It was a season of transition for the Raiders. They were finally taken seriously after seven previous seasons of failure. It was also the season of the rookie. The 2010 rookie class shaped up to be the best class in years and possibly one of the best ever.
This team showed up in all phases this season. They may not have been able to show up in all phases all the time but they showed flashes of stellar play and the potential of dominating teams in the future.
Many of the contributions came from unexpected places which makes sense considering there wasn’t a whole lot of great play to be had in previous seasons. But this season it appeared the consistently good players merged with some new playmakers. And the result was the best season in eight years.
Here are the players that helped to make the difference:
He finished the season with 1157 yards rushing to jump into the top five Raider single-season rushing performances all-time. He also became the first Raider since Marcus Allen in 1985 to have over 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. His efforts had him as a Baller 8 times during the season and was the top baller 3 times. After just one game in which he rushed for over 100 yards in his first two seasons, he surpassed the century mark 6 times in 2010. His best performances came in a week two win over the Rams in which he had 145 yards on the ground, his huge game in week 7 in which he rushed for 165 yards and had 3 touchdowns, and the game in Jacksonville in which he had 123 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.
Overall, he ran with a renewed fire combined with a technique no one had seen from him before. While in his first two seasons he seemed like a one trick pony (and that trick rarely worked), he had a whole new bag of tricks this season. He would find a hole, shoot through it, bounce off tacklers, put on spin moves right out of Madden NFL 2010, stutter step to freeze would-be tacklers, and then just run away from them. And when a tackler had him wrapped up, he did something that had rarely been seen from him in the NFL — he ran them over to finish the run. The result was a Pro Bowl calibre season in rushing yards as well as 10 total touchdowns. He did get injured twice during the season which caused him to miss 3 games. But he finally showed just what he is capable of when he is fully healthy. And that was tremendous good news for the Raiders.
He led the Raiders’ now very formidable defensive line. He set a new season best in tackles (48) for his career and it earned him his first Pro Bowl nod since 2006. He was also named a Baller 7 times while getting to top Baller once. Even when he wasn’t making tackles, he was bringing up the play of those around him. He helped the man to his left, Tommy Kelly, have his best season in years and the man to his right, Matt Shaughnessy, was freed up to make plays as well.
His best game of the season was indicative of his ability to make his teammates better. It was the week 8 win over the Seahawks in which he anchored the line to completely stuff the Seahawks at the line of scrimmage. He had just 3 tackles in that game, but two of those tackles were sacks. The other remarkable thing was that he helped his linemates each earn 3 tackles as well. His best statistical game was the week 9 win over the Chiefs in which he had 8 combined tackles. He missed the final two games of the season with an injury and will not be able to play in the Pro Bowl but he earned the first round pick that was given up for him. His fine play also helped the Raiders lower that first round pick given up for him.
He went down with an injury in week 8 after just one catch in that game. He would miss the next game and be hobbled by the injury for the following three weeks. In that five game stretch, he had just five catches and he STILL led the Raiders in catches (60) and receiving yards (685). He was named a Baller 7 times during the season and was top Baller once. He continues to be the Raiders’ most reliable receiver. Some might point to the Raiders’ pathetic receiving corps as to why Zach has such good numbers. That may be why he leads the team every season but even if the team had more reliable receiving threats, Zach would still be a Pro Bowl calibre tight end. Speaking of which, this season he was finally recognized for his contributions by being named a Pro Bowl alternate. It is not revealed yet what level of alternate he is but considering Antonio Gates was the only AFC tight end to have better numbers than Zach across the board, he deserves to be first alternate. His value to this team cannot be understated.
He led the Raiders in sacks (9.0) from the strongside linebacker position. He came over to the Raiders in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in the hopes that the Raiders would finally be able to find a guy who could be that strongside linebacker they have sorely lacked for so very long. Wimbley was that and more. He was named a Baller 5 times this season and topped the list twice. He saved his best for last when in the season finale he racked up 3.0 sacks and had an overall great game. The Raiders got him to help fix their run defense issues. Not only did he help in that area but he added a pass rushing threat and even played well when dropping back into coverage.
