Since the Raider Nation didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas (a winning season and OC Greg Knapp’s dismissal before the end of the season), it’s not too soon to start making a list for that other season of joy: April’s NFL draft.
Sunday’s 24-21 defeat at the hands of the equally troubled San Diego Chargers had some definitive highs and lows for the Raiders as they head into the off-season The Silver and Black have a ton of needs, so let’s start the New Year right by listing the Raider’s highest priorities (as I see it) unit by unit.
Defensive line: A unit that was supposed to be a strength again was a huge weakness. Tommy Kelly has plateaued with more personal fouls and second-man-in cheap shots than big plays this year. Richard Seymour’s time in Silver and Black is done after four mostly unproductive years. Lamarr Houston has become a solid if unspectacular player, whose 4.5 sacks is enough to warrant backup status. Matt Shaughnessy stayed healthy this year only to put up puny numbers (31 tackles, 3.5 sacks).
There are no playmakers at all here, on a team that once prided itself on getting to the quarterback. This group was so bad, I’m not sure that Howie Long couldn’t take off his three thousand dollar suit, come down from the FOX set and not be the best DE on the squad. Grade F
Linebackers: There was nothing to write home about with this unit, but of the defensive squad as a whole, this group probably had the best performance. Phillip Wheeler was passable as the new free agent addition and Travis Goethel had some flashes of ability as rookie. That said, the Rolando McClain suspension nonsense of mid-season highlighted one of the great under-performing players for the Raiders in this recent era (and yes, I’m counting JaMarcus Russell in that statement).
McClain either can’t or won’t perform at the level expected since he came from the University of Alabama. The only reason he made it to the end of the season on the team was for salary cap reasons. Grade D+
Secondary: Frankly, a huge need from before the season started and one that was not addressed during the season. 15 takeways in 16 games is extremely poor. When your best player in the defensive backfield is a safety converted to corner in Michael Huff, you’re in big trouble in the modern pass-happy NFL. The current safety tandem of Tyvon Branch and Matt Giordano produced some of the lowest tackle totals in the NFL. The corner position opposite Huff was a revolving door, ending up with street free agents like Joselio Hanson starting for the team after Week 13. Frankly, this was the worst unit in the NFL when one looks at talent, production and big plays. Grade F
Offensive Line: Awful play in an awful scheme. The Raiders had the worst of both worlds when it came to the offensive line. Guys playing in a scheme not suited for their skills and battling injuries and blown assignments. While Khalif Barnes and Cooper Carlisle were the highly visible members of the O-Line who played poorly, a big piece of humble pie has to be served to Mike Bresiel, who came from Houston to solidify the Zone Blocking scheme of Greg Knapp. As the Raiders only real free agent upgrade on this unit, Bresiel was a big disappointment. Knapp’s dismissal on the 31st promises big changes with maybe only Stefen Wizniewski having an argument to return in 2013. Grade F
Wide receivers and Tight Ends: A weird mixture of indifferent play and unfulfilled potential. Jacoby Ford’s lost season didn’t help this group, who still should have had a better 2012.
Rod Streater did make some big plays as a rookie and Brandon Myers became dependable to catch the ball at TE (if not to block). But Darrius Heyward-Bey slipped back significantly despite showing signs in 2011 and Denarius Moore was a disaster after a breakout rookie year. 51 receptions for 741 yards and 7 touchdowns sounds decent for Moore, but when you couple the drops and the INTs to his side of the field, he under-performed, big time.
Some blame can go to Carson Palmer here, but many fans and observes noted that Moore’s body language and attention to detail were poor. Again, the Raiders seem to find the SEC players who don’t perform on the NFL level. Grade C-
Running Backs: Disaster all around. Darren McFadden averaged a career low 3.3 yards a carry in 2012. The scheme problems and lack of running holes were an ongoing problem for the O-Line and I am on the record that DMC is likely to want out of town via trade this off-season. Grade F
Quarterback: This is one area that I am not as gloomy about after Sunday’s finale. While head coach Dennis Allen clearly preferred Carson Palmer to his other options, Terrelle Pryor’s performance against the Chargers showed something
Palmer is the classic “glass-half-full, half-empty” NFL player. His final line for 2012 after sitting out the last game: 345 completions, 61% rate, 4018 yards for 22 touchdowns and 14 INTS for a 85.3 rating. All pretty standard numbers near his career totals and close to being Pro Bowl level, right? But, when you analyze when those touchdowns came (many times after the Raiders were behind double digits) and when the INTs were thrown (more than half in the fourth quarter), then you may see a guy who isn’t playing at an elite level anymore.
Sabermetricians will tell you that Palmer is fine based on the numbers. But my eye test tells me that he’s not the guy to get this team back into contention. If Palmer was in a better, more veteran environment, maybe he could not have to be counted on to win games in crunch time. But, given the tools he has, I don’t see him as a dynamic, “I’m-gonna-be-the-reason-we win” type of leader.
I concede Palmer may be the best option to start with next year, but given what we saw Sunday, Pryor might be able to beat him out in a camp competition if given a fair chance.
Much ink has been spilled about whether Pryor can run an NFL team and his 13 for 28 for 150 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 INT on Sunday wasn’t the stuff of legend. But, he ran the team efficiently, moved the ball at times and didn’t seem overwhelmed. Pryor is raw, but oozing with talent. The league as a whole is moving towards his style of quarterback: big, mobile, able to make plays with their feet and their arms.
The Raider Nation needs to do nothing else but look across the Bay to see how this kind of player can make an immediate impact. I’m not saying Pryor is on the same level as Colin Kaepernick (at this moment). I am saying the Raiders have nothing to lose by taking a chance to see if Pryor is that kind of player. Grade C+
Special Teams: The most consistent unit in the NFL is threaten with being broken up if management doesn’t want to make Shane Lechler the highest paid punter in league history.
Honestly, I can see both sides of this. Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski have been the best special team duo of all time, consistently doing their jobs at a Hall of Fame level (if the HOF ever took kickers). And the Raiders have had one winning season in their careers.
The team probably can go 4-12 without Shane booming punts everywhere. Conversely, on a good team, Shane would be lethal.
Imagine what the Patriots or the 49ers could do if they pinned everyone down inside the 20 yard line. The horror… (I’m not advocating for this, Nation, but trust me, Shane’s agent is)
Lechler deserves his money. But the Raiders could use his $4 million dollars elsewhere on the team. This may come down how much Jano and Shane want to keep the band together. Grade A.
I will address the coaching staff changes in a future post, but what does the Nation think about the team’s immediate needs and who they should be looking at in the draft. Let us know at BaySportsNut.com!
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