1. Maurice Jones-Drew: Raiders can make the playoffs
There will be the chuckles and guffaws and jokes because the Raiders always inspire jokes. But it is entirely possible Oakland could make the playoffs this coming season. The Raiders could make it because they now have Maurice Jones-Drew.
"Why can't we?" Jones-Drew said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "We have the talent here to turn things around."
Now, to be clear, Jones-Drew isn't shouting, "THE RAIDERS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS! AHHHH!"
He isn't trolling. Jones-Drew is simply saying the attitude around the team is shifting, and the Raiders now think: Hell, why not us?
Why not, indeed?
Before we get to the Raiders' playoff chances, two things about Jones-Drew:
• I think he was one of the best free-agent pickups of the offseason.
• I think he still has a lot left.
This may leave me on an island, a lone passenger on the crazy train, but I've known Jones-Drew since he came into the league. He remains one of the toughest players I've ever covered.
The irony of his situation is that Jones-Drew, despite being injured last year with the Jaguars, says he feels as physically fresh as he's felt in a long time.
"A lot of people felt I had nothing left after last season," said Jones-Drew. "They thought that was it. But look at what I went through last year. I had a whole new offense and regime. I led the league in rushing until I broke my foot."
My belief: Jones-Drew's lack of production in Jacksonville in recent years is due more to the ineptitude of the regimes and coaches he played for than himself. Jones-Drew played through three different regimes and systems. That would drain Jim Brown.
The constant change wore down Jones-Drew more than opposing linebackers. The fact he was able to survive in one of the more poorly run franchises we've ever seen should be viewed as a credit to him.
In Oakland, Jones-Drew will have to beat out Darren McFadden, but it truly isn't important who will start. Both will get significant time, and I believe Jones-Drew will prove to be the more valuable cog because of his mental sturdiness.
His quarterback, Matt Schaub, isn't great, but he's good enough. The offensive line has issues, but the Raiders will likely try to address that in the draft.
The blueprint for the Raiders are the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year, a single season, changed everything.
"People say you go to Oakland to see your career die," said new Raider Justin Tuck, who last played with the Giants. "No man, I’m not looking at it like that.”
"I can definitely see (the Raiders) as a playoff team,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley told 95.7 The Game this week. “Last year going back and watching some film on the Raiders, there were a lot of opportunities here where they just didn’t close it out. Some games good in the first half; they just didn’t close it out at the end of the game. So now we just have to learn how to close out games and it’ll be more wins than losses."
Here is where it gets brutal for the Raiders: They play nine playoff teams from last season including the Broncos twice (Super Bowl runners-up) and the Seahawks once (Super Bowl winners). So, yeah, tough.
Still, I don't think these are the same ol' Raiders.
Go ahead and chuckle. Laugh all you'd like. But now that they have Jones-Drew...
I'm not laughing any more.
2. MJD advice to draft prospects
When I spoke to Jones-Drew, he was on his way to a workout with Wisconsin running back James White. The two are friends and have the same agent. I asked Jones-Drew what advice he would give to potential draft picks and future rookies like White. Jones-Drew made two points:
First: "I think for a running back, the offseason is more important for us than any other position. It's because of the pounding we take. Rookies need to always remember that. Don't take the offseason for granted. Use the offseason to build your body up and condition it for the abuse."
Second: "You always hear the phrase, 'Football is more mental than physical.' That's 100 percent true. If there's one thing a player coming into the NFL needs to understand, it's that. The pain in a game will always push you to quit, but the mentally tough players never listen to the pain.
"You have to be able to play through stuff. I've coached some high school guys who—after a tough workout, they don't show up the next day. That's the best part, and the toughest part, of being a football player. Using your mind to overcome pain. I love that part of it. That's what got me to the NFL."
3. Green room drama?
Several agents say there is apprehension among some of the top quarterback prospects about going to New York for the draft. There is serious concern that at least one of them invited to the draft, and maybe two, will drop precipitously, and it will all be caught on television. This is what happened to Geno Smith recently.
It's happened to some of the best players of all time. Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas wasn't in New York, but cameras caught his fall. Aaron Rodgers was in the draft green room, and his slip was seen.
This draft, in terms of quarterbacks, is unlike almost anything we've ever seen. No one knows where any of these players will be drafted. It could be utter chaos. That's good for ratings and writings but bad for the individual quarterbacks who will be on camera squirming. This is why some agents and even quarterbacks are nervous.
Confirming that QB Tom Savage has declined an invitation to attend the NFL Draft in NY.— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) April 19, 2014
The invited players will show up. They'll be there. Just with fingers crossed.
4. Recent history: pick a QB in first round, get fired
Speaking of quarterbacks, recent draft history shows a distinct trend—picking a pass thrower in the first round almost always gets a general manager fired.
That's because most first-round quarterbacks in recent years have been extremely difficult to peg. If not impossible. Now comes maybe the most unpredictable quarterback class of all time. If history remains intact, this class of quarterbacks will lead to more general manager firings.
5. The Clowney car
There are ridiculous draft takes, and then there is this:
ESPN's Merril Hoge called Jadeveon Clowney's fundamentals "atrocious." "Not a very good football player .. Gets controlled & trucked a lot."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 21, 2014
ESPN's Merril Hoge also said he would take Khalil Mack "in a heartbeat" over Jadeveon Clowney. "In the first round, all day."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 21, 2014
I don't understand it. Hoge can't really believe that Clowney isn't a good football player. It's one thing to say he isn't as good as another player. Or you don't think he'll be a star. But to say he's an atrocious player just smacks of wanting to get attention. It's almost draft analysis malpractice.
And still two more weeks of this garbage.
6. Akili Couch
Whenever anyone says he knows exactly how a prospect will turn out, show him this.
Two of the grandest busts in the history of football were both talked about as can't-miss prospects.
That about says it all when trying to predict how players will do in the future. The only thing missing was a draft-day drop while sitting in the green room.
7. Mike Vick will start…bank on it
It's awfully nice that Jets quarterback Geno Smith welcomes the competition Mike Vick brings (via The Star-Ledger). It's also professional of Smith. But Vick is not coming to New York to be an understudy. He's coming to replace Smith. I'm not even sure Smith will get out of training camp as the starter.
8. Worst draft picks in the history of every NFL team
Loved this list (from Sporting News). Can't argue with a single one.
9. Pat Tillman a Hall of Famer?
Not the first time I've heard this.
I cannot name one person in NFL history that represents what I would like the NFL to be more than Pat Tillman. Shouldn't that be enough HOF?— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthNBC) April 20, 2014
It won't be the last. I knew Tillman. Liked him a great deal, but this question is not so easy to answer. It sets up a basic question: If Tillman is let in the Hall of Fame, do you let every football player that died serving his country during military service in the Hall? It's a fair question. Again, the issue is complicated.
10. Former Buffalo Bill: Congress should pass law preventing NFL teams from moving
Not sure I agree with this, but it's an interesting argument from a highly intelligent guy I respect. I think the main thing about the Bills, no matter who buys them, is when it's most financially feasible, the new owner will be extremely tempted to break their lease and move. It's all about the cash. There will simply be more lucrative places to take the Bills, like Los Angeles.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.