Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Seeds of change in Raiders front office are bearing some fruit

The 2008 season ended for the Oakland Raiders with a little bit of momentum heading into 2009 after two wins over the Texans and the Bucs. There is still a lot of work to do in Oakland to right the ship.

We’re 88 days away from the 2009 NFL draft as this article is being written, the Raiders are drafting in the top five, again, which isn’t surprising. Every year at this time, team needs as well as team priorities for every franchise are mentioned, in addition to the one million mock drafts that are everywhere.

What it surprising are the facts that if you were to look at these items for the Raiders for the last two seasons the needs are basically identical, with only one difference being the team has their franchise quarterback.

A quarterback is only as good his offensive line and wide receivers. The team needs for the Raiders prior to the 2008 NFL draft were Defensive Tackle, Safety, Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver and Cornerback. One year later the team has the exact same needs.

This could be for a number of reasons in my book it is attributable to having several holes to fill on the team. These holes need to be filled through the draft and the Raiders need to resist the temptation of bringing in several free agents, which has been the plan in the past and develop their young players.

The Raiders possess one of the smallest scouting staffs in the league although that staff was bolstered in 2007 with the hiring of Rich Snead, the former Titans director of player personnel. This is his second stint with the organization, he worked for the Raiders 1990-1993. He now serves as Al Davis eyes and ears but as always Al will have the final say on anything Raiders.

There were two other additions to the Personnel department George Streeter & Keith Rowen. The moves added new blood to the scouting department and gave the Raiders five individuals with 20-plus seasons of experience. However, George Streeter was dismissed during the 2008 off-season.

This hire was huge because it not only helps the team draft better talent but it is also proof that Al Davis seems to realize that he needs help, especially when it comes to evaluating talent.

Snead’s contribution is evident with the last two drafts but make no mistake no one is going to tell Al what to do. He has the unenviable task of showing Al who will improve the team’s performance on the field from a talent standpoint.

There are several key things to note about draft success but the one that stands out to me is how a team views talent. The other three questions that must be asked are, about the player’s versatility? Is he the right fit for the team’s scheme? Is the player ready can he make the transition from college to the pro game?

It is known fact that a team's not going to hit on every pick, that just doesn’t happen but the additions mentioned have at least raised the Raiders batting average.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If the Raiders draft a WR, Will Michael Crabtree & Jeremy Maclin be the only Wide Receivers drafted in round One?

The three biggest needs for the Raiders on draft are OT, DT and WR. The Raiders will draft a wide receiver in 2009 but it doesn't have to be in the first round. If the Raiders draft a WR in round one does that mean that there will be two wide receivers drafted in round one?
In the 2008 NFL Draft no wide receivers were selected in the first round.

It appears that it will be different in 2009 as Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin & Florida WR Percy Harvin have 1st round grades as of now. That could change after the college all-star games, NFL Combine and individual Pro Day workouts.

So far there are the only three, every year NFL scouts breakdown a players strengths and weaknesses prior to the draft and give teams their assessment of prospects. There’s always one or two players that make a mercurial rise up several team’s draft boards with phenomenal workouts.

It appears that NFL teams are now shying away from drafting wide receivers in the first round unless the prospects are elite level or can’t miss prospects at the position.

This could be due to several first round picks not developing as planned or everyone remembering Matt Millen dragging down the Lions franchise by selecting several receivers.

Sometimes the scouts are right and several times the scouts are dead wrong. It really depends on what team a prospect is selected by, what type of offense a prospect is asked to play in, and that teams quarterback and coaching staff.

Looking back at the last five NFL drafts the numbers of wide receivers drafted are getting lower. In 2007 five receivers were selected with the Chiefs Dwayne Bowe & the Colts Anthony Gonzalez being the most successful in the year selected.

In 2006 the Steelers Santonio Holmes was the only receiver selected in round one. In 2005 six receivers were selected with the Ravens Mark Clayton & the Jaguars Matt Jones being the most successful. In 2004 seven receivers selected in round one but Larry Fitzgerald & Lee Evans were the best of that class.

