Raiders position analysis: Special Teams

The Oakland Raiders headed into the 2010 draft looking for a kick returner after an unimpressive campaign in 2009 left them with two different fullbacks returning kickoffs at different times during the season. They appear to have found the answer to their woes with the emergence of Clemson standout, Jacoby Ford. Ford was the life of the party in the second half of 2010 and adds to an already impressive special teams unit for the Raiders. Let’s take a closer look.

Starters:

K Sebastian Janikowski

Is there a better kicker in the league? The folks who vote players into the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro teams seem to think there is, but I disagree. Perhaps back in the days of Jason Elam, Pete Stoyanovich, or before Adam Vinatieri was an extra point specialist, you could make an argument. But Janikowski is currently the best kicker in the league, hands down. He had a bit of a rough road reaching the level he is at now, but since 2009, he has been nearly automatic — with just the bad game at Arizona in week 3 of 2010 as his one blemish. The sky is the limit for Jano and I can only see him going up from here. There is no doubt in my mind that he will one day break the record for the longest converted field goal in NFL history.

P Shane Lechler

Lechler proved he is not one for shying away from the boss when following the season he basically called Al Davis out for the release of Tom Cable. But, then again, Lechler has never been one to shy away from anybody. He’s always been outspoken and candid and certainly has a right to be. Lechler is the best punter in the league and is well on his way to passing Ray Guy to become the best Raider punter ever. Lechler is also the holder during Janikowski’s field goal attempts and the chemistry between the two players has become the stuff of Raider legend. The two are deservedly the highest paid specialists in football.

LS Jon Condo

He made it to the Pro Bowl two seasons ago to accompany all-world punter Shane Lechler. Long snapper is a job that can go virtually unnoticed in the NFL — if it’s done right. Which means that Condo does his job unfailingly. If you want to see how important a good long snapper is in the NFL, you need only ask the San Diego Chargers who went through five different long snappers early last season. In the first meeting last season, the Raiders were twice able to shoot through the middle of the Chargers line to block the punt — one of which was recovered for a touchdown. So, yeah, it’s pretty important. Condo is also a linebacker by trade which means that after he snaps the ball, he can get down field to cover on returns — another task at which he is exceptional.

KR Jacoby Ford

As has been mentioned more than once on this site, Jacoby Ford was largely responsible for points scored in the second half of the 2010 season for the Raiders. When the Raiders drafted Ford, they found not only a valuable kick returner, they also stumbled upon an up and coming young talent at wide receiver. Coming out of Clemson,Ford showed he had the hands to play wide receiver at the next level. I thought at the time that if he could improve his route running he’d have a chance to be something special. Unfortunately, as far as kick returns go, the NFL is currently trying to do away with the storied tradition. We should all write to our congressman about this one — I want to see Ford break Devin Hester’s record!

PR Nick Miller

Miller is another young player with the opportunity to be a special player for the Raiders. He’s got the heart of a lion and I don’t know anyone who deserves an E for effort more than he does. When Miller first stepped on the field as the punt returner it seemed as though he didn’t want to call for a fair catch. And for a while he did a fine job of making the first guy miss. But after a muffed punt and a few close calls, somebody must’ve gotten in his ear about playing it safe. Still, I can’t blame Miller for wanting to make the most of his opportunities. Thus far in his young career, those opportunities have been few and far between.

Depth:

KR Rock Cartwright

A lot of people know who this guy is after just one season in Silver and Black. That’s impressive because he is mostly a special teams player and a valuable back-up. Many people know his name from his time with the Washington Redskins or his history with Jason Campbell, but Cartwright made sure everyone knew who he was and that performance earned him the Commitment to Excellence award in early 2011. Rock is re-signed and will be back in 2011.

PR Johnnie Lee Higgins

Higgins has been up and down since it looked like he was about to break loose at the end of 2008. He just hasn’t been the same player since Eric Weddle took him clean out of his jockstrap in the 2009 season opener. Higgins is currently walking the proverbial tight rope with the Raiders and it’s unknown at this point if his services will be required moving forward. I know this much is true: it doesn’t look good for him.

Position Analysis:

The Raiders have a very strong unit in special teams, but this is nothing new for them. After the 2009 season, John Fassel made me wonder if he was going to be able to pull it all together. But in 2010 he appeared to have grasped the concepts left behind by his predecessor. With special team contributors like long snapper Jon Condo, linebacker Sam Williams, safeties Hiram Eugene and Tyvon Branch, as well as newcomer Stevie Brown, this is one of the strongest parts of the team moving forward into this new decade of Raiders’ football.

Roster Status: Strong

Also see position analyses:

Safety   I    Linebacker    I    Cornerback    I    Defensive End    I    Defensive Tackle

Quarterback   l   Running Back   l   Wide Receiver   l   Tight End   l   Offensive Tackle   l   Guard/Center  

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