By Kevin O’Brien
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Raiders made further improvement a year ago, but after losing some big pieces in the offseason, it will not be easy for them to do so again in 2011.
The Raiders finished last season a perfect 6-0 against teams in their own division, but they went just 2-8 against the rest of the league and finished an even 8-8. They missed out on the playoffs again, but the team played much better, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Raiders finished second in the league in rushing and scored more than twice as many points as the season before. Running back Darren McFadden finally played up to his potential, and Jacoby Ford developed into a scoring machine over the second half of the season. Jason Campbell, while not spectacular, avoided costly turnovers and started 13 of the team's 16 games.
Though 2010 marked the Raiders' first non-losing season since 2002, head coach Tom Cable was relieved of his duties and replaced by offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson. The offense - McFadden and Campbell especially - should benefit from playing in the same system for another year, but they will miss top pass catcher Zach Miller and top lineman Robert Gallery, both who departed for Seattle. The defense finished in the middle of the pack in 2010, but they'll have to employ a new philosophy in 2011 with star corner Nnamdi Asomugha now in Philadelphia. Asomugha eliminated half the field for opposing quarterbacks, but without him around, the Raiders will need a different approach this year. They will also need cornerback Stanford Routt and middle linebacker Rolando McClain to step up if they hope to avoid a drop off on the defensive side of the ball.
The Raiders had to cut salary this offseason to get back under the salary cap, so they did not add much besides tight end Kevin Boss. They didn't do much in the draft either, though they did add potential playmakers Taiwan Jones and Denarius Moore in the later rounds, and Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.
The Raiders have shown signs of life in recent years, but the offseason math adds up to them being less talented than they were a year ago. The Chargers and the Chiefs have better all-around squads, so the Raiders won't be able to count on dominating their division again. As a result, don't expect 2011 to be the year the Raiders return to the postseason.
Round, Overall, Player
2. (48) Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn St.
Raiders hope for another 10-year starter from the Wisniewski family.
3. (81) Demarcus Van Dyke, CB, Miami
Will be on the field in multiple defensive back formations.
3. (92) Joseph Barksdale, OT, LSU
Has the necessary size to play tackle at the top level.
3. (Supplemental) Terrelle Pryor, QB, OSU
Will play QB in Oakland, but probably not this year.
4. (113) Chimdi Chekwa, OT, Ohio St.
Has a chance to contribute in the defensive backfield in year one.
4. (125) Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington
Speedster who figures to open the year as the third running back.
5. (148) Denarius Moore, WR, Tennessee
Training camp surprise could open season near the top of the depth chart.
6. (181) Richard Gordon, TE, Miami
Will compete for a reserve spot during training camp.
7. (241) David Ausberry, WR, USC
Will switch to tight end in the NFL.
Kevin Boss, TE (NYG)
Will replace Zach Miller as Raiders' starting tight end.
Stephon Heyer, OG (WAS)
Versatile lineman will challenge for starting left guard job.
Derek Hagan, WR (NYG)
Caught 24 passes last year; will have to compete for roster spot.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (PHI)
Tough to replace arguably the top cover corner in the league.
Zach Miller, TE (SEA)
Raiders lose top target in the passing game.
Robert Gallery, OG (SEA)
McFadden loses top lineman, who rejoins former coach Tom Cable.
1. HOW GOOD CAN Darren McFadden BE?
After two injury-plagued and mainly unproductive seasons, McFadden finally put things together in 2011 and finished with 1,157 rushing yards, 507 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns. Even more impressive, he managed to put up those numbers despite appearing in only 13 games. McFadden has already missed 10 games in his short three-year career, but it's clear he has the potential to put up big numbers again if he can stay on the field. McFadden is a late first-round/early second-round pick in standard formats, but if he plays a full 16 games this season, he could end the season as a top-five running back.
2. WHO WILL STEP UP IN THE RECEIVING GAME?
Zach Miller was the Raiders' top target in the passing game for several years, but with Miller now in Seattle, the Raiders are looking for someone else to emerge as a receiving threat. Darrius Heyward-Bey has the first-round pedigree, but it remains to be seen if he will ever become the impact player Al Davis expects him to be. Chaz Schilens would have been the number one receiver a year ago, but a knee injury cost him most of the 2010 campaign, and it appears his shot at a starting spot has passed him by. While Jacoby Ford doesn't come without question marks either - a preseason injury and his lack of size - he showed enough playmaking ability in his rookie season to become the team's number one receiver. Ford will be used in the running game and return game as well, so he will have opportunities to make plays even if Jason Campbell struggles at times. Besides Ford, new tight end Kevin Boss should be an able replacement for Miller and one of the team's top targets in the red zone. Louis Murphy will not be ready for the beginning of the season, but with 18 starts under his belt in two years, he should be a factor when healthy. The most intriguing name of the group may be Denarius Moore, who slipped a bit in the draft but has been a big hit in the preseason. Moore has not only cemented a roster spot; he has put himself in position to earn early playing time. It's a rather uninspiring group, but expect Ford and Boss to make the biggest fantasy impact in 2011.
3. WHAT IMPACT WILL Terrelle Pryor MAKE IN HIS ROOKIE SEASON?
The Raiders shocked some - or rather, didn't shock anyone - by using a third-round supplemental pick on Terrelle Pryor, but clearly they believe he can play quarterback in the NFL. While the Raiders have faith, it's highly unlikely that Pryor will be a threat to Jason Campbell's job this year. Pryor was not even on the roster for the first few weeks of training camp and will be suspended for the first five weeks of the regular season, so he is more project than prospect in 2011.
Rising: Jacoby Ford did not put up eye-popping numbers last season, but after totaling seven touchdowns - two receiving, two rushing, and three via kickoff returns - over the season's final eight weeks, he is a name to remember on draft day.
Declining: Michael Bush scored eight touchdowns last year, but it will be tough for him to match that number again if the Raiders don't run the ball as well as they did last year.
Sleeper: The tight end has been a key piece of the Raiders offense for several years, so Kevin Boss will have the opportunity to put up career-best numbers in his first season in Oakland.
Supersleeper: The pecking order at the receiver position has yet to be established, so after a strong camp, don't be surprised if Denarius Moore works his way up the depth chart and becomes a true threat in the passing game.
Tyvon Branch, SS
Potential for triple-digit tackles makes him elite fantasy option
Matt Shaghnessy, DE
Breakout candidate on the d-line if he gets enough snaps
Richard Seymour, DE
Steady veteran should improve upon last year's numbers if he can stay healthy
RotoWire Rank: 25