When you speak of positions in the NFL such as wide receiver job requirements start with a player’s size. The minimum size is 5-9 180 lbs.; the optimum size is 6-3 220 lbs. The size and speed factor for all position has been huge but for most wide receivers the bigger the better.

The bigger receivers in the league are such threats on slant patterns, red zone weapons and impossible to stop in jump ball situations. In light of this information and the fact that the teams aren’t drafting a lot of receivers in the first round scouting is very important.

By now it should be a known fact that many of the NFL’s best receivers have been found in the middle rounds such as Hines Ward, Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Donald Driver, and Brandon Marshall. Another one of the best receivers, Wes Welker, was an undrafted free agent in 2004 a player has to want it.

Great speed is good to have but it isn’t as important as some people think. Some of the best receivers have quickness and strength to beat press coverage. They also possess the tenacity and hands to make catches in traffic, the size and leaping ability to be downfield and red zone threats.

There are seven guys in this year’s draft that may not hear their name called in the first round but have first round talent. There are no guarantees but these prospects have shown the ability to be playmakers in college that could develop into solid contributors with the proper coaching on the next level.

These are Wide Receivers that have the size, skill and ability to make an impact on an NFL team:

Darrius Heyword-Bey 6-2 206 lbs.
Has excellent size and speed, he is one of the nations most explosive receivers.

Hakeem Nicks 6-1 210 lbs. North Carolina
He has excellent hands, strength and route running skills but needs to improve his speed.

Brandon LaFell 6-3 210 lbs. LSU
He has excellent hands & strength. He finished the season with 63 receptions, 929 yards & eight touchdowns. He had 12 catches for 126 yards & a TD in LSU’s come from behind 40-31 win against Troy rallying from being down by 28 points.

Derrick Williams 6-0 200 lbs. Penn State
He is a productive player with exceptional speed, good separation skills, catches the ball well and is an excellent kick returner. He could add more size and strength for the next level.

Ramses Barden 6-6 220 lbs. Cal Poly-SLO
He is this year’s top small school prospect, due to his impressive size and athleticism; he is rising up the draft charts. He doesn’t have elite top-end speed but he does have impressive body control and soft hands. Like Mike Williams before him, tall receivers with slow 40 times don’t do well.

Kenny Britt 6-4 215 lbs. Rutgers
Good size, speed, catches the ball well, is good running after the catch finished last season with 87 receptions for 1,371 yards seven touchdowns with a 15.8 yard per catch average.

Brian Robiske 6-3 200 lbs. Ohio State
Has good size, catches the ball well and in stride, a polished route runner and reads defense’s well. Doesn’t have elite speed but he has all of the intangibles to be a solid receiver on the next level. He has the frame to put on more weight. He is also the son of a NFL WR's coach.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oakland Raiders need to retool Defense in the trenches

Part IV – The Defense

The Oakland Raiders finished the season on a two-game winning streak, which was nice to see, but a 5-11 record and another top ten draft slot. This is the last of a four part article regarding necessary changes, written as if I was tasked with turning the Oakland Raiders around.

I’ve addressed 1) The Head Coach 2) The Front Office 3) The Offense and the 2009 NFL Draft in previous articles.

The word change is necessary due to the fact that what has gone is the same as if has been in the past everything has been done Al’s way. More than likely this will continue, but for the good of the team and the loyal Raider Nation a change is necessary.

In my book Al Davis has two choices here 1) to remain as the owner and bring someone in to handle the football operations. Call the guy a buffer if you like but a strong front office personnel person or General Manager is necessary because it is blatantly obvious that Al has failed in this capacity.

The defense will get a makeover starting with the coaching staff; the defense was a big part of the Raiders record. The change needs to include personnel and scheme.

Let’s start with the Defensive Coordinator, Rob Ryan an Al Davis favorite. His contract is up and according to published reports by’s Adam Schefter & the San Francisco Chronicle he will join new Cleveland Head Coach Eric Mangini as Defensive Coordinator of the Browns.

Ryan was hired prior to the 2004 season; the Raiders have struggled against the run every year, prior to his arrival the team was giving up an average of 156.9 yards per game.

