It is now mid-season, and the Oakland Raiders are coming off their semester break with a 4-3 record. That 4-3 record doesn't lie about the Raiders, as they have been both up and down in the first semester of the season.
There are a number of players that the Raiders are getting great performances out of so far. At the same time, there are some Raiders that are playing not-so-well and could be holding the team back.
For this reason, I gave every starter a semester grade.
Turn the page to see them.
I am bewildered every time I hear television commentators talk about how Samson Satele is playing. Then I think I must be missing something, so I watch him play over and over again to make sure I didn't miss anything.
Up until the Chiefs game, where he was thrown to the ground in the process of giving up a sack, he's done a great job in pass protection. In the run game, Satele has been about as bad as you can get as an offensive lineman.
He gets blown back, and when he isn't blown back, he can be spotted diving at a defensive lineman's feet and missing. He actually leads the team in no-hitters, but they were all in the running game as pass-protection is his strength.
Satele gets an A in pass protection and an F in run-blocking, but that doesn't average to a C. The reason is that the Raiders run more than they pass, so Satele isn't doing much for what the Raiders do best.
He's actually holding the Raiders No. 2 rushing attack back because the Raiders can't run up the middle.
The grade is D.
Cooper Carlisle gets blown backward like Satele, but, if you can believe it, it's actually worse.
Remember the goal line stand the New England Patriots made on the Raiders in Week 4? On one of the up-the-middle runs, Carlisle was put on his back as the play was designed to his hole.
I understand that you win some and lose some, as offensive lineman can get driven back by a defensive lineman. But I've never seen an offensive lineman get pancaked by a defensive lineman before. On top of that, as an offensive lineman, you can't get driven back on nearly every play and say you're helping the team.
Carlisle is part of the reason the Raiders haven't been so successful running the ball to the right this year. However, he does help his team in the passing game as he hasn't allowed a sack yet this year.
The grade is D.
Khalif Barnes has looked really good in pass protection at times—giving up only two sacks so far this year. In the run game, he's actually been pretty good at times, as the Raiders average 4.5 yards per carry off right tackle.
The Raiders need Barnes to be more consistent, but he does get things done at times. I do believe the Raiders have a couple of players that can do better at his position, but he hasn't been as bad as Carlisle and Satele.
The grade is C-.
I don't know why Stefen Wisniewski doesn't start at center, but he is doing a great job at left guard. Former first-round pick Robert Gallery's departure, and backup Daniel Loper getting cut has something to do with it.
But as it is, Wisniewski has stepped in at left guard, and the Raiders got even better running to the left. Wisniewski has also proven to be the total package, as he has yet to give up a sack this year.
That's an A for the Wiz kid.
After struggling as a rookie, Jared Veldheer has come back in year two and killed it for the Raiders. He's always been a great run-blocker—consistently getting push off of the line of scrimmage on run plays.
Going into the Chiefs game, the Raiders averaged over eight yards per carry running outside to the left. The Raiders have had their way running to the left with Veldheer and Wisniewski, period.
Veldheer is coming off of a bad game where he did struggle against the Chiefs' Tamba Hali. But you have to love a player that doesn't give up a sack on a bad day—leaving him with no sacks allowed so far this season.
A++ is the grade here.
Did you see the way Kevin Boss man-handled outside line backer Bart Scott on Darren McFadden's 70-yard touchdown run against the Jets. Well, Boss has been doing that all year long so far, which is why McFadden has been able to get outside with his blazing speed.
He may not get the most opportunities, but Boss makes the most of them when a pass is thrown his way. I really like the way he can get deep down the seam to make big plays in the passing game.
Zach who? (Miller)
The grade is A+
Jacoby Ford has been a huge disappointment from the receiver position so far this year. I was really expecting to see some big plays made by him, as this was supposed to be the year he became a household name.
He probably will become a household name this year, but from the looks of things, it's more likely as a kick-returner. Injured early in the season, (hamstring) Ford hasn't made the big plays Raider Nation has expected.
