After cleaning house and gutting the roster in the offseason, the Oakland Raiders have had to rely heavily on an influx of rookies and free agents this year. The sweeping changes have brought a decidedly different look to the team’s 2013 roster, with 33 new players filling out the roster.
Most of the new arrivals have had to contribute right away, and the results have been mixed in many cases.
As the Raiders reach the midway point of the season, let’s take a look at the progress being made by some of the more high-profile newcomers. Each will get a letter grade based on their performance so far and the impact they’ve had on the Raiders’ season.
Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden has had a rough introduction to the NFL after missing a large chunk of the offseason workouts while recovering from abdominal surgery. The Raiders’ first-round draft pick has been a frequent target of opposing quarterbacks, and his success rate hasn’t been that good.
According to Pro Football Focus, opponents have completed nearly 64 percent of passes thrown in Hayden’s direction. He’s played mostly in nickel and dime packages when Tracy Porter slides inside to cover the slot.
The encouraging news for the Raiders is that Hayden seems to be getting better with each game. He’s given up just one touchdown and has held opponents to just 83 yards after the catch, one of the most important stats for a cornerback.
Projected to be the team’s starting right tackle, Menelik Watson has spent far more time in the trainer’s room than he has on the field. A calf injury the second-round pick suffered before training camp has lingered on and prevented Watson from having any sort of an impact whatsoever.
The 42nd overall pick in the draft, Watson only recently returned to practice and is taking reps at both tackle positions. How quickly he gets up to speed with the rest of the offense will determine just how much Watson will be a factor the rest of the way.
Oakland’s linebackers overall have played a significant role in the team’s turnaround on defense, but rookie Sio Moore’s impact has been limited almost exclusively to passing situations.
As a pass-rush specialist, the excitable and emotional Moore has given the Raiders a much-needed spark with three sacks over his last two games. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has done a good job creatively using the rookie, and Moore is clearly more comfortable in the scheme than he was earlier in the season.
Moore hasn’t factored much into the run defense, which is why he will continue to split time with veteran Kaluka Maiava at the strong side position.
For a guy who turned 37 in October, Charles Woodson has shown no signs of slowing down. He may not have the explosive playmaking ability he had earlier in his career, but the veteran safety’s impact has run much deeper than just on the stat sheet.
In addition to scoring on a fumble recovery that tied him for the most defensive touchdowns in NFL history, Woodson has helped mentor some of the Raiders’ younger defensive backs like rookie D.J. Hayden and Brandian Ross, both of whom have been pressed into extended playing time.
On the field, Woodson’s pass defense has been mostly average. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have thrown 19 passes at Woodson and completed 17 of them for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
The Raiders have made huge strides in their run defense and are giving up just 89.9 yards per game on the ground. Middle linebacker Nick Roach is a big reason why, though he has struggled at times.
One of Oakland’s top free-agent acquisitions, Roach is the Raiders’ leading tackler who has gotten progressively better in the middle as the season has gone on. Part of that is due to the improved play up front from the team’s defensive line, which has freed him up to make more plays.
Roach still makes too many of his tackles going backward, something former Raider Kirk Morrison also struggled with. Only a handful of his stops have come behind the line of scrimmage, something that has to improve if the Raiders truly want to be an elite defense.
Part of the Raiders’ resurgence on defense has been the improved play in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Tracy Porter, one of the team’s top free agent additions, has been especially effective over the last three weeks both in pass coverage and against the run.
Porter has surrendered a pair of touchdowns but has allowed just over 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed over the past four games, according to Pro Football Focus. Porter, who is Oakland’s leading tackler in the secondary, has also been effective as a pass-rusher when called upon to blitz.
Few, if any, expected Burnett to be one of the Raiders’ top playmakers on defense, but that’s exactly what he’s turned out to be. Oakland is sixth against the run, allowing 3.6 yards per carry. For a defense that has been dreadful against the run for the better part of the past decade, that’s a notable improvement.
Burnett has routinely graded out as one of the Raiders’ top defenders against the run this season. He’s the team’s second-leading tackler and has been particularly effective getting to the edge and keeping running backs from turning the corner. Burnett has also done well as a pass-rusher with eight total quarterback pressures (1 sack, 1 hit, 6 hurries).
Drafted in the fourth round and projected by some Bay Area writers to win the starting job by midseason, quarterback Tyler Wilson has been the biggest disappointment among the Raiders’ rookies.
The former Arkansas star struggled to learn the offense in the preseason, looked out of sync throughout training camp and was dropped to the bottom of the depth chart behind undrafted Matt McGloin. He was eventually cut by Oakland before getting re-signed to the practice squad.
The Raiders haven’t given up hope on Wilson, but they clearly expected much more from him at this point. It says a lot that the team has been willing to go with just two quarterbacks on the active 53-man roster while leaving Wilson on the practice squad.