Showcasing Oakland Raiders' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs
The Oakland Raiders opened the season with four losses in their first five games and, in a division that now features Peyton Manning, that's enough to sink a team. The Raiders ended up 4-12 with just one win over the final nine weeks.
It marks the 10th consecutive season in which the Raiders failed to qualify for the postseason. They are tied with the Cleveland Browns for the second-longest drought, behind only the Buffalo Bills. In eight of those seasons Oakland has won five or fewer games.
The terrific football fans in Oakland deserve credit for sticking with the team through some rough times, but they will need to exercise further patience. The roster still needs to be upgraded in several areas before the Raiders become playoff contenders.
Their poor record was enough to earn them the third overall pick in the draft, which should help the team fill at least one major void before next season. Let's take a look at where the Raiders stand in every area to determine what they should focus on this offseason.
The Raiders actually had the eighth-ranked passing game in the league at 255 yards per game, but that had a lot to do with always playing from behind. That's why Carson Palmer is in the middle of the QB rating pack but near the bottom in ESPN's Total QBR.
That said, the Raiders are still paying for the trade they made to get Palmer—their second-round pick this year belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals—and it would be tough to find a serviceable replacement. That replacement certainly is not on the roster and the free-agent market is weak.
The draft won't have a quarterback worth taking at No. 3, especially if the Kansas City Chiefs opt to take a chance on Geno Smith. So the Raiders are best off just sticking with Palmer for another season and perhaps taking a developmental QB in the middle or late rounds.
Darren McFadden hasn't suited up in more than 13 games for the Raiders in five seasons since being drafted fourth overall. Of a possible 80 games, he's played in just 57. That's a major problem for the Oakland offense.
When healthy, he's capable of being one of the league's most dynamic offensive weapons. Due to that fact alone, it's hard to imagine the Raiders using any more resources on running backs, but they are playing with fire by relying so heavily on McFadden.
Even though Marcel Reece is a serviceable backup and Taiwan Jones has some upside, they aren't the type of players who can carry an offense. The Raiders just have to hope McFadden can stay healthy for the entire season in 2013.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Raiders feature a young, talented group of receivers. Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rod Streater have all illustrated some intriguing potential, but are still learning the finer points of being NFL receivers. The group is still very much a work in progress.
That's why it's so important for the offense to have a player like Brandon Myers. The tight end is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, which would leave a gaping hole in the Raiders' passing game. Oakland must be aggressive in trying to bring him back.
If it doesn't happen, the Raiders will have to spend an early pick on a new possession TE or find one on the free-agent market. They can't enter next season with just the three aforementioned receivers and expect the offense to thrive.
Oakland's offensive line was terrific in pass protection. The front five allowed Palmer to get sacked just 26 times despite attempting 565 passes, which is a great rate. The run blocking was another story, though, and must be addressed.
The Raiders ranked 29th in run blocking, according to Football Outsiders. They especially had an issue running to the left end, which suggests tackle Jared Veldheer wasn't able to handle the blocking load on the outside.
It's probably not a big enough issue for the Raiders to target a left tackle like Luke Joeckel in the first round, but they have to seek an upgrade. The team also has to make sure right tackle and potential free agent Khalif Barnes returns to avoid further line issues.
Improving the pass rush should be Oakland's main goal during the offseason. The Raiders recorded just 25 sacks, the second-worst total in the league, and it's tough to win in today's high-flying NFL without putting pressure on the quarterback.
Lamarr Houston led the team in sacks with a lackluster total of 4.5. The Raiders need somebody who can put up a double-digit sack total on a yearly basis, which would have a positive impact on every level of the defense.
Ultimately, this is where Oakland's focus for the No. 3 pick should be. Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore and Jarvis Jones are among the top options in the draft. The Raiders have to decide which one would fit their system best, which would probably be Werner, if he's still available.
Re-signing Philip Wheeler is crucial for the Raiders. He was the defense's most reliable player throughout the season. The Georgia Tech product tallied a team-leading 109 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Miles Burris had an impressive rookie season on the other side of the formation, and should remain in place heading into next season. If there's one area the Raiders could use an upgrade, it's in the middle where Rolando McClain didn't live up to the hype.
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o would be an option in the first round, but the Raiders would be better off addressing the pass-rushing issue first. Players like Jon Bostic and Nico Johnson should be available later on and would provide better value.
The Raiders secondary was a mess this season. Free-agent addition Ron Bartell struggled before getting released, Shawntae Spencer played in just two games due to injury and Michael Huff's shift to cornerback had mixed results.
When the dust settled, the Raiders ranked 20th in passing yards allowed and gave up 28 touchdowns through the air while picking off just 11 passes. Now the team must decided whether to blow up the secondary or just try to improve it.
Matt Giordano, Joselio Hanson and Spencer are all scheduled to become free agents. It gives the Raiders some flexibility if they want to complete a major overhaul. With so many other needs, however, it would be tough to finish in one offseason.
For the past 13 seasons, the one area where the Raiders could always feel confident was special teams. The tandem of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler were both selected in the 2000 draft and have held down their respective posts ever since.
That run may finally be ending. Lechler is a potential free agent. At 36, he's coming off a down season and the Raiders already have a potential replacement on the roster in Marquette King. So at least the Raiders won't have to spend a pick on one.
In terms of return men, the team's emphasis on drafting good athletes over the years should ensure they are fine in that area. Coye Francies did a serviceable job returning kicks and Denarius Moore can handle punts, if needed.