In Oakland, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the Raiders have failed to record more than five wins in seven consecutive seasons. Hope springs eternal, and in 2010 the optimism comes in the form of recently acquired quarterback Jason Campbell.
While Campbell didn’t light the league on fire with the Redskins, he is a capable signal-caller who suffered from the constant coaching changes in Washington. In Oakland, he represents a significant upgrade over JaMarcus Russell. Russell flamed out in extravagant fashion with the Raiders despite being forced into the starting lineup over head coach Tom Cable’s objections.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson takes over the play calling duties, and there is little doubt owner Al Davis’s instructions are to employ a deep passing attack. At receiver, the Raiders feature talented but largely unproven youngsters Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy to go along with Chaz Schilens and tight end Zach Miller. Look for Schilens and Murphy to handle most of the intermediate and underneath patterns.
Darren McFadden and Michael Bush will share time at running back, with the hope that Bush’s inside running compliments McFadden’s ability to get to the edge of the defense.
Along the offensive line, the Raiders are hoping for improvement from within, given that the only change will be Khalif Barnes taking over for the departed Cornell Green at right tackle. This unit’s poor performance has hurt the team over the past couple of years, and it’s not a stretch to suggest it could happen again in 2010.
After suffering through the JaMarcus Russell era, the Raiders moved on with the acquisition of Campbell from the Redskins.
While Campbell failed to achieve much success in Washington, he has plenty of excuses to fall back on. The Redskins regularly changed offensive coordinators, failed to develop a wide receiver opposite Santana Moss, and watched the offensive line fall apart in 2009 due to age and injuries.
Before dismissing Campbell’s prospects in Oakland, it is worth noting that the Raiders passing offense was significantly better last year when Russell was on the bench in favor of Bruce Gradkowski or Charlie Frye. Campbell is much better than Gradkowski and Frye. Also, Zach Miller is perhaps the most underrated tight end in the league. Unfortunately, the Raiders have a young group of wide receivers that have yet to develop.
While Campbell isn’t a fantasy starter, he could be a decent backup with some upside if the Raiders can get some big plays from their wide receivers.
Bush has been Oakland’s healthiest and most effective back running the football over the past two seasons, but you would never know that based on his playing time.
Presumably the Raiders will eventually figure that out.
Bush is a solid inside runner with an ability to make tacklers miss on the second level. He is expected to split time with McFadden but figures to get the goal line work. When it comes down to backs splitting time, the best fantasy option is usually the one who gets the goal line work. While others overspend on Darren McFadden, you can wait and get the value pick in Bush.
McFadden has been a major disappointment over his first two years in the league. He has not displayed the big play ability he showed in college and has not been effective running the ball, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry (3.4 in 2009).
While he has the talent to bust out, the odds seem remote given his lack of production and the Raiders offensive prospects in 2010. Basically, the Raiders' offense is in shambles, and McFadden has done nothing in his two years to prove that he’s a feature back.
On the plus side, the Raiders figure to be better at quarterback with Jason Campbell, and Schilens is Oakland’s best receiver, at least upon entering training camp.
On the downside, he recently had follow-up surgery on his left foot, which he broke last August.
Even if the Raiders passing offense is much improved, Schilens may be too injury-prone to be on the field to reap the benefits. If healthy, he shapes up as bye week filler. Given his injury history, there are other backup wide receivers with more upside and less risk.
Heyward-Bey is coming off a rookie season in which he looked completely lost. With Michael Crabtree looking like a future stud across the bay in San Francisco, the Raiders are looking mighty foolish in selecting Heyward-Bey based on his superior speed over the more talented Crabtree.
Offseason reports indicate that Heyward-Bey has stepped up his game, but most teams put out glowing offseason reports, particularly for young players who have been disappointments. The validity of his progress is debatable, and improvement should be expected given how bad he was last year.
But how much improvement can you expect from a player who had two multiple-reception games in 2009 and finished the year with nine receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown? Let others reach for Heyward-Bey.
Darrius Heyward-Bey was the Raiders rookie wide receiver getting all of the attention in 2009, but Murphy was the Raiders rookie wide receiver getting all of the production.
The fourth-round pick had a surprisingly solid rookie season with 521 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He displayed big play ability, averaging 15.3 yards per reception.
With Jason Campbell under center in 2010, Murphy’s prospects for improvement are solid. One notable hiccup to his 2009 season is that he managed to catch just 34-of-96 targets, although that can be at least partially explained by the team’s poor quarterback play.
Nonetheless, of the Raiders wide receivers, Murphy has the best potential for a solid season in 2010. While fantasy owners are reaching for Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens, scoop up Murphy as the best value of the three.
Miller doesn’t get the credit he deserves, mostly because he has never had the chance to play with a decent quarterback. However, he gets a decent quarterback for the first time in his career in Jason Campbell.
That is, unless the Raiders do the unthinkable and hand the job to Bruce Gradkowski.
Miller is the most underrated tight end in the league, so he could surprise with Campbell under center. If there’s one Raider to own in the passing game, it's Miller. Consider him a solid sleeper prospect at tight end.