Oakland Raiders: Biggest Team Needs Heading into the 2011 NFL Draft
With the NFL labor issues resulting in the free agent season being put on the back burner, this year's NFL Draft is more important than ever before.
In previous years, teams had the opportunity to solidify their rosters through free agency and trades before making decisions on how to use their draft picks.
Since this year's draft has different implications than previous years, I have written a list of the positions which we need to attack through the draft in order of importance.
Offensive Line: Guard
The guard position on the Oakland Raiders is, without a doubt, the weakest position on the team heading into 2011.
Former starting left guard Robert Gallery will not be returning next season, as he was not willing to take a reasonable salary considering his value is a fraction of what it was when he was drafted.
Opposite Gallery, Cooper Carlisle has been the starter at right guard, and though he is still on the roster, he cannot be allowed to start at that position next season.
Carlisle's skills and talent at the guard position started to decline two years ago, and declined much more this previous year.
If the season were to start today, the starting guards for the Oakland Raiders would likely be Daniel Loper and Bruce Campbell. While this duo would likely be an upgrade from last season, it also likely is not the long term answer.
Loper showed last season that he is capable of manning the position. When Gallery went down with an injury, many were concerned that our offense would take a hit as a result. However, Loper came in and soon, no one even noticed that Gallery was not playing.
However, Loper is not exactly youthful at 29 and has only started nine games in his career.
While he did a good job last season, and would likely do a good job as a starter, if the Raiders want to re-take their position as one of the league's elite teams, we need players who are Pro Bowl caliber, and I'm not sure Loper will ever get there. To me, he is a stop gap until we find something better.
As for Campbell, he is a massive player with a lot of raw talent. However, he did not see the field much last season and is still pretty un-polished.
While he will likely be with the team for years to come, I am not giving up hope that he could develop into our right tackle of the future.
Campbell played tackle in college before moving to guard with the Raiders.
He was moved to guard because it is an easier position to play, and Campbell is still rough around the edges. However, his size is rare, and if he can learn to play the tackle position with skill, that is where he should be.
Offensive Line: Center
Not shockingly, I am staying with the offensive line for the second position that is most needed to be addressed through the draft.
The Raiders traded for Samson Satele a couple of years ago, and ever since, we have learned why it is that Bill Parcells was so anxious to get rid of him.
He is undersized and too often gets bull rushed into the back field by larger defensive tackles.
Though Satele eventually put together a decent year last season, he simply is not the answer at center.
Like I said when discussing the guard position, the Raiders should not settle for above average or good players, we need to be striving to find Pro Bowl caliber talent at every position and Satele certainly does not fit that description.
Besides left tackle, center is the most important position on the offensive line.
The center touches the ball every play, and is responsible for calling out blocking assignments when the team lines up for a play.
Additionally, as the anchor of the line, if someone breaks through up the middle, the entire pocket collapses.
Making the next step towards being a playoff team requires that the Raiders address this position sooner rather than later.
As I noted in the beginning of this article, this year's draft is unique in that the rosters will be far from being set when the draft comes around.
As such, teams must act as though they will not be able to re-sign their remaining free agents, to do otherwise could leave teams with glaring holes on their roster.
One of the starters from last season that the Raiders have yet to re-sign is starting free safety, Michael Huff.
Huff had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2010, however, he was not included in the flurry of signings the Raiders made prior to the lockout.
Despite Huff's play last season, the safety position has been one of the defense's weaker positions and even if Huff were to return, it would be wise for the Raiders to add some young depth to the free safety position.
Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best corners in the NFL. He is also one of the players that the Raiders failed to re-sign before the lockout began.
Without Nnamdi, the Raiders are left with Stanford Routt, an aging Chris Johnson and two young, late round picks in Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden.
Though Ware and McFadden showed some real talent during the pre season in 2010, neither saw a lot of time during the regular season, and when either one did, the flaws with their game often became abundantly clear.
Both guys have the potential to be real good corners, but they might not get there for a year or two.
In the meantime, the Raiders need to find a player who is ready to step in at the corner position right away in order to play opposite Routt.
The wide receiver position is one of the positions where the Raiders really need to add depth.
With Schilens barely seeing the field over the past few seasons and Darrius Heyward-Bey showing that he is not ready to be a starter in the NFL, the Raiders have one of the most shallow receiving corps in the NFL.
Jacob Ford and Louis Murphy have both been bright spots at the wide receiver position, but a team needs more than just two solid players.
Ideally, the Raiders would have added depth by signing a veteran wide receiver who would help the young guns grow into their potential, but the lockout has made that near impossible to do before the draft.
If the Raiders were to have two of their wide receivers injured at the same time (not that unlikely considering Schilens history), the team would be in a world of hurt with only two NFL caliber receivers left available to play.