separate occasions in one half of action.
Indeed, the offensive line was utterly ineffective without its anchor, Veldheer. And he’s expected to miss, at the very least, eight games.
Without adequate pass protection, Flynn's contributions to the Raiders' rebuilding efforts this year will be negligible, at best. Granted, Flynn did perform satisfactorily against the Saints, completing 12 of 16 passes, with a touchdown strike for good measure.
But, given the O-line’s current state of disarray, it's hard to imagine similarly steady performances from Flynn, or any other quarterback on the roster for that matter, on a weekly basis.
So although the offensive line may ultimately prove to be Oakland's most inefficient unit, we'll give the nod to Matt Flynn as the player who'll most disappoint Raider Nation.
Is this fair? Perhaps not. But quarterbacks are anointed to be saviors, linemen aren't. Thusly, the expectations of Flynn are higher, and the disappointment will be greater if he has an underwhelming 2013 campaign.
Believe it or not folks, serious consideration was given to Sebastian Janikowski for this slot. Indeed, Janikowski is undeniably Oakland's lone known reliable commodity. And I emphasize the word "reliable."
That Darren McFadden is the Raiders' most talented player is a given. But his inability to stay healthy for the duration of a season is well-chronicled. And players are judged based on actual productivity and not mere potential.
It has often been said that, when injury-free, "Run DMC" has boundless potential. But the time has come for McFadden to translate his much ballyhooed potential into concrete, consistent productivity.
McFadden struggled mightily in last season’s zone-blocking scheme. This season, with the offense returning to his preferred power-blocking scheme, we should see a return to form for the gifted running back.
Ultimately, if the Raiders are to be competitive this year, McFadden will have to do most of the heavy lifting on the offensive side of the ball.