The Raiders are not yet to the point where they can draft players and add free agents as depth. They needed to come out of this offseason with replacements and upgrades. But they do have a few new faces who could make a significant impact this season.
In the draft, the Raiders didn’t have a first round pick, but they were able to get their new starting left guard in round two. Stefen Wisniewski will step in for the departed Robert Gallery. Stefen will also take the spot where his uncle Steve had his Hall of Fame caliber career. Wiz kid was initially chosen to be the Raiders’ next center, but he has not progressed the way the team had hoped, and Samson Satele has continued the solid play he had at the end of last season. Also Daniel Loper, who was re-signed this offseason to replace Gallery, has not stepped up to the challenge which opened the door for Stefen to take the starting job.
Later in the draft, the Raiders took a sleeper receiver just as they had in the previous two drafts. It was fourth round pick Louis Murphy in 2009, fourth round pick Jacoby Ford in 2010, and this year it is fifth round pick Denarius Moore who could make a big impact. Moore has made some spectacular plays in practice and in the preseason. He could be among the Raiders’ top three receivers in the regular season. With Chaz Schilens still not at 100% and Louis Murphy doubtful for the first game of the season, Moore has a chance to start. If he keeps up the level of play we have seen thus far, he could put together some impressive numbers this season.
Moore has also been fielding punts in practice and during the preseason, and it looks as if he will replace Nick Miller as the Raiders’ primary punt return specialist. Moore’s speed and quickness will make him a dangerous returner. He and Jacoby Ford are set to make some exciting plays in the receiving game and on special teams.
With the team’s final pick in the draft they grabbed tight end David Ausberry out of USC. He was primarily a wide receiver for the Trojans but he has the size to play tight end. His combination of size and athleticism have proven to be quite a mismatch for linebackers and defensive ends. His hands have been what you would expect from a USC level wide receiver talent. The result is the Raiders have a great new option at tight end.
Ausberry will team up with newly acquired tight end Kevin Boss. The two new tight ends will attempt to fill the void left when Zach Miller left as a free agent. Boss comes in as the instant starter after he had four solid seasons in New York where he helped the Giants win a Super Bowl. Along with his hands, he has great size and is a good blocker as well.
Another solid free agent receiver acquisition from the Giants is Derek Hagan. It remains to be seen whether he will be among the top three receivers, but his importance goes beyond that. This team was desperate for a veteran presence at wide receiver. He has showed this preseason why he has more NFL catches than any other receiver on this team. If he can provide an upgrade among the top three, that would be great. But if the other receivers on this team step up and keep him on the sideline, that is great too. He is a very professional, hard working, savvy veteran. His influence on this team and his receiving prowess will take the Raider receiving corps to the next level.
The role of the third cornerback spot will be filled by a newcomer as well, either rookie third round pick Demarcus Van Dyke or the very recently signed veteran Lito Sheppard. Sheppard will have less than a week to impress coaches enough to make them feel more comfortable with him than with any of the other young corners on this team. The ten year veteran was a two-time Pro Bowler as a member of a solid Eagles cornerback tandem. In a bit of irony, he was given Nnamdi Asomugha’s old number while Nnamdi went to Lito’s old team in Philadelphia.
Van Dyke has been thrust into a starting corner job this preseason and he has been outmatched. He has shown some potential but it will be a while before opposing offenses take the target off his back. Either Van Dyke or Sheppard will be the next line of defense if either Chris Johnson or Stanford Routt come out of the game. That is a big job on this Raider defense.
Combined with last year’s large group of newcomers, this team has seen almost a complete overhaul. The new faces last season helped the Raiders sweep the AFC West and finish with their first non-losing season in eight years. If this year’s signees can continue to improve this team, they could be on to further success.