Oakland Raiders' Pleasant Surprises in 2011 so Far
The Oakland Raiders are now 1-1 after opening their season on a two-game road trip. The Raiders lost a tough one they should have won in Buffalo but they are still in line with all NFL teams that started the season with two road games.
I expected Darren McFadden, Jason Campbell, Stanford Routt and Richard Seymour to step to the fore. But there are also some pleasant surprises that are chipping in and look like they will be key players going forward.
Turn the page to see who they are.
5. Derek Hagan
With all of the talent the Raiders have at receiver these days, I'm surprised to see that Derek Hagan made the team. However, he does deserve to be on the team and that's probably why the Raiders kept seven receivers.
Hagan has more than just remained on the team, coming up with key, chain-moving grabs in his first game as a Raider last Sunday. In his sixth year, he may be the perfect veteran receiver for the Raiders.
He's not a household name or diva that could hold the youngsters, but he is always there when you need him. The Raiders should give him plenty of chances to make plays while Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford are out.
That way, he could have some trade value if they all come back and play well.
4. Quentin Groves
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
I thought the Raiders needed an outside linebacker this offseason because Quentin Groves was bad last year. But then I watched him this preseason and learned that last year was his first playing linebacker.
So I backed off a bit and now, he's looking like a pretty good outside linebacker. He is doing a good job of setting the edge in the run game. He isn't perfect in pass coverage but has improved drastically in that area.
When the Bills ran all over the Raiders in the second half, it was out of the spread formation with Groves on the sideline. In the preseason and in opening week, Groves has been solid against the run and pass.
He's just what the Raiders needed so far.
3. Chaz Schilens
He hasn't been targeted much but the fact that Chaz Schilens is playing at all is a huge, pleasant surprise. I predicted that he would play and break out before the season but he was injured in the preseason so I left it alone.
He did make a big catch in the red zone in Buffalo, so he is contributing some. However, it usually takes Schilens a couple of games to get in rhythm when he comes back from an injury so we should see more big plays from him soon.
This is the first time in Schilens' career that he's played this early in the year.
2. Denarius Moore
What an outstanding surprise this one is!
Raider Nation got excited, wanting him to start but I remembered Doug Gabriel a few years ago. That made me want to see him come into the game off the bench until he showed something in a real game.
Last Sunday, Moore did just that with five catches for 146 yards and a huge 50-yard touchdown catch in the clutch. Now I am sold on Moore as the Raiders' No. 1 receiver and can't wait to see what he can do with Darrelle Revis this coming Sunday.
If he keeps this up, the rest of the receivers will be in a battle for the No. 2 spot.
1. Jared Veldheer
After seeing Jared Veldheer play last year, I wanted the Raiders to get Jared Gaither to protect Jason Campbell's blind side. Veldheer is a ferocious run blocker so I thought we would become a Pro Bowler on the right side.
He couldn't get out of his stance fast enough to keep opposing speed rushers off of the quarterback. In the preseason last year, he struggled with the length and strength of Julius Peppers.
Actually, he couldn't stop anyone that could rush the passer no matter what his style, but that was last year. This year, he pops out of his stance quick and has already shut out Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Shawne Merriman.
He is going to see Peppers again, this time in the regular season, so that will be another big test.
As for Gaither, the Raiders brought him in but he couldn't pass the physical so they must have been thinking the same thing at one point. Gaither is now with the Chiefs but hasn't played a down because his back still ails him.
Meanwhile, Veldheer is playing like the franchise left tackle the Raiders have needed for years.
I was wrong—I was wrong and I love it!
So does Campbell.
The despite the Oakland Raiders' heartbreaking loss last week, they should be given credit for being a pleasant surprise. They won they're first opening game since 2002, breaking their opening day loss and Monday night loss streak.
The Bills may be better than we thought so losing to them on the road in Week 2 may not be so bad. Remember, the Raiders were blown out by a non-playoff team (Tennessee Titans) in Week 1 last year.
Sure, the schedule gets tougher but they are at home and the games are winnable with the talent they have. If the Raiders' pleasant surprises continue to play well along with the expected players, the sky is the limit for the team.
There's so much talent on the team, it's not about who the Raiders play but how the Raiders play.
Let's stay tuned!