Ford hasn't been bad, but I have yet to see him stand out as a receiver for the Raiders this year. It could be that opposing defenses are game planning for him this year, but he just doesn't seem to get open enough.
I'm starting to wonder if he needs to focus mainly on returning and go in to make an occasional play at receiver. It will be interesting to see what type of roll he has when fellow receiver Louis Murphy gets back into a rhythm.
It was Murphy's injury that allowed Ford to play a bigger role in the offense last year.
I'll give Ford a C.
If there were one player in contention, Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey would receive the award as the NFL's Most Improved Player. The young man went from doing a volleyball set to catching passes that come his way.
He also went from wasting his blazing speed to using it to get open for his quarterback this year. He's on pace to get over 1,000 yards receiving this year as he as also become a reliable third-down option.
What a difference a year and some hard work makes!
A is the grade.
I was expecting big things from Marcel Reece this year, as his 4.4 40 speed and wide receiver skill set is a mismatch for opposing linebackers. But Reece hasn't been able to get off to so much this season, and he's been hampered by an ankle injury that cost him a few games.
Reece practiced with the team before being given their NFL-mandated time off—signifying that he is ready. Manase Tonga did well in his stead as a blocker, but Reece will give the Raiders a boost in the passing game.
Reece's grade is incomplete.
Darren McFadden has shown that he is as complete of a running back as there is in the NFL. He's tough to bring down, has vision, can make you miss, blocks well, catches well and he's as fast as they come.
They've even lined him up at receiver and he's done damage à la Marshall Faulk.
He really hasn't been stopped this year, as his games under 100 yards were because the Raiders stopped calling his number. In his last game against the Chiefs, McFadden was forced to leave early with a sprained foot.
A+ is his grade.
Sorry, but I'm not going to grade Jason Campbell here because he is no longer starting for the Raiders. Carson Palmer arrived in Raider Nation just days before his first test—he didn't even know he had a test that day.
He obviously failed the test, but who gets a test they didn't know they had coming on their fifth day of class?
Not only did he know just 15 plays in the offense, but he was put in a game behind 21-0. So he had to constantly recycle those 15 same plays while the defense knew that Palmer could only pass at that point.
I have to give him more time to study before I give him any type of grade.
He gets an incomplete.
Tommy Kelly is a big part of why opposing teams can't run up the middle on the Raiders. But of course, Kelly can rush the passer from his defensive tackle position like few in the NFL can.
So far, the much improved Kelly has 21 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery to show for it. The pressure that opposing quarterbacks see coming right up the middle is due in large part to Kelly's presence.
A is his grade.
Lamarr Houston only has one sack and 11 tackles, but he has pressured the quarterback non-stop. The pressure Houston has put on opposing quarterbacks led him to three passes batted down and an interception.
He has a fumble recovery to go with 19 total tackles to show for his stellar play against the run. His stats may not jump out you, but his play does, because Houston is one of those guys that doesn't stay blocked.
For that, he gets an A.
With five sacks in seven games, Richard Seymour is on pace for his first 10-sack season. So you have to say that he is playing very well—even for a legend in the making like himself.
While leading all defensive tackles in sacks, he is also among the league leaders in tackles at his position. The 6'6", 315-pound Seymour uses his length well too, as he has two passes batted down.
But stats are just half of his impact.
He takes the opposing team's double-team to help his D-line mates make plays. He has also been the leader of the defense—getting more out of his teammates.
A+ for Seymour.
It's going to be real interesting to see who starts at defensive end next year for the Raiders. Matt Shaughnessy was supposed to be a breakout superstar this year, but ended up having season-ending shoulder surgery.
That opened the door for former Denver Bronco first-round pick Jarvis Moss to reclaim his career. In four starts, the 6'7", 260-pound defensive end has 1.5 sacks and two passes batted down, and he puts constant pressure on the quarterback.
