Why Oakland Raiders Are Two Seasons Away from Super Bowl Contention

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IINovember 6, 2013

Sep 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen watches from the sideline against the Washington Redskins during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Redskins defeated the Raiders 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles will certainly add some questions to the substantial amount of praise the Oakland Raiders have gotten so far this season.

After some impressive performances throughout the first six games, and especially so on the defensive side of the ball, the Week 9 blowout loss made for quite the disappointment.

Having said that, it does represent just one of many games on the season's schedule, and in the big picture, does very little to nullify the significant progress the team has made in such a short period of time.

As Raiders fans are well aware, this team was labelled as one of the NFL's worst heading into this year, and one certain to be selecting either near or at the top of April's draft.

The Raiders' surprising success and competitiveness early on has proven the quality of the foundation laid by this new regime, upon which the organization will continue to build for years to come.

Suddenly, after years of instability, the Raiders seem like a franchise that is well managed with Reggie McKenzie at the helm, and well coached by Dennis Allen and the impressive staff he has been able to put together.

This, more than anything else, has provided the stark difference between this year's Raiders team, and those of the mid-late 2000s that continuously struggled despite having what many considered to be talented rosters.

No, this year's roster is not nearly the most talented in the league, and still has a number of areas across the depth chart that could stand to be upgraded.

However, with the core players they do have, in tandem with the right coaching staff and management personnel, this organization is headed in the right direction, and could find themselves among the league's best much quicker than many think.

Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) scrambles out of the pocket during the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

First, and most importantly, the Raiders just may have found themselves a future franchise quarterback in Terrelle Pryor.

Of course, it is still very early in his development, and it remains to be seen if he will ever fully grow into that type of player, but the opportunity for such growth is undoubtedly there.

If the improvement he has made from just 2012 to 2013 is any indication, Pryor has the necessary work ethic and drive to complement his elite athletic ability, and thus the chance to maximize his full potential as a quarterback.

Should he continue to impress this season, in what many would consider essentially his rookie year, the Raiders will look to build their offense around him moving forward.

As much as the talent concerns may have been warranted heading into this season, there are already quite a few impressive pieces on the offensive side of the ball that would speed up that building process.

At receiver, both Denarius Moore and Rod Streater have continued to grow, all the while showing impressive comfort in playing with a mobile quarterback like Pryor. Tight ends Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa have the physical tools to contribute as well, and should see their opportunities increase as this season goes on.

Adding another pass catcher may be a priority as soon as this offseason, but this is already an impressive and still young group.

With Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece in the backfield, as both ball carriers and pass catchers, the Raiders have the potential for big plays from anywhere on the field. McFadden needs to stay healthy, and the coaching staff needs to get Reece more involved in the game plans, but there is no denying the ability these two players have.

Up front is where the offense is most concerning, but the majority of the struggles experienced so far in 2013 seem to be the result of some unfortunate injury issues.

When healthy, having the two tackle spots held down by Jared Veldheer and Menelik Watson, with Stefen Wisniewski at center, the Raiders have a pretty solid group.

When Veldheer returns later this season, Khalif Barnes would likely join Mike Brisiel at guard. Whether those two remain moving forward, or are eventually replaced through the draft or free agency, the offensive line hardly looks to be in as rough shape as they have played at times this season, and has the potential to turn into one of the team's strengths sooner rather than later.

On the defensive side of the ball, where the improvement has been extremely noticeable, the right system certainly seems to be in place under Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.

October 6, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) celebrates after sacking San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17 not pictured) as cornerback Tracy Porter (23) looks on during the second quarter at O.co Coliseu
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Lamarr Houston continues to progress into one of the best all-around defensive ends in the NFL, and will be up for Pro Bowl consideration in the very near future. Currently in a contract season, it should be a priority for the Raiders to sign him to a long-term deal long before he hits free agency.

Vance Walker has proven to be a solid addition at defensive tackle, and has contributed both as a run defender and pass rusher. Although the depth around them will certainly be a priority heading into this offseason, the Raiders have two pieces to build the defensive line around in Houston and Walker.

The linebacker position saw the most turnover from 2012 to 2013, and possibly the most improvement as well. Having veterans Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett in the starting lineup, as well as a rookie in Sio Moore that has proven to be the Raiders' best pick of 2013, has made a huge difference for the defense overall.

The secondary, another group that has had a significant impact this season, is a decent mix of both young and veteran players.

With D.J. Hayden at corner and Tyvon Branch at safety, the Raiders have two young core players to build around. With the way Charles Woodson has played so far, he could certainly stick around for at least another season, and continue to play at a high level.

Free agent additions Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins have given this group a big boost in pass coverage, allowing the defense to create pressure in a variety of different ways. Whether or not they are back with the team moving forward remains to be seen, but adding depth at corner is and always will be a priority regardless.

Looking at the position groups up and down this roster, there is much more talent than the team is given credit for, yet certainly with room to grow and improve in several key spots.

With the influx in salary cap space the Raiders will get this offseason, they will have their first opportunity in what has been far too long to address such needs through the free-agent market.

That, in combination with what will be a new and continued trend of full draft classes, given Reggie McKenzie's premium placed on draft selections, talent can be added to this team in very short order.

The plan is in place, and given the competitiveness of the team thus far in 2013, Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen will be afforded the opportunity to carry that plan out.

If the Raiders can re-sign their core players that will become free agents this offseason, wisely spend money to address some key needs in the free agent market, and continue to add draft picks, there is no reason why they can't contend in a weak AFC much sooner than many think.

There are people that love them, and there are people that hate them, but the NFL is a better league when the Oakland Raiders are a perennial contender. Should they continue on this path in their rebuild, that jump to contention could become a reality just two seasons from now.


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