He was a Baller 5 times during the season but that in no way describes his value to this Raider defense. As if we needed a reminder of how valuable he is, he went down with an ankle injury midseason and we saw all the evidence that was needed. The Raiders struggled mightily trying to patch up the gushing leak that was created. Suddenly the opposition was able to pass seemingly at will on the Raiders and no matter who the Raiders put in Nnamdi’s place, it led to terrible results.
Asomugha came back when he was still struggling with his injury and had his only bad game of the season. He gave up 4 catches for 69 yards in that game. The rest of the season he gave up just 9 catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns. Just as impressive is the total of 33 times his receiver was targeted. At midseason, I predicted that he would get more passes thrown his way and subsequently actually get a chance to put up some stats. But those passes didn’t materialize and Nnamdi was named to the Pro Bowl just as he had been in the two previous seasons due to his lockdown abilities.
Let me just say this right off, being a rookie has nothing to do with Ford being on this list. Nor does being a rookie ever factor in my decision to name a player a Baller or a Buster. No, Ford earned his way as a Baller regardless of any outside influence. He started off this season not looking too good. He was a Buster twice before he made a single positive play. He didn’t have his coming out party until week nine of the season. But when he came out, WOW.
His first play was a kick return for a touchdown to get the Raiders in the game against the Chiefs. And then he single-handedly won the game for the Raiders. He had catches to help tie the game and then another catch in overtime to put the game away. He would be a Baller a total of 5 times in the last half of the season and was top Baller twice. One was the Chiefs game and the other was two games later against the Dolphins in which he nearly duplicated his play in the win over the Chiefs.
In the Dolphin game he took the opening kickoff for a touchdown and later had a catch he took away from the defender just as he had at the end of the Chiefs game. Also, yet again, he led the team in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns, return yards. Despite his late start, he was second among receivers on this team in receiving yards (470) and he led the team in yards per catch by a long shot (18.8). He was also third on the team in touchdowns (7).
Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaughnessy, Lamarr Houston, Mike Waufle
These three joined with Richard Seymour to form a tag team of destruction this season, with their line coach as the orchestrator. It is hard to pinpoint which of these three linemen is more important. They all had their moments and they all equally solidified the Raider defensive line. Waufle came over this season from the Giants, where he had some pretty dominant defensive lines, to put it all together. Between Kelly, Shaughnessy, and Houston there were 12 Baller nods including the week 8 win over the Seahawks in which they all shared top Baller honors.
Kelly didn’t get a lot of notariety from week to week but he was the most consistent of the group and was named a Pro Bowl alternate because of it.
Shaughnessy shot out of the gates this season to earn being named a three time top Baller. He cooled off a little to end the season but certainly didn’t disappear. Offenses just stopped testing him as often. But when they tested other parts of the line, it yielded similar results.
Another member of the great rookie class this year who came on in the latter part of the season is Lamarr Houston. He started the year as the punching bag on the right side for opposing offenses. They knew that when they needed yards on the ground, his gap was where they would target. But in the second half of the season, that all changed. He was a Baller 4 times over the final 7 games of this season. In those games, he not only looked like he had finally figured things out technically, but there was no one who played with more passion and fire than he did. He looked angry on every play. And with his improved play, the Raiders defensive line was complete.
He was extremely valuable to this team in many ways. First off, he was the Raiders short yardage and redzone back. He was given the ball when the Raiders needed to grind out tough yardage. He was the guy they gave the ball to when they needed to pound it into the endzone. He was able to get 8 touchdowns on the season out of it. Just as important was his role in relief of Darren McFadden. DMac missed four games this season and when the team needed Bush to step up, he did, including the final game of the season in which he ran for 137 yards and a touchdown. He also played extensively in the week 5 win over the Chargers and had 104 yards and a touchdown in that game. The Raiders have two great backs in McFadden and Bush of whom either one could be the feature back on this team.