The 2008 Raiders finished 27th in total defense (360.9 yards per game), 31st against the run (159.7 yards) and 10th against the pass (201.2 yards). This can be attributed to one structural problem, a total disregard for the Defensive Tackle position.

This lack of judgment is the main reason the Raiders have been gashed yearly against the run. I give you Rod Coleman fifth round pick in 1999, Junior Ioane fourth round pick in 2000 and Anttaj Hawthorne sixth round pick in 2005; these are the last three Defensive Tackles drafted by the Oakland Raiders.

Tommy Kelly was an undrafted free agent in 2004, of the 23 DT’s from that draft class only 13 are currently on active NFL rosters. The Raiders need to cut ties with Terdell Sands & William Joseph and add two DT’s in a rotation with Tommy Kelly & Gerard Warren.

Instead of drafting at the position Al has chose to throw money at the problem and has brought in several past-their-prime or fringe free agents such as Sam Adams, Ted Washington, Dana Stubblefield, John Parrella, Warren Sapp, Ed Jasper, Gerard Warren, Donnell Washington, Terdell Sands, Rashad Moore, Josh Shaw and William Joseph.

This practice has to stop; the Oakland Raiders biggest priority of defense is to stop the run. This team needs a big run-stuffing defensive tackle, one that demands a double team. The team needs to draft a defensive tackle but it isn’t necessary to do so in the first round, this is where scouting comes into play.

Ron Brace will be available in the third round,

Until this team possesses a person to fill this role the team will struggle when ran on. Conversely, the team has drafted more defensive ends over the years, ten to be exact. If the goal is to stop the run why not draft more players at the defensive tackle position to be effective against the run than smaller ends.

The Raiders have selected Tony Bryant round two 1999, DeLawrence Grant round three 2001, Chris Cooper round six 2001, Kenyon Coleman round five 2002, Tyler Brayton round one 2003, Sam Williams round three 2003, Shawn Johnson round six 2004, Quentin Moses round three 2007, Jay Richardson round five 2007 and Trevor Scott round six 2008.

The Raiders have also been deficient in drafting linebackers, with the exception of Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.

Both are good young linebackers that are better against the pass than against the run. I like Kirk Morrison’s game and development a lot but the team needs a bigger middle linebacker that has the bulk to stack and hold up when teams run up the middle.

This is one of the reasons that I stated in early November that the Raiders need to draft USC MLB Rey Maualuga with the number seven pick in the draft. I’m aware that the team needs an offensive tackle and a solid tackle can be had in round two or three.

William Beatty is an offensive tackle from UCONN rising up the draft board that could be had in the second round.

More than likely the top three or four tackles in the draft and the top wide receiver Michael Crabtree, should he declare, will be off the board when the Raiders draft.

The Raiders need to have a draft day game plan and establish an identity on both sides of the ball. Since we’re discussing the defense that identity needs to be that you will not run on the Oakland Raiders. The team needs to draft an impact player with the first pick and Rey Maualuga, SLB Aaron Curry and FS Taylor Mays all meet that criterion.

The Raiders are in need of a SLB but if Maualuga is drafted to play MLB, Kirk Morrison could play SLB. Having a DT the demands a double-team would help to keep the linebackers clean so they’ll be free to make plays. Other linebackers the team could add Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiava, Clay Matthews and Clint Simtim.

The Raiders need to sign CB Nnamdi Asomugha to a well deserved long-term deal and re-sign CB Chris Johnson. Another free agent that the Raiders need to resign is P Shane Lechler.

It is time to move FS Michael Huff for a draft pick; he has been a bust, he was drafted to be a playmaker and has made very little plays. SS Gibril Wilson is a player but needs a running mate at FS. If Taylor Mays isn’t selected another safety the Raiders could select in the third round is Kevin Ellison who is versatile enough to play both free & strong safety.

Whoever the new Defensive Coordinator is he needs to get this unit solid fundamental football, stop the run and get after the passer. It is important to take away the run and force an opponent to do something else.

The Raiders are in a division that runs the ball and the team hasn’t been consistently competitive due to not being able to stop the run as well as making plays on third down and getting off of the field. These are the issues facing Al Davis and the new Defensive Coordinator.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)