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Looking at the Raiders’ top 5 positions of need

Today is the start of the actual activities for the 2012 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Today, the first group of players will get their measurements and weigh-ins, which are all important to scouts to know what kind of shape the player is in and what type of frame the player has. 

The Draft, and by extension the Combine, are of lesser importance this year for Raiders fans with the Raiders low amount of draft picks – they currently have only two of their 7 draft picks remaining prior to the Compensatory picks being awarded. Therefore, instead of examining who the Raiders will be looking at in the draft – because I honestly have no idea – we’ll instead look at the Raider’s top 5 needs and whether the team is likely to address them in the draft or free agency.

Cornerback is definitely the Raiders’ biggest need position since the release of Stanford Routt. There are not many good options on the roster right now. The top cornerbacks may be second year players Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke. Michael Huff could be a starter at cornerback – Coach Jackson was planning on moving him there from safety – but it’s unknown if the new regime sees him as a corner or a safety. Plus with a salary of $8 million due this year, it’s not even a lock that he’ll still be on the roster.

There is newly signed, former Green Bay CB Brandon Underwood but he isn’t expected to push for a starting spot and will more likely provide depth and special teams play, if he makes the final roster. Chris Johnson is owed $3.5 million and is a likely roster cut at this point. I would imagine Lito Shepphard doesn’t thrill anyone, either. Others on the roster right now include Curtis Taylor and Terrail Lambert – yeah, I’ve never heard anything about them, either.

I expect the Raiders will attempt to get a veteran CB that can be a starter and put the other starting position up for grabs to be earned in camp by one of the mentioned players, above.  I’ve heard Tracy Porter mentioned as a good candidate and it makes sense for a couple of reasons.  One, he’s not going to be as expensive as some of the other CB’s on the market and two, he’s worked with Allen before – Allen was the secondary coach for New Orleans for their Super Bowl run of 2009.

Linebacker appears to be the next biggest need. This is especially true if the team does transition to a 3-4 because more linebackers, by definition, are needed. Quentin Groves was moved to a backup position last season and isn’t expected back. Rolando McClain has been underwhelming at best. Kamerion Wimbley is due $11 million this season and may face a restructure-or-be-cut scenario. Wimbley has not been bad, by the way, but he isn’t worth $11 million. Aaron Curry is another prime candidate for restructuring as he’s due $7 million this season, but the general consensus among those who follow the Raiders is that he’s likely to do so. The Raiders were very high on Travis Goethel last season and he’s due back from IR, so that’s a positive – but probably the only one. I would imagine the Raiders will address this in both free agency and the draft as they need a lot of new bodies in camp to provide a spark, here.

Defensive tackle is the next biggest area of need. Yes, the Raiders chose to keep Richard Seymour for the season, guaranteeing his $15 million contract for the year. But he isn’t expected to stay around past this season and the Raiders need a replacement. Plus, he’s a streaky player and he’s only getting older – he’s not able to play at a high level for sustained drives. Tommy Kelly’s performance has not been anywhere close to his contract and he’s a one man penalty machine. If Allen is serious about cutting down penalties, he’s got to be able to bench Kelly if he continues to jump offsides. John Henderson is going to be cut. Desmond Byant is a bright spot as a backup but he’s probably better as a defensive end, not a tackle. Earlier this offseason, the Raiders signed a reserve/futures contract with Travis Ivey who is a true Nose Tackle. He’s 6-4, 325 so he has the right size for a NT but it’s anyone’s guess if he has the ability. I expect the Raiders to address DT needs in both free agency and the draft, as well.

Quarterback is the next need for the Raiders – backup to be exact. As the Raiders learned last year, your team is one play away from starting Kyle Boller if you don’t have a good backup. I would expect them to address this need on the free agency market. They aren’t going to want two unproven QBs on the roster and the 3rd QB spot will be Terrelle Pryor. They need a more seasoned and polished #2 QB. Good options would be Chad Henne, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, David Garrard or Dan Orlovsky.

Wide receiver is my final position of need. The Raiders have a likely solid starter in second year player Denarius Moore but there isn’t a great option to start across from him. Ideally, the Raiders will sign a free agent like Marques Colston who could be a #1 option and put Jacoby Ford into the slot position but it seems unlikely they will be able to get a player of his caliber. I expect them to bring in some free agents that can compete for positions, though.

Safety isn’t currently a position of need but it could become one. If the Raiders do not retain Tyvon Branch by signing him to a long term contract or a franchise tag, then safety will be an issue for the Raiders. If they do lockup Branch, it will then depend on what happens to Michael Huff, as discussed in the paragraph on CBs.

The next biggest needs for the Raiders – but that fall outside the top 5 – are backup running back (unless the team is going to roll with McFadden, Taiwan Jones and Rock Cartwright, which seems unlikely), and Offensive line (specifically Center unless the plan is to move Wiz from LG and Right OT. RG is a concern as well as Carlisle is getting older and Bruce Campbell has yet to show anything.).

For a team that went 8-8 last season, it still has a lot of question marks. And with a new GM, new head coach and almost entirely new coaching staff almost every player in every position will be up for review. If the Raiders can hit on some undervalued free agents or rookies , drafted or not, they have a nucleus of strength in some of the most key positions and could push for playoffs again this next season. However, it’s more likely that 2012 will be a rebuilding and transition year and a serious push will not be made until 2013, at the earliest.

You can follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews