The Raiders. Is there a more universally despised team in the NFL? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that the hated Raiders are an up-and-coming team, as much as I hate to admit it. Their success this coming season hinges on the development of their young, talented players, and of course, the ability of their head coach.
In the following article I will break down the Raiders in the same fashion I have broken down the Chargers and Broncos. Once again I will use a scale of 1-10 to rate their HC, QB, RB, WR, OL, DL, LB, DBs, and ST, one being terrible and 10 being perfect.
Let us begin.
HC: Tom Cable is unknown, but does have head coaching experience although not in the NFL. While last year he did guide the team to a five-win season, he wasn't responsible for all of them. Cable showed the ability to get through to his players and get them on the right path.
He also showed that he can handle Al Davis' meddling and still keep a grip on his leadership role. All of this is fine and well, but his success depends on one thing and one thing alone: The development of JaMarcus Russell. This is what will make him or break him.
There is no denying Russell's talent and abilities. His commitment, on the other hand has been in question since his LSU days. Cable will have to get through to Russell in order to keep his job, and get a very talented Raiders team to take the next step. They did get some insurance in Jeff Garcia, and he will only push Russell that much harder to take the next step in his progression.
The real quandary here is how will Russell react. Tom's job and the Raiders season depends on this. Cable is an OL coach by trade and therefore not well versed in developing QBs. His ability to help in the development of Russell is in question.
All that being said, I think the Raiders have a coach who will challenge his team and make them better in some areas.
QB: Russell reminds me a lot of Brooks the former Saints QB. He's extremely talented and at times can look as if the game was made just for his. At the same time, like Brooks, Russell hasn't showed the commitment that it takes to make it in the NFL as a QB.
This has plagued Russell since his LSU days, where he split time at the QB position. Russell is very talented, but talent alone only gets you in the league—it doesn't guarantee that you will be successful. The Raiders got Garcia in the offseason, a proven winner in this league, but Jeff is 40 years old, and his skills weren't that impressive to begin with.
The Raiders' season hinges on Russell and his development. If he gets pulled during the season, it might destroy his confidence and therefore hamper his development. He has to develop his work ethic and show consistency. He does not have to be Tom Brady or Phillip Rivers—he just has to make the right read and be consistent.
RB: Darren McFadden and Michael Bush are extremely talented. Justin Fargas in the other hand is just a little above average. This gives the Raiders what I believe to be the best ground game in the NFL, iIf only they can stay healthy.
Each of the three have a specialty that benefits Oakland. McFadden has amazing speed and good hands, Bush has a lot of power and is quicker than most think, and Fargas is kind of a middle of the road guy. There isn't much to say, except that the Raiders will have one of the best if not the best ground game in the league this coming season.
WR: Now here is a lackluster group. Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens are still developing and have not been able to stay healthy. Javon Walker is a walking knee injury and emotional wreck, Lelie is, well, Lelie a guy that can't catch a simple five-yard slant and refuses to go over the middle.
Then there is Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey is fast and talented, but his hands have been questioned. I think his hands are fine. In college most of his drops were in either good coverage or circus catches. I think the so-called experts here are wrong—DHB's hands are fine.
Stil,l I am not sure if this guy is a No. 1 receiver, partly because he is a rookie and partly because I was not impressed with him in college.
Other than this, Justin Miller is the best receiving threat the Raiders have, and he is a good one. But until the rookie, Schilens and Walker prove that they can be productive, this is one of the worse receiving cores in the league.
OL: I don't have much to say about this group. Last season they were great running the ball and horrible in pass protection.
During the offseason, the Raiders did not do much to improve this area. Their major signing was Khalif Barnes at LT but the rest of the line was not addressed. Robert Gallery has turned out to be a good guard in run blocking, but is only serviceable in pass protection.
Cooper Carlisle is good but he is 31, and has a history of knee issues, Wade is 34. Green is nothing but average, and he is 32. The Raiders do have a promising youngsters in center Samson Satele and a guard Jonathan Compas but tackle is a liability. This is a hard group to grade because when running they are excellent but when it comes time to pass the ball this group is a liability.
OL Running: 7
OL Passing: 5
DL: This is a group where the Raiders tried to get better. They drafted some good players but as we all know after QB, the DL is the hardest transition to make from the college game to the pros. I think its safe to say that Tommy Kelly is nothing special, and Derrick Burgess may have been a one-hit wonder.
I don't expect and frankly neither should anyone, for the young talent the Raiders drafted to have a big impact this season. I don't think the Raiders have a horrible unit just to the spectacular unit everyone thought they had.
LB: This unit is more than solid. In fact it has the chance to be one of the better ones in the league this coming season. Kirk Morrison, Ricky Brown, and Thomas Howard are all young and talented players who look like they have the will and work ethic to be better than they were in 2008.
The three have complementing abilities. Brown is good against the run while Morrison is one of the better covering LBs, and Howard is solid at both.
DB: This is where the Raiders shine and at the same time fall flat on their faces. Nnamdi Asomugha is a complete stud and a true shutdown corner. On the other hand, I just don't think Chris Johnson is that special.
He was helped by the fact that no one wants to challenge Nnamdi, but also got beat quite a few times last season. I think he is average at best. Michael Huff is a bust, and Hiram Eugene is just OK. They did draft Michael Mitchell, a fast and talented safet, but I think he is a bit of a project. I don't see him making a big splash this year.
Rest of DBs: 5
ST: Sebastian Janikowski has the most gifted leg in the NFL, but he can have problems with his accuracy at times. Shane Lechler is tied for the No. 1 spot with Mike Scifres when it comes to punters, at least in my book. Higgins is dangerous as a return man he proved that last year.
I believe this was a fair and balanced assessment of the Raiders team, but please feel free to leave your comments. Thanks for reading.