First off let me say, the state of the Raiders is strong. They are a team on the rise with building blocks for the future and very few glaring need areas. They head into this draft looking to get stronger at certain positions. This is in contrast to their approach to the draft in seasons past in which they have had serious gaping holes to fill.
On offense they will look to solidify the offensive line first and foremost. That could begin at the guard position where Robert Gallery will need to be replaced as he is leaving in free agency. Gallery’s capable backup from last season, Daniel Loper was re-signed to a long term contract but he will likely not be handed the job. There was clearly a drop off in production from the left guard spot last season when he was in compared to a healthy Robert Gallery.
At the other guard spot there is veteran Cooper Carlisle who is a holdover from the zone blocking days in Oakland which have now officially ended. Carlisle is one of the few Raider lineman who is under contract so he will be back next year. However, the Raiders will need to think about either replacing him as the starter, grooming his eventual replacement, or replacing him outright.
The tackle position is also a little suspect. The left tackle position is held down by last year’s rookie third round pick, Jared Veldheer. However, he currently has no one to back him up at that spot.
On the right side, there is a big question mark—two of them as a matter of fact. Starter Langston Walker as well as backup Mario Henderson are both set to be free agents. It remains to be seen if the Raiders will make a push to sign either or both of them. Al Davis and the Raiders enjoy the mystery behind this as it leaves teams wondering who they will be choosing with their selections. One thing is nearly certain, they will be choosing at least one offensive tackle in the draft. They can’t afford not to even if Henderson and Walker return. They will need more depth and young competition at the position.
The Raiders felt much more comfortable with Samson Satele at the center position near the end of last season. That was when the team began playing more power blocking schemes instead of zone. Satele was long seen as a guy who would thrive in a zone blocking scheme because of his athleticism. But that turned out not to be the case. The team has placed an original round two tender on him so he is in the teams plans for at least the immediate future. There is still the possibility of drafting someone to groom and perhaps eventually replace him.
The running back tandem of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden proved to be a potent one last season. As long as the team can keep them together, they will have continued success. Bush had the highest franchise tender of a first and third round pick placed on him in an attempt to keep him on the team until a long term deal can be reached, likely next offseason.
Jason Campbell is entrenched as the starting quarterback after he gained the respect of head coach Hue Jackson in the latter have of last season. The Raiders have Kyle Boller as his primary backup at the moment but there is a good chance they draft a quarterback if they like someone in the mid to late rounds. He could hold the clip board for a season or two, or take Boller’s job as the primary backup.
The wide receiving corp is very shoddy, but there are a lot of borderline talent in the group. No telling if Darrius Heyward-Bey’s honeymoon period is over yet. My guess is that it is and without significant improvement, he won’t be a starter next season. Chaz Schilens is the most talented receiver on the team but he can’t be counted on to stay healthy. Jacoby Ford is a freak of nature in both his speed and catching abilities. If he continues to impress, he could be the number one starter. Louis Murphy can be a solid number two receiver. He has shown flashes of brilliance and is one of the best blocking receivers in the game. There is no one to speak of past them which leaves one roster spot open. My guess is they will take the tried and true method they used in nabbing Ford and Murphy—wait until the mid-rounds, and get the best receiver still on the board.
The Raiders’ best receiver comes at the tight end position with Zach Miller. He too had the highest franchise tender placed on him this offseason. But after him, there is a cavernous drop off. Brandon Myers is not getting it done. He is neither the blocking tight end they need, nor the second tight end receiving threat. The Raiders will be drafting a tight end with one or both of those qualities.
The defensive line is the strongest area of this Raider team. The defensive tackle position is strong and deep. The starters at defensive end are Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston and both are solid. The need here is in depth. There are no good defensive ends behind Shaughnessy and Houston. They will need to think about addressing it later in the draft.
With the team either continuing to mix in 3-4 looks or switching over completely, there is a need at linebacker. Mostly the weak side could use some completion for Quentin Groves and Trevor Scott but also some depth on the strong side behind Kamerion Wimbley is needed.
With Michael Huff’s contract up, and the Raiders appearing not to be interested in re-signing him, they will be looking for a free safety. Typically Raider free safeties are long and fast and have the ability to line up at nickel corner from time to time.
The next biggest need on the team outside of the offensive line is cornerback. Whether Nnamdi Asomugha leaves as a free agent or not, the position is weak. If he does leave, it will be downright desperate. And with the team not knowing whether he is staying or going before the draft, they will have to draft assuming he won’t be around. That means a cornerback with either their first pick at #48 or their next pick in the third round. And of course, as in the case of Fabian Washington, they could also have a guy like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith targeted and jump into the lower portion of round one to get him.
This is how the Raiders look at each position heading into the draft. If they didn’t have any picks, they would still be in better shape than half the teams in the NFL next year. This allows them the luxury of getting just what they want and not acting in desperation.
I will check back with the state of the Raiders post-draft, next week. Until then, stop in on our live draft blog tomorrow which we will be running from Raider headquarters in Alameda every day of the draft.