AFC West Draft Needs: Oakland Raiders
Oakland recorded its seventh consecutive season with 11 losses or more in 2009. The franchise is in disarray and needs stability in the front office to get back on track, but Al Davis isn’t likely to give up control anytime soon. That being said, the Raiders will continue to operate in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, and are sure to surprise again on draft day.
The team will make eight selections spread over every round with exception to the sixth. They currently hold picks 8, 39, 69, 106, 138, 158, 215 and 251.
JaMarcus Russell has yet to prove he deserves a job in the NFL. The former No. 1 overall pick regressed in his third year and managed to complete just 48.8 percent of his passes while tossing 11 interceptions and just three touchdowns. Russell was benched by week 10 in favor of Bruce Gradkowski, who showed a lot of promise. In his four-week span as a starter, Gradkowski threw six touchdowns with just one interception and led the team to wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. He showed a lot of promise, but unfortunately his season was cut short after he sustained an injury against Washington. Russell has reportedly lost a lot of weight in the offseason and should battle with Gradkowski for the starting job. But until someone steps up and proves they’re a starting caliber quarterback, it will remain the top need.
The offensive line has to do a better job of protecting if they expect the quarterback to have success, regardless of who’s starting. Last season, the Raiders offensive front gave up 49 sacks, the third-highest total in the league. Some of the blame can be placed on Russell, as he frequently held on to the ball too long, but the blocking was still sub-par. Mario Henderson was suspect at left tackle and can be upgraded. Right tackle might be an even bigger problem, as Cornell Green racked up penalties and was let go in free agency. Langston Walker re-signed, but he should be no more than a versatile backup. Oakland may look to address their need at offensive tackle with the eighth overall pick.
Last April, the Raiders invested two draft picks in young wide receivers. Louis Murphy was a pleasant surprise, but Darrius Heyward-Bey did little besides fly down the field. Chaz Schilens has great size and could be a decent player, but Johnnie Lee Higgins is nothing special. Oakland is unlikely to add a whole lot to their receiving corps given what they’ve already invested, but selecting a savvy route runner with sure hands would be a solid investment, especially if Gradkowski ends up being the quarterback.
Oakland’s defense was a disaster when it came to stopping the run. The Raiders allowed 155.5 yards on the ground per game, ranking as the fourth-worst unit in the league. The problem starts at defensive tackle. Tommy Kelly isn’t worth $50.5 million but he’s still a decent player. Gerard Warren was released in the offseason, leaving Kelly as the only viable starter on the roster. Oakland desperately needs a big interior presence to help stop the run.
The line deserves much of the blame for the defense’s inability to stop the run, but not all of it. Some of the problem is due to the linebackers. Kirk Morrison has started every game but one in his five-year career, but the team continues to be down on him. They gave a strong indication of this when they assigned an original-round tender to the linebacker while putting a second-rounder on backup Ricky Brown. Morrison isn’t stout against the run and a change could be coming soon. Elsewhere among the linebackers, Trevor Scott will be the starter on the weakside but Thomas Howard is miscast on the strongside. Oakland should address this need at some point, at least to grab some players capable of pushing the starters.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: Richard Seymour (franchised at $12.398M)
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: K Sebastian Janikowski (re-signed for four years at $16M), DT William Joseph (re-signed for one year), C John Wade (wasn’t re-signed), T Langston Walker (re-signed), LB Sam Williams (wasn’t re-signed), T Cornell Green (wasn’t re-signed)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Kirk Morrison (received original-round tender at $2.524M and signed), LB Thomas Howard (received second-round tender at $1.759M and signed), LB Ricky Brown (received second-round tender at $1.759M and signed), LB Jon Alston (wasn’t tendered), QB Charlie Frye (received original-round tender at $1.226M and signed), T Khalif Barnes (wasn’t tendered, re-signed), CB Stanford Routt (received first- and third-round tender at $3.268M), QB Bruce Gradkowski (received second-round tender at $1.759M and signed), FB Luke Lawton (received right of first refusal tender at $1.176M and signed), S Hiram Eugene (received second-round tender at $1.759M and signed), C Chris Morris (received original-round tender at $1.101M and signed), QB J.P. Losman (not tendered), RB Gary Russell (not tendered), LS Jon Condo (received second-round tender at $1.684M and signed)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: WR Jonathan Holland (tendered and signed), LB David Nixon (tendered and signed), WR Todd Watkins (tendered and signed)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: K Sebastian Janikowski, DT William Joseph, T Langston Walker, LB Kirk Morrison, LB Thomas Howard, LB Ricky Brown, QB Charlie Frye, T Khalif Barnes, QB Bruce Gradkowski, FB Luke Lawton, S Hiram Eugene, C Chris Morris, LS Jon Condo, WR Jonathan Holland, LB David Nixon, WR Todd Watkins
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: QB Kyle Boller, DE Kamerion Wimbley (via trade with Cleveland), WR Yamon Figurs
PLAYERS LOST: C John Wade, LB Sam Williams, T Cornell Green (signed with Buffalo), LB Jon Alston (signed with Tampa Bay), QB J.P. Losman, RB Gary Russell, DE Greg Ellis, RB Justin Fargas, WR Javon Walker, DT Gerrard Warren
QUARTERBACK -- JaMarcus Russell has reportedly trimmed down to a cool 270 pounds and Bruce Gradkowski showed a lot of promise last season. The two will battle for the starting job in training camp. Still, neither has proven himself a legitimate starter at this level and until someone does, quarterback remains the top need.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE -- The Raiders could use help on both sides, but right tackle is a glaring need. Cornell Green is gone, Khalif Barnes isn’t the answer and Langston Walker should be a backup. Mario Henderson was average at best on the left side, so they could stand to upgrade there as well.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- Oakland couldn’t stop anyone’s rushing attack last season. They allowed a league-high 24 rushing touchdowns and ranked 29th as they gave up 155.5 yards per game on the ground. Getting a stout run defender along the interior is a pressing need for this defense.
LINEBACKER -- Once upon a time, Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard were young up-and-comers who looked destined to become mainstays in the Raiders defense. Now, the two have fallen out of favor as Morrison is poor against the run and Howard is playing out of position on the strongside. Changes could be made in the linebacking corps very soon.
WIDE RECEIVER -- Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy look promising, but Darrius Heyward-Bey was disappointing. He’s still very young and the expectations put on him were unfair. Even polished rookie receivers struggle. Heyward-Bey was more of an athlete than a true receiver, so he faced an even steeper learning curve. He’ll need to take big strides in 2010. The Raiders have invested a lot in their receivers as is, but selecting a solid route runner with reliable hands would be a nice addition.