There has recently been something about being drafted by the Oakland Raiders and going into your 3rd year with the organization. It might have even started with Hall Of Fame Tight End Dave Casper, who caught 53 passes and 10 touchdowns in his 3rd season with the Silver and Black. Casper was drafted in 1974; 3 years later, the Raiders won their first Super Bowl, in which Casper caught the first TD of the ceremonial game. In the 2nd round of the 1981 draft, the Oakland Raiders drafted DL Howie Long with the 48th overall pick. Long didn’t start in a single game his rookie season, nor did he record a single sack. In his sophomore season, he started to break out of his shell. In 5 starts, he registered 5.5 sacks, his first career sack being on all-time great QB Joe Montana. In Long’s 3rd season not only did the Raiders win their 3rd Super Bowl, but Long had his best season statistically, starting in all 16 games and recording 13 sacks and recovering 2 fumbles.
Not everyone in the Silver and Black who has a stellar 3rd season in the pros is bound for Canton. However, they do make noise around the league. In 2003, the Raiders drafted Safety Nnamdi Asomugha from Cal and converted him into a Cornerback. Nnamdi had a rough time adjusting, but he got it by his 3rd year. His 4th season in the pros was his very best, but he took the training wheels off in his 3rd. Despite not getting a single interception that year, he had 14 passes defensed, and was the gaining recognition as a height-weight-speed specimen of Al Davis; along with being one of the more physical CBs in the NFL.
As of more recently in Raiders draft history, the 2008 draft featured RB Darren McFadden who was taken in the 1st round, and had a shaky professional start; he was often injured and had 8 fumbles in his first 2 years. By his 3rd season, he only missed 3 games and still managed to record over 1,200 rushing yards, averaging over 5 yards per carry. He is known as one of the best running backs in the NFL by several of his peers. That same year, the Raiders drafted CB Tyvon Branch from UConn. Al Davis immediately converted Branch to Strong Safety, as he was very physical during his collegiate days and ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Branch did not have a shaky start in the NFL. He just needed an opportunity to show what he is capable of. He got that his second season in the league, as he has recorded over 100 tackles in each season since then.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Matt Shaughnessy are notables who were in their 3rd season in the pros last year. DHB had bust written all over him, but somehow emerged from the darkness last season and silenced several critics. He had 65 catches, and was just 25 yards shy of recording his first 1,000-yard season. Shaughnessy gained respect from his peers his second season, in which he started only 8 games and managed to record 7 sacks. Not bad for a guy who is acknowledged by teammate Richard Seymour as the “best run-stopping DE in the league.” NFL Networks’ Jason La Canfora had Shaughnessy as a breakout player for the 2011 season, for he was still not heavily regarded around the league. Unfortunately, Shaughnessy suffered a broken shoulder in the 3rd game of the season last year against the New York Jets, and missed the remainder of the season. His presence was immediately missed, as the Raiders failed several times to get off the field; giving up long runs and big plays through the air. If Shaughnessy stays healthy, expect a good year from the Raiders defensive line.
As we are just a few weeks away from the start of the 2012 season, 2010 draft picks MLB Rolando McClain, WR Jacoby Ford, DL Lamarr Houston and LT Jared Veldheer are potentials for us to keep an eye on this season. They are all in their 3rd season, so what should we expect from these key players?
Veldheer had an above average sophomore season in the league. He held his ground against pass rushers like Jared Allen (did not touch the quarterback once) and Tamba Hali. One person we saw him struggle against was Bears’ DE Julius Peppers. Peppers had 5 tackles and 2 sacks that game. He would have had 3, but Carson Palmer through a ball up for grabs that was intercepted, rather than just taking the sack. Like Veldheer, Lamarr Houston and Rolando McClain have significant pressure on their shoulders.
Houston has to prove himself because the Raiders are now loaded on the defensive front. They acquired free agent DE Dave Tollefson, while also drafting DE Jack Crawford. One can argue that Shaughnessy, Seymour and Tommy Kelly’s starting jobs are secure. Houston has to worry about losing playing time to those two, along with versatile DL Desmond Bryant who can play in all 4 spots on the defensive front.
McClain has to worry about rookie Miles Burris, who can play either LB position, as well as off-the-field problems; wondering if Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to come down hard on him for his previous arrest.
Jacoby Ford is already in the Raiders history books, as he holds a franchise record for most Kick Returns in team history. But will he get more playing time at WR? He is penciled in as the #3 WR on the depth chart for now. He is great in the slot, and can do damage on the outside if he gets the chance. But the Raiders are strong at WR. The projected starters are Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. But rookies Juron Criner (5th round selection, Arizona) and Rod Streater (undrafted free agent, Temple) are turning heads in camp and fighting for position. No one on the Raiders roster is a better return specialist than Ford, and he is a decent WR. But with the new Zone-Blocking Scheme, Ford’s height (5-9) might be his biggest weakness by default. ZBS offenses often feature big WRs who do not have to have lightening speed, as the play action and quarterback boots create great opportunities for them. We will see what lies ahead for the 3rd year WR.
In 2013, will the Raiders’ entire 2011 draft class shine? C Stefen Wisniewski, CBs DeMarcus Van **** and Chimdi Chekwa, T Joseph Barksdale, WR Denarius Moore, TEs David Ausberry and Richard Gordon, and RB Taiwan Jones were all featured in that draft class. All, with the exception of Taiwan Jones and one of the TEs could be starters this upcoming season, depending on how they do in Training Camp. Only time will tell what the future holds for the new regime of the Silver and Black.