Predicting Raiders Starting Lineup After the First Wave of Free-Agent Signings
The Oakland Raiders are now well into the all-important free-agency period of the 2014 offseason and have done well to make use of their influx in salary-cap space to this point.
After a curious start to the offseason, letting two young talents in Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston seek work elsewhere, general manager Reggie McKenzie seems to have made up for it quite nicely.
Finding proven veterans at positions of need seems to be the focus, and the Raiders have been able to bring in quite a few who should make a difference for the team heading into 2014.
Although they are most certainly not done adding players on the open market, here is a look at the Oakland Raiders’ projected 2014 starting lineup after the first wave of free-agent signings.
Projected Starting Lineup
Quarterback: Free Agent/Rookie TBD
Running Backs: Darren McFadden (RB), Marcel Reece (FB)
Wide Receivers/Tight End: James Jones (WR), Rod Streater (WR), Mychal Rivera (TE)
Offensive Line: LT Donald Penn, LG Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Menelik Watson, RT Austin Howard
Defensive Line: LE Justin Tuck, NT Free Agent/Rookie TBD, UT Antonio Smith, RE LaMarr Woodley
Linebackers: SLB Sio Moore, MLB Nick Roach, WLB Kevin Burnett
Secondary: CB Tarell Brown, CB D.J. Hayden, FS Charles Woodson, SS Tyvon Branch
Starter: Free Agent/Rookie TBD
The quarterback position is one of very few needs the Raiders have not yet addressed this offseason, but we can attribute that to the lack of long-term solutions available on the open market.
Until a signing is made, the Raiders will likely continue to be linked to veteran free agents Josh Freeman and Mike Vick, as well as Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez should they be released from their current teams.
Even if one of them is added, it is likely the position will also be addressed early in the draft, and quite possibly even in the first round at fifth overall.
Ideally, the Raiders add both a veteran quarterback as well as one of the draft’s top passers, allowing the two to compete throughout training camp for the starting job.
What’s more is the impact a veteran could have, even as a backup, should the rookie win the starting job.
Either way, the Raiders’ questions surrounding the quarterback spot remain unanswered to this point, but they have a variety of options for addressing them prior to the season.
Starters: Darren McFadden (RB), Marcel Reece (FB)
The move to re-sign Darren McFadden likely surprised many, but with the extremely fair contract the two sides came to an agreement on, there is no reason why the Raiders shouldn’t have been that team to take a chance on him putting together a full season.
When healthy, McFadden has proven to be an impact player for the Raiders, and he should head into the 2014 season as the starter at running back.
Pro Bowler Marcel Reece starts at fullback, and it is no secret that he could be utilized within the offense much more than he has been thus far.
That is likely one of several things the coaching staff will look to adjust in its offensive scheme heading into next season, as Reece brings the kind of talent that a team can not let go to waste.
Overall, the starters in the Raiders’ backfield are incredibly talented and make for a nice duo, but the key will be staying healthy throughout the season.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
Starters: James Jones (WR), Rod Streater (WR), Mychal Rivera (TE)
The wide receiver spot was one of several where the Raiders were in need of a reliable veteran presence, and they got just that with the recent free-agent signing of James Jones.
Jones comes with plenty of experience and makes for a nice addition to an otherwise young and relatively inexperienced group of Raiders wideouts.
In the starting lineup, Jones and Rod Streater should make for a good combination, and especially so if Streater continues to develop at the pace he has thus far.
Denarius Moore should get plenty of snaps himself as the third receiver and could be used quite often as a vertical threat downfield.
At tight end, Mychal Rivera should enter the season as the starter, and if his rookie campaign was any indication, he could quickly become a key receiver in the Raiders offense.
Although the Raiders may still be without a big-time No. 1 target in the receiving corps, the addition of James Jones now gives the group a consistent veteran presence, benefiting the overall depth of the unit in the process.
Starters: LT Donald Penn, LG Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Menelik Watson, RT Austin Howard
While the Rodger Saffold situation was not the brightest point in the Raiders’ offseason, it was evident early on that the team was placing a focus on improving the offensive line.
Despite missing out on Saffold and letting Jared Veldheer hit the open market to sign elsewhere, the front office has done well to address the offensive front.
Austin Howard ended up being the Raiders’ first free-agent signing and gives them a solid young player to hold the right tackle spot moving forward.
For this group, the focus seems to be on versatility, and for good reason. With a number of players who can play a variety of positions across the offensive line, the Raiders should be able to get the five best players on the field, while also having the ability to make adjustments if injuries hit.
Ideally, 2013 second-round pick Menelik Watson would become the Raiders’ left tackle of the future, but the reported addition of Donald Penn allows the team more options for the time being if needed.
Should Penn win the left tackle job out of camp, Watson moving inside to guard could make a lot of sense for the Raiders in the short term, allowing him to develop and getting the best five on the field.
Overall, this group should shape up nicely heading into the season and will have much better depth and flexibility than they did in 2013.
Starters: LE Justin Tuck, NT Free Agent/Rookie TBD, UT Antonio Smith, RE LaMarr Woodley
After the first few days of free agency passed, the Raiders got started on arguably their most pressing need this offseason, upgrading the defensive line.
In Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, the Raiders have added three proven, veteran leaders who should help their pass rush significantly. All three have been part of elite defenses and, more importantly, winning franchises.
For the time being, a need remains at the starting nose tackle spot, but the team has plenty of time and money to address that as well. In free agency, likely the top remaining option is one of the Raiders’ own free agents, Pat Sims.
Either way, we can expect the Raiders to continue to add to the defensive line throughout this offseason, as despite making some impressive upgrades in the starting group, adding capable rotational players to improve depth will be just as important.
Starters: SLB Sio Moore, MLB Nick Roach, WLB Kevin Burnett
To this point, there are no projected changes to the Raiders’ starting linebackers in 2014, and for good reason.
Throughout the 2013 season, this unit was one of the more consistent positional groups on the roster and should only improve with the upgrades made on the defensive line in front of them.
Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett give the Raiders two more consistent veterans in the front seven, and Sio Moore will certainly be a player to watch after an impressive rookie campaign.
Expect any further additions at linebacker to be made with depth upgrades in mind, as this group did well to earn the starting jobs once again next season.
Starters: CB Tarell Brown, CB D.J. Hayden, FS Charles Woodson, SS Tyvon Branch
The defensive backfield was another area the Raiders needed to address this offseason, and with a key signing of cornerback Tarell Brown, the group looks to have improved heading into next season.
A former 49er, Brown is an impressive veteran upgrade in the Raiders’ starting lineup. Pairing him with D.J. Hayden, who should now get a full offseason and training camp to work with, could make for a solid tandem.
At this point, a significant need remains at the slot/nickel corner position. The options on the open market are getting thin, but adding a free-agent player like Carlos Rogers, a former teammate of Brown’s, would address that need quite well.
At safety, getting a healthy Tyvon Branch back in the lineup will make a big difference in both pass coverage and run support, and with mutual interest on both sides, the Raiders should be able to get Charles Woodson back in the fold for another season.
Overall, adding a player like Brown, as well as getting both Hayden and Branch back healthy, should see the secondary improve in a big way in 2014.