He's not bad against the run either—he has 11 tackles to his credit. The Raiders defense hasn't missed a beat since he has stepped in for Shaghnessy, but Moss only has four starts.
Therefore, Moss gets an incomplete.
Kamerion Wimbley's sack numbers are down this year, but he has put constant pressure on the quarterback. He is playing very well as an all-around linebacker—doing well against the run and in pass coverage.
Through the first seven games, Wimbley has just one sack, a pass defensed, and 24 tackles. I can't stress to you enough how big of an impact he is making on the Raiders run defense.
Wimbley gets and A-.
It looks very much like Aaron Curry is going to reclaim his career as a former high, first-round draft pick. He has always done well against the run—he has helped the Raiders defense go from No. 31 to No. 16 against the run in just a couple of games this year.
Curry was supposed to be a liability in pass coverage, but he looks like anything but that so far with two passes defensed against the Chiefs. He also puts heat on the quarterback when called upon to do so—completing him as an outside linebacker.
But he's only played in two games for the Raiders, so he gets an incomplete.
The start Rolando McClain got off to was much better than last year's, but he still didn't quite look like he was there. But one good thing was that opposing teams, from the beginning of the season, couldn't run up the middle.
But the addition of Curry has made McClain better, as McClain now gets to the ball when opposing teams run outside. Through seven games, McClain has 44 tackles, a sack and six passes defensed for the season.
His pass coverage has been up and down.
McClain's slower start coming on for the last few games lands him a C+ at this point.
Stanford Routt was supposed to be the guy this year after Nnamdi Asomugha went to the Philadelphia Eagles. He started the season playing like the guy, with a 28 percent burn percentage over the first three games.
His play has since fallen off a bit, and his burn percentage has went up to 43 percent. He is still in the Top 10 in burn percentage (No. 8), but he has given up three touchdowns already.
I don't particularly like that for a guy that's getting $11 million a year.
His burn percentage is in the Top 10 so I'll give him a C-.
Cornerback is one of the hardest positions in the NFL to excel at as a rookie. It didn't look like it was going to be that way during the preseason, but Demarcus Van Dyke is excelling so far in just his first year.
Van Dyke is No. 5 in the NFL in burn percentage despite being the guy the opposing teams are trying to pick on. Opposing teams actually have more success going to the other side of the field with Routt.
Another thing I'm really impressed with from the 6'1", 175-pound back is that he makes tackles!
I have to give this man an A.
You can talk about his tackling numbers all you want, but a strong safety in the box will always have big tackling numbers. That's because the safety in the box is the only guy that can't be accounted for.
And when your strong safety is fast but doesn't cover well, he's going to make even more tackles after the football has been caught on him. The Raiders defense is the sixth-worst defense on third down, and Tyvon Branch is a huge part of that.
Any time the opposing offense is looking for something on third down, they usually find it over Branch. He has improved a little of late, but he is still the team's weakest link in pass coverage.
So, overall, he gets a D.
Raiders head coach Hue Jackson had a more physical camp than the Raiders had under Tom Cable. Michael Huff has sprung to the advantage of that—dramatically improving his tackling at the start of this year.
The Raiders gave up seven runs of over 40 yards last year and, because of Huff's improved tackling, they've given up only one so far this year. He has one interception so far, but his play as a single high safety isn't as far as his value goes.
Huff has played nickel corner all year and has locked his man down with the best of them.
He gets an A for all of that.
There are your grades for the up and down Raiders for the first semester of the season. I just can't agree with everyone that believes the offensive line is so good right now when the Raiders have been stopped at the goal line more than once this year so far.
Running left off tackle and to the outside is how the Raiders have made their living on offense this year. The Raiders run defense is new and improved with the front seven, sometimes eight, playing up to their talent level.
The Raiders pass defense has been shaky for most of the first half of the season, but they've improved of late. The Raiders pass offense, particularly at the quarterback position, has yet to be determined.
At 4-3, the Raiders get a C+/B- as a team.
As for the coaching, that's another article.