This offseason is the most crucial offseason for Oakland in years. Their last three first-round picks included a QB, RB, and WR, and this year they hold the eighth pick of the draft. JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Darrius Heyward-Bey were drafted to turn this franchise around, and this will be their second offseason together. The Cowboys had a similar run, in which they drafted their WR, QB, then RB, and those three players led them to win championships. The Raider triplets have had a rough start, but they aren't alone in this quest. I will focus on players who will play a key role in the Raiders turnaround in 2010.
It's no secret: All eyes will be on JaMarcus Russell's off-season training and dedication. He and everyone else knows that this is his last year to prove himself. He looked promising late in the 2008 season, and helped Cable keep his job with two wins to end the season. In 2009 his regression was obvious, and he was later benched in favor of journeymen, and lost the support of fans, and some say his teammates.
In the NFL, winning and performance cures everything. Al Davis wants this man to be his QB, and if Russell puts in the time and dedication in the off-season and comes out strong, he can win over his teammates, and wins will win over the fans. Over 50 people were polled in a previous article and 74% of the voters still give Russell a chance to earn their trust.
Another great player from the SEC has been struggling to live up to the hype and expectations with the Raiders. Darren McFadden has been plagued by injuries and coaches who don't know how to utilize him as an offensive threat. Prior to the season, head coach Tom Cable talked about getting McFadden 20 touches a game, and he failed at doing that. McFadden is a rare weapon in the NFL, and he has the ability to produce, but it won't do the team any good if the person handling this weapon doesn't know how to use him. Expect Hue Jackson to get more out of McFadden than Cable did last season.
Lost in all the JaMarcus Russell Hate is the poor performance of the seventh overall pick in last year's draft. His season totals, were the single game totals of most top receivers in the NFL. Perhaps Heyward-Bey is being given a pass because he does have the right attitude and the right work ethic, but my guess is he will get a pass as long as Russell is the Raiders' scapegoat.
Heyward-Bey's development this offseason will be crucial, and his experience gained in starting most of the season will be valuable for his growth. I expect Heyward-Bey to CATCH on quickly and HOLD on to all the things he learned this season. He should have a much better year in his second season as a pro. Could it really get worse?
Zach Miller will be a big boom in 2010. His numbers keep improving every year, and it's remarkable that he continues to do this without much help from his WRs. Defenses key on Miller on most pass plays because they feel he is their only viable option. Once the Raider receivers can show more and do more, Miller will have the middle of the field all to himself. I expect Miller to make the Pro Bowl in 2010, and he also should benefit from Hue Jackson calling the plays. Jackson was around Todd Heap, and he knows how important a tight end is to a young QB.
Louis Murphy may have been one of the best steals of the draft in 2009. He played like a first-rounder, and made us forget at times that he was only a rookie. It also made us somewhat forget about Al Davis's obsession with speed, and his pick at no. 7. We were upset with Davis for picking Heyward-Bey when he did, but during the season, while watching Murphy play, he had most Raider fans quoting Dumb and Dumber. "Just when I think you couldn't be any dumber, you go and do something like this...and totally redeem yourself!" Murphy has the Championship Swagger from Florida, and he brings intensity to the offense. His hard work-ethic and leadership will reflect on the rest of the offense. With Murphy, Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens, lining up at WR, this could be the most talent the Raiders have suited up at WR since . . . Rice, Brown, and Porter?
I'm a big fan of Michael Bush, and I'm a firm believer that this Bush can easily be the best back in the NFL with the last name Bush. I've been campaigning for Bush to get the bulk of the load for two years now. I feel that giving Bush 15-20 carries a game, and McFadden getting 10-15 carries a game, would be the best way to get the most out of our running game. McFadden can be used more for screens and passing plays. I feel that Jackson can use Bush like Baltimore used Ray Rice. This guy is a beast, and should be given the rock more. This also should mean that the Raiders should part ways with Justin Fargas.
There are many ways the Raiders could possibly go in this years draft, but in my opinion there is only one way they should go. They need to draft an O-lineman. All the players that I talked about in this article will benefit from an O-lineman. It will make life easier for all our skilled positions on offense. I feel that our defense has the talent on that side of the ball to become a top ten D, but having an offense that can score points and keep our defense rested will be the key. If we draft an O-lineman, expect the Raiders to improve from a 5-11 team to a 8-8 teamor better. The schedule is much easier this coming year, and I feel that 2010 will be a big boom for the Oakland Raiders turnaround and their young players' success.