With Hue Jackson taking over as head coach, it's time for Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders' scouting staff to bring in some quality players to further improve the resurgent Raiders.
Most in Raider Nation would agree the most pressing needs for the Raiders are offensive guard, offensive tackle, and center. Of course there are more needs than this, but I'll focus on these three, most critical areas.
There is no better way to evaluate a college player than to watch him play in live game action. The 2011 Senior Bowl will provide that very opportunity for the Raiders' staff this Saturday.
Some of the players I profile in this article are playing at the Senior Bowl, some are not. However, they are all rated to be drafted somewhere between the second and fifth rounds. This means they should be available for the Raiders to draft with either their first (2nd round) or second (4th round) pick.
Now for some working assumptions:
1. Florida Center Mike Pouncey will be taken in the first round and not be available for the Raiders.
2. Oakland will the draft picks they already have, and they will not make a trade that moves them up into the first round.
Here's a look at only some of the offensive linemen I feel Davis and the staff should be watching very closely...
With the Raiders' second round pick, center Stefen Wisniewski from Penn State University would make a lot of people in Raider Nation happy—including this writer.
Projected as an late first to mid-second round pick, Wisniewski would bring everything Raider Nation is looking for in a center—great skill, a nasty streak and a pedigree.
Wisniewski's uncle is Raider great Steve Wisniewski, who had this to say about his talented nephew:
"As a sophomore, Stefen is head and shoulders above where I was at this stage," Steve said. "I think he's going to have a better NFL career than I did if he stays healthy."—Read entire article.
Prototypical size at 6'3"-300, quick first step in run blocking, excellent feet and mirroring ability in pass blocking. This kid brings a great punch and plays with balance, critical for success in the NFL trenches.
If he has a weakness it's his overall strength. He is plenty strong, but could stand to bulk up a bit more to stand up to massive NFL nose tackles the rigors of the longer pro season.
The Raiders will have to use their second round pick to get Wisniewski, but should be well worth it.
Coming from a program like Southern California, Kristofer O'Dowd has already seen top level talent.
O'Dowd has three years of experience starting experience and has been the rock that held the USC offensive line together.
Being a solid run blocker and supremely talented pass blocker for a pro-style offense will make the transition to the pros much easier for O'Dowd than for many others.
If O'Dowd is still around in the fourth or fifth round, the Raiders would be foolish not to grab this guy—unless they've already filled the center spot with another pick.
Brandon Fusco is the first player from Slippery Rock College to be invited to the NFL Combine. No minor achievement, especially for an offensive lineman.
Fusco is a center that can play guard—and do both pretty well.
Having played at a division II school, the speed of the game will be a tough transition, playing in the senior bowl this week will give Fusco the opportunity to show what he's capable of against superior talent.
With the severity of the Raiders' need at center, Fusco is likely to be on Davis' radar.
A fourth or fifth round pick for Fusco wouldn't be over-reaching at all.
Rodney Hudson from Florida State University is the most decorated lineman in ACC Conference history.
A four year starter, mostly at left guard, Hudson has received nearly every award and accolade a lineman can get.
Hudson's strengths are his understanding of run blocking angles and football IQ. He gets to the second level very fast and makes linebackers and safeties pay for attempting to make a play.
He sometimes struggles with handling bigger, bull rushers. Perhaps bulking up a bit would help cure that.
Hudson has shown in college that he's willing to work. This means that whatever his flaws are, they are correctable.
Hudson will most likely be taken from the middle of the second to the late third round.
Clint Boling has been a starting guard for the University of Georgia all four years of his college career. He has a high football IQ, incredible strength and solid drive blocking technique.
If this kid can improve his balance and pass blocking fundamentals, he could find himself a fixture on whichever team that decides to draft him.
Boling would be a decent value with an early fourth round pick.
Thomas Claiborne has been starting at guard for the Boston College Eagles since being converted from defensive line at the outset of the 2007 season.
That defensive mindset works well for him in run blocking. Claiborne is an animal in the running game.
His pass protection skills leave a bit to be desired, but if he continues to work hard, Claiborne can be a great addition to any offensive line.
Claiborne is well worth a fourth or fifth round pick.
DeMarcus Love started all 26 games in his last two years for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Being a solid run blocker and a fantastic pass blocker should endear him to the Raiders' scouting and coaching staffs immediately.
His experience playing at both left and right tackle will make it easier for him to make an NFL roster.
Love possess all the skills you look for in an offensive tackle. Speed, footwork, good hands and the ability to get to the second level and seal off linebackers.
Unfortunately, there is some talk of Love taking plays off and not giving a full effort on every down. If this turns out to be true, the Raiders should pass. But if it's simple rumor, Love could be an anchor on the offensive line for years to come.
It seems that Love would be a reach in the second round, but perhaps a fourth round pick would be well spent to acquire him.
Orlando Franklin is a versatile player that has started at guard and tackle for the Hurricanes of Miami.
At 6'7"-315 pounds, tackle seems like a better fit for this talented Jamaican native.
Franklin has all the tools to be a solid starter. Quick feet, good hands and a desire to dominate his opponent.
Franklin is likely to still be available for the Raiders to draft in the fourth round.
James Carpenter started the last 27 games of his college career at left tackle for the University of Alabama.
Carpenter came the the Crimson Tide as a junior college transfer in 2009. He took over the starting left tackle duties almost immediately and has been there ever since.
A balanced player, Carpenter seems to run block and pass block equally well. 6'5"-300 pounds may be a little light for playing tackle in the NFL, so a little bulking up might be a good idea.
Assuming the reports of his solid work ethic are true, Carpenter should make a nice edition to any NFL team that chooses to draft him.
Carpenter will be a great value if he's still available in the fourth round.
Villanova is not known for being a football factory, but every once in a while they produce a gem. Raider fans will point to the name Howie Long to prove that statement.
This time, the Pennsylvania school will produce offensive tackle Benjamin Ijalana.
Ijalana has great size at 6'4"-320, but he's surprisingly agile as well.
The great combination of a long wingspan, hefty size and willingness to get physical give Ijalana an excellent shot at becoming a long-time starter in the NFL.
The only question one might have is his ability to adjust to better competition. The 2011 Senior Bowl will give everyone the opportunity to see if Ijalana can do the job against NFL caliber competition.
Ijalana is projected to go anywhere from the mid second to the late fourth round. It all depends on how well he shows at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.
Hue Jackson has his work cut out for him in 2011.
The offensive line is the weakest link on the Raiders' roster, and has been for what seems like forever. Filling these spots with younger, better talent will be important for the continued growth and future success of the Raiders.
New head coach Hue Jackson has to upgrade this squad if he wants to deliver the success he promised in his recent press conference announcing his promotion to head man.
The draft is the least expensive, and best way to build a team for long-term success. I've highlighted only 10 players that can help the Raiders. This list is no where complete as there are many more quality linemen out there.
I'm sure there are players you have been watching at these positions that I failed to mention. I look forward to hearing about them in the comments.
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