As part of the ongoing effort to keep the post-draft hype cycle whirlwind going, I'm here to offer another perspective on the Oakland Raiders for 2009.
Raider fans have been suffering all kinds of indignities since the Super Bowl six years ago, and it’s high time for a change. At this point, what we have is a coach who is happy to be here, and a three-game win streak to build on.
The key word for 2009 is build. The Raiders appear to have realized that they are indeed rebuilding, and are doing it with youth. Regardless of what folks think of the quality of their picks and how their roster looks, you can't argue with us getting younger.
I'm going to take a look at each unit, and give our Raiders 2009 prospects a grade (relative to the best in the league). Agree, disagree, or wonder what yours truly is smoking – the choice is yours.
D-Line – The Raiders only spent a couple of picks on Shaughnessy and Sulak to add to Sands, Kelly, Burgess, and the rest of the tribe. I believe we’ll be improved over last year—but the question still remains, can we stop the run? John Marshall has been to a Super Bowl, and also dropped to the dregs.
I believe Ryan overstayed his welcome in Oakland, and as we get younger, Marshall may be able to tighten up our 3-4-sieve run defense. Gunnheim is also waiting in the wings for a shot.
LBs – The 2 2009 DE picks could shift to the LB pack, but my belief is quite simple. With better performance up front, our four guys from last year—Morrison, Brown, Howard, and Williams all will see time.
But my hope is that the young guys can unleash a little youthful exuberance, and some raw ability to improve the unit. Sulak or Alston could cross over and help improve the speed on the unit as well.
Grade B -
DBs – I’m not gonna waste any time on the corners—Nnamdi and whoever the other QB has to throw at are gonna be just fine. Chris Johnson did well from that spot last year, and I expect his years of experience to show well this year. My core concern is about the safeties.
Huff still has to show something from being drafted in the first round. Mitchell will have a chip on his shoulder, which (along with Heyward-Bey) could help the middle of the field. In addition, the safety support for run coverage will significantly help the transition of the DL mentioned above.
Grade A (CB)+Grade C (Safety) = B
The Special Teams
Kicking: Janikowski is fine, and as long as Cable doesn’t send him out for a 73-yarder, he’ll be solid. Lechler is still a Raider, and we’re glad to have him. Defensive kick coverage was solid, but not spectacular last year. Grade A
Returns: Johnnie Lee Higgins had his breakout year last year. The groundwork laid in the previous seasons came to fruition—on the quick slant routes for TDs, and also in the kicking game. We finally have a serious threat back there—which only improves our ability to make teams nervous. Grade B-
Now, for the fun part:
QB: It all comes down to JaMarcus. He showed some dramatic improvement at the end of last year, but the jury seems to still be out. I for one think he’s got all the ability in the world – and we’ll see if he can put it together on the field.
I’m concerned about all the criticism and that Garcia and Cable appear to be building a fire under him. Speaking of Garcia, he’s the best backup we’ve had since...well...since forever. Grade: TBD
O-Line: The Raiders traded centers with Miami, plus picked up a couple solid free agents. I think we’re gonna be dramatically improved over last year. Henderson and Gallery both came into their own last year, and with some support from the other side of the line, they could make life easy for the QB and RBs and that can only be good. Grade B-
TE: Miller’s a stud, and we’ve got an army of guys to support him. Foschi’s back, and Stewart’s around for blocking duties. I think that Miller will be JR’s security blanket for most of the year, and that will be great for both of them. Grade B+
WR: Did you know the Raiders chose a WR in the first round? There hasn’t been *any* coverage of that at all since the draft, so it could come as a surprise to you. But seriously, I think that the Raiders are very young and hungry at wideout. The key will be if they can run tight routes and that JR can hit them.
No one knows what goes on in Javon’s head, but I think that if the rest of the youngest WR corps in football can execute the game plan (and if it’s a good one – that’s even better)—we could surprise some people.
I think DHB will be fine. My guess is that for the first year, he’ll be a James Jett/Derrick Alexander deep threat, and as long as he makes 1 unexpected catch per game, teams will have to respect him.
RB: The 3 headed beast will continue to terrorize the NFL this year. McFadden has a steel-toed shoe now, and if he stays healthy, he will tear it up. He can split out, and take the corner against any team.
Fargas is solid, and now the “elder” statesman of the group. Bush will still bring the hammer, and he’s still got a chip on his shoulder from his year off. Trust me—hunger is good. We’ve also got solid coverage against injuries, and Rankin in the cupboard. Grade A
Overall Grade – B-. Predicted record – 8-8
After all of the above—my take on the Raiders overall roster is that the offensive line and running game should be as good if not better than last year. Special teams, despite the loss of the coach will also be fine.
My two major concerns are at safety and wide receiver. Without better safety coverage, the run defense will be a liability, and we’ll continue to fall prey to the big-plays that killed us last year.
At wideout, while I believe in the potential of Schilens, Higgins, and even Heyward-Bey, the proof will be in the first three weeks of the season against our AFC rivals.
If our guys can play well in those environments, and not make the mistakes of youth, we just might be going up the standings...finally...