Prior to the draft, the state of the Raiders was strong. It is now stronger. The Raiders entered the draft with a couple of weak areas — primarily the offensive line and cornerback. As it turns out, those were the two areas they focused on, drafting two players for each area.
The need at those areas was evident last season and it grew even more when the offseason began and the Raiders learned that the contract of All Pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha had voided itself and left guard Robert Gallery had decided to exit with his former line coach, Tom Cable.
Upon hearing Gallery announce his intentions to leave, the team immediately locked up his backup, Daniel Loper, to a multi-year deal to ensure the team had a capable body to replace him.
The other guard position is manned by Cooper Carlisle who is a holdover from the zone blocking scheme days. It was thought that the Raiders may look for his replacement in this draft which would mean that there were two guard positions to be filled.
The Raiders instead went with replacing center Samson Satele with Penn State C/OG Stefen Wisniewski. The Raiders had their eye on Wisniewski for a long time considering he is the nephew of legendary Raider left guard, and current offensive line coach, Steve Wisniewski. But Hue Jackson made it very clear that he drafted him not as a guard but rather with the intention of him being the next great Raider center.
The team put an original round two franchise tender on Samson Satele and if the restricted free agent rules remain intact with the new CBA, he will remain with the team and likely move to guard as well as a reserve center.
With Satele in the mix, the Raiders actually have a decent stable of guards with Loper, Satele, Bruce Campbell, and Carlisle. I also would not discount the possibility of the Raiders adding another guard in free agency when/if it begins.
The offensive tackle position was also unstable coming into the draft with left tackle Jared Veldheer as the only sure starter among them. He has no clear cut backup, and both right tackles, Langston Walker and Mario Henderson, are free agents and have yet to receive a contract from the team.
The Raiders may have signaled the departure of either Walker or Henderson when they drafted Joseph Barksdale out of LSU with their late third round pick. Barksdale was a stalwart right tackle for the Tigers and the hope is that after performing well against top flight defensive end talent in the SEC, he can step in and start as a rookie at right tackle.
There still is a possibility that Walker and Henderson could remain with the team. Walker would battle with Barksdale at right tackle while Henderson would back up Veldheer at left tackle. I wouldn’t expect the team to break the bank on a tackle in free agency.
Last season the running game for the Raiders was the strongest it had been in years. Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were a potent duo who beat up and ran through opposing defenses. But there was need of a third running back as well as insurance in case Bush becomes a free agent and leaves for a feature back position elsewhere. So the team nabbed the lightning fast small school phenom Taiwan Jones in round four.
Jones, with his 4.27 speed, has drawn comparisons to Titans’ 2000 yard back Chris Johnson. Both players even came from directional schools. Johnson from East Carolina and Jones from Eastern Washington. But Jones is bigger, coming in at just over 200 pounds. Johnson proved that if you have the talent, it will show on film, regardless of the level of talent you face.
Now the Raiders are in a situation similar to the Chargers a couple years ago when they had LaDanian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, and Darren Sproles all in the backfield — even similar in that the Raiders could lose Bush the same way the Chargers lost Turner.
The quarterback position remains unchanged from the draft. The starter is still Jason Campbell with his primary backup as Kyle Boller. Look for the team to pick up a player as an undrafted free agent whenever they become available to sign.
There was one wide receiver spot that was open for the taking and the Raiders filled it by drafting Tennessee wide out Denarius Moore. Moore is a speedy receiver of course, but his best attribute is his hands. He has tremendous hands which is exactly what this team needs right now. The rest of the receiving corps is comprised of Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Chaz Shilens, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. If the teams opts to keep six receivers as they did last season, Nick Miller is a strong candidate.
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 the team was in need of depth as well as a blocking tight end. So they went after the blocking tight end in the sixth when they selected Richard Gordon out of Miami. Then they got a good hands tight end with their late round seven compensatory pick when they took David Ausberry out of USC. Ausberry played at receiver his first three seasons for the Trojans but he moved to tight end as a senior. These additions don’t completely signal the end of Brandon Myers in Oakland as Ausberry could be a project and see time on the practice squad.
On defense, the Raiders focused solely on fixing the holes at the cornerback position. They drafted two corners in this draft. The first came with their round three pick where they grabbed the fastest player at the combine in DeMarcus Van Dyke out of Miami. Then two picks later, in the late fourth round, they selected Chimdi Chekwa out of Ohio State. Chekwa is much more accomplished and was a great pick late in round four. Van Dyke is a bit more of a question mark. He runs fast but he lost his starting job twice during his four years at Miami. Despite his playing nickel, he still played quite a bit, so there is tape for the Raiders to examine. Taking him midway through the third round was a bit of a risk, but it could pay off. Most likely, neither will be asked to start next season. Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson are the expected starters. Regardless, the Raiders have their group of cornerbacks, with or without Nnamdi.
There are three areas the Raiders still need to address and they are all on defense: outside linebacker, defensive end, and safety.
The starters at defensive end are Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston. They are very solid but there is little in the way of depth behind them.
Outside linebacker is a bit more of a question mark as it will depend on how the team decides to deploy the likes of Travis Goethel, Quentin Groves, and Trevor Scott. However, a quality backup for starting strong side linebacker, Kamerion Wimbley, would be a valuable addition.
Michael Huff is very likely not coming back next season and there isn’t a clear cut replacement. The team signed Hiram Eugene to a long term deal to keep him around, but in limited action over his time in Oakland, he has never shown consistent ability to hold down the job. Another possibility is Stevie Brown. But we are talking about Brown, who didn’t make the squad out of camp last season and Eugene who most thought should have been cut as well.
The team will be scanning the undrafted free agents to find a few gems at defensive end, linebacker, and safety.
The Raiders look pretty good following the draft, as good as any in the league. The positions that were focused on in the draft were all need areas and some look to contribute right away. The team isn’t done and when there is a new CBA and free agents are made available, they will look to fill the remaining gaps.