Next up on our 32 NFL Team Preview is the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders haven’t made the Playoffs since 2002, when they won the AFC and took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII (37). Since that season, the Raiders have gone 49-111. Last year they hired Dennis Allen as Head Coach and Reggie McKenzie as General Manager. Allen had only been a Defensive Coordinator for one season with Denver before the Raiders hired him. McKenzie is a person I believe can help bring Oakland’s glory days back. He held the Director of Player Personnel position with the Green Bay Packers before coming to the Raiders.
Offense: Dennis Allen named newly acquired Quarterback Matt Flynn as the starter over Terrelle Pryor, until the competition for the job dictates otherwise. Pryor doesn’t have too much game experience with the Raiders and can be a duel threat at the position. He needs to get a better handle on the passing aspects of the game. Flynn shined when he was put in the game with Green Bay, and went to Seattle in 2012 with hopes of being the starter, but lost the job to Russell Wilson in training camp. In his situational opportunities over 5 seasons, Flynn has a 61.7% completion percentage on 141 attempts, with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. I don’t think either Quarterback will be the savior of this organization, but Flynn should do a pretty decent job leading at the helm. Tyler Wilson is an honorable mention, but he needs time to understand Defenses better before he can step on the field. Oakland has a very good Running Back in Darren McFadden. He’s a threat with the ball in his hands and is also an excellent pass catcher. Unfortunately, McFadden hasn’t been able to be healthy for a full 16-game season in his 5-year career. McFadden had a career low in yards per carry last season, he only averaged 3.3. To backup McFadden, the Raiders signed Rashad Jennings in Free Agency, and drafted Latavius Murray with their 181st pick. I believe Murray will win the backup role. In the last 3 seasons at Central Florida, Murray averaged over 5.5 yards per carry with 2,292 yards and 34 touchdowns. Whoever is carrying the ball, Oakland needs to improve upon their 28th ranked rushing Offense. The Wide Receivers have pretty good depth for the Raiders. Denarius Moore led the team with 7 receiving touchdowns last season. Moore was benched for dropped passes in 2012, but is a very good talent. Rod Streater and Juron Criner are entering their 2nd season in the NFL and are full of promise. Streater led the team in yards per reception for 2012, with 15.0. Jacoby Ford is a very speedy guy who can catch you off guard if not accounted for, but missed all of last year with a foot injury. Josh Cribbs was brought in during the offseason and also is a player who can surprise you with his speed. Neither Ford nor Cribbs have been able to prove that they are consistent Wide Receivers, and are really better as return men in the kicking game. A wildcard is Conner Vernon from Duke University. Vernon is the All-Time leader in the ACC for receptions. He had 283 catches for 3,749 yards, and 20 touchdowns in his 4-year college career. Vernon should be a vital asset on 3rd downs. The Tight Ends might be the most questionable part about the Oakland Offense. David Ausberry hasn’t ever done anything worth mentioning, Richard Gordon is more of the run blocking type, and both Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera were selected in the 6th round of this year’s NFL Draft. All four will be competing in Training Camp for the starting Tight End job. The Offensive Line starts with Jared Veldheer. Veldheer looks like the incredible hulk at this moment; he looks like he’s done nothing but lift weights throughout the entire offseason. He has only allowed 8 sacks in his last 32 starts and will be the Raiders starting Left Tackle. Menelik Watson will be starting on the opposite side of Veldheer and was considered to be the best Right Tackle prospect in the 2013 Draft. The ex-Florida State Seminole should make an immediate impact. Tony Bergstrom will go into his 2nd NFL season as the starting Left Guard. On the right will be Mike Brisiel, a 6-year veteran. He only allowed 1 sack in 15 games last season, but accounted for 9 penalties. Stefen Wisniewski will get the nod at Center. Wisniewski was Oakland’s 1st selection at the 48th overall pick in the 2011 Draft. If the Raider Offense can find a rhythm in the running game, they should finish better than 18th ranked in Total Offense, as per 2012. The 8th ranked passing attack last year must keep up that level of consistency, even with a new Quarterback.
Defense: The Secondary for Oakland might be their strongest resource on Defense in the 2013 campaign. Strong Safety Tyvon Branch makes his presence known when he’s on the field, and some feel he’s been snubbed for a Pro Bowl appearance a few times. Charles Woodson will make a return to the silver and black, and should be the teams starting Free Safety. With the 12th overall pick in the Draft this year, Oakland picked up D.J. Hayden out of Houston University. Hayden only played 2 years for the Cougars, is extremely physical (which you love in a Cornerback), and posted 6 interceptions with 3 touchdowns. Hayden will more than likely be the player the Raiders will line up against the opponent’s best Wide Receiver. There may be some growing pains for him but he should turn out just fine. Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter were both brought in via Free Agency. Porter fought effects from a seizure he had last August and didn’t play much in 2012. Jenkins never could really live up to the expectations in Dallas that come with being a 1st round pick. He’ll be looking to rejuvenate himself in Oakland, as it might be the last stop of his career. The Oakland Linebacker corps has a lot of questions surrounding them. The one bright spot is Sio Moore, who was possibly the steal of the Draft, will be playing Outside Linebacker. Moore should be a pass rush specialist, as he tallied 44 sacks in his college career at Connecticut. Some question his abilities in coverage. Nick Roach is listed as an Outside Linebacker, but I feel he might be better fighting for the Inside position with veteran Kevin Burnett. Roach did a decent job of filling in for injured Brian Urlacher last season and is eager to take full advantage of his opportunity in Oakland. Kaluka Maiava, Kaelin Burnett (younger brother of Kevin) and Miles Burris will be competing for the other Outside Linebacker spot. Maiava is more of a Special Teams player. If Roach can win the Inside Linebacker job like I am thinking, there’s a strong possibility that Kevin Burnett could fill this role. Lamarr Houston heads the Defensive Line. Houston needs to have a breakout season by putting pressure on the Quarterback, if Oakland wants to succeed. He’s only totaled 10 sacks in his 3-year career so far and had 4 last season. Andre Carter was brought back for his 13th NFL season, and over the last 7 years has had double digit sacks, every other year. Seeing as how he only recorded 2.5 last season, the Raiders hope that trend continues. Jason Hunter comes to Oakland from the Broncos via Free Agency and was moved from Linebacker to Defensive End by Dennis Allen. The 8-year vet missed all of last season with a torn triceps injury. Vance Walker and Pat Sims will be the big men in the middle of the line. Walker is a Defensive Tackle who was brought from Atlanta and has 11 starts in 58 games. Sims is a Tackle who was vital to the Bengals. When he played other teams would average one yard less per carry on the ground. Of the 20 games Sims played in over the past 2 seasons, he helped Cincinnati win 14 of them. He should be an impact immediately for a Run Defense that ranked 18th last season. If the Oakland Raiders plan on improving Defensively in 2013, they’re going to have to get pressure on the Quarterback. If they can do that, their talented Defensive Backs should definitely get a handsome amount of turnovers.
End Result: Before I give the record, let me say first, the moves Reggie McKenzie made over this past offseason have set the Raiders up nicely for the future. They should be able to be major players in 2014’s Free Agency class. Since Oakland is rebuilding in 2013 though, I predict that they’ll finish with a record of 2-14.