So far so good this offseason for the Oakland Raiders.
Critics will say that Raider Nation says that every year, but I can honestly say that 2010 has been different and for one simple reason—even non-Raider fans have been impressed.
The Raiders must continue to improve however. After finishing the last seven seasons with double-digit losses, it will take more than one draft weekend to cure the ills. I know that we can all hope that the Raiders will have a magical season in which they beat the expectations, but the focus must be on the here and now and not, "maybe."
With that said, I do believe that much of the Raiders woes since 2003 have been psychological and not so much talent. The Raiders just didn't care enough to put in the work needed to succeed, because all the critics said that it was futile, as long as Al Davis was still in charge.
The one position that concerns me the most is nose tackle. The reason why is that the Raiders lack any true potential behind Tommy Kelly. Undrafted rookie Kellen Heard has the most upside, but has no track record.
A few years back, the Raiders signed nose tackle Tommy Kelly to one of the richest contracts ever for a defensive-tackle. Kelly, however, has been a B-minus player at best.
Right now, former Jacksonville tackle John Henderson is available and would be an immediate upgrade as a run-stuffer. The Raiders have the legacy of signing unwanted players and making them stars again.
I think Henderson fits that mold, because I think that Jacksonville released Henderson in favor of a youth movement for a line that has struggled with the pass-rush. As a run-stuffer though, Henderson is still above average and would improve a run-defense that has been perennially soft.
Thus, Henderson's availability presents another opportunity for the Raiders to move past some of the "crazy" moves in favor of a prudent one. Henderson could be signed for less money, he's better, and he's nearly the same age.
Another intriguing free agent is safety OJ Atogwe.
Currently, Hiram Eugene is ahead of Michael Huff on some depth charts, which indicates the uncertainty of whom will start at the position. Atogwe however would resolve any question about that.
If the Raiders sign Atogwe, I would retain Huff because I think he has been improving, whereas Eugene is what he is, and doesn't have much upside as an NFL player.
For those that think that linebacker Thomas Howard should be released, I disagree. Howard provides good depth, in the event of an injured starter, or if the starter struggles. Moreover, Howard's best production came in pass coverage, and so, Howard would also be a good situational player on passing downs.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has come from Baltimore with a smash mouth mentality, which is exactly what the Raiders needed. The Chargers are soft against smash mouth teams for one, but also that Jackson brings a similar attitude to that of Mike Singletary across the Bay with the Niners.
Look at what happened to tight end Vernon Davis after Singletary called him out. He went from being a bust to a beast. I think Jackson can do the same thing with the Raiders, especially with top picks like halfback Darren McFadden and wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Some think that wideout Johnnie Lee Higgins is on the hotseat, but I disagree. Higgins still has deep speed and the experience in returning punts and kicks. I would guess that the odd man out is Todd Watkins and that the Raiders could feel comfortable with five wideouts for the 52-man roster.
The Raiders must improve the running-game. Ever since fullback Jon Ritchie left, I've thought that it was a critical missing piece. Current fullback Luke Lawton leaves much to be desired, while undrafted rookie Manase Tonga was a punishing blocker in college, and may have gone undrafted simply because of his age.
The Raiders offensive line has been erratic and much maligned in recent years. On the up side, part of the struggles resulted from former starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell. With Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye behind center, the narrative started to change. Granted that both quarterbacks were sidelined with injuries, but that resulted more from Gradkowski's conditioning, while Frye was sidelined due to new NFL rules on concussions.