Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is this the year the Raiders Fortify the Front Seven?

The Oakland Raiders have multiple holes to fill and as of now not enough draft picks to get it done. The Raiders have actually had a successful off-season signing the majority of their own free agents and filling holes on their offensive line without over-spending on free agents.

The team is currently two deep or better at every position on the offensive line prior to additions from the draft or un-drafted players.

The next step has to be attacking the two biggest weaknesses on the team; the defensive line and linebacker group. The scouting department will have to come up big here two ways 1) scouting talent 2) presenting these findings to Al Davis.

The Raiders have been horrible at stopping the run, the team ranked 31st in the league in 2008 allowing 159.7 yards per game with an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The best way to stop this trend is drafting a run-stopping Defensive Tackle or two.

The worse decision would be to roll out the same group without a new addition. Draft-wise the position has been grossly neglected. If the common goal is to draft a starter in every round it hasn’t worked out as planned in Oakland.

Over the last five years the Raiders have had 39 draft picks; of those only five are starters, 16 are backups, eight are on other teams and another eight are out of the league.One of the five first round picks was traded (Fabian Washington), another was benched after a five-game tryout at Free Safety.

In the past ten years at Defensive Tackle the Raiders have drafted Rod Coleman (’99), Daren Yancy (’99), Junior Ioane (’00), Chris Cooper (’01) and Attaj Hawthorne (’05). Rod Coleman was recently signed and given a chance at a comeback with the Saints.

My statement is justified when you consider Tommy Kelly was an un-drafted free agent in 2004. There have been many who came to the Raiders via free agency this practice has been more of a stopgap than a fix and needs to stop.

This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Rich Snead & Keith Rowan, the newest members of the player personnel staff. It has been great to see that the Raiders have been re-building through the draft as of late or acquiring young players in free agency.

That trend needs to continue on the defensive side of the ball improving the front seven. First of all, the Raiders essentially went with a three man rotation at the position in 2008 as oppose to the standard four man rotation needed for a 4-3 base defense.

Seven of the top 10 teams against the run in 2008 made the playoffs, the three that didn’t allowed less than 100 yards per game.

Minnesota led the league against the run but still drafted a DT in the fifth round. Philadelphia ranked fourth, fueled by two former first round picks, but still drafted a DT in the second round.

The Titans ranked sixth against the run but drafted a DT in the second round; due to the loss of a DT in free agency will draft another DT this year.

The Raiders were able to restructure several contracts to provide the team more cap space to work with but youth needs to be served on the defensive line. The team has nine players on the team age 30 or older; the four guys at DT are ranging from age 28-30.

If the team decides to not draft two defensive tackles in this years draft what happens next year when the group is a year older?

What indications do the Raiders or we have as fans have that this group can accomplish stopping the run and getting after the passer in 2009 when it had great difficulty doing just that in 2008?

When it comes to the Raiders draft there has been a lot of talk that the team needs to address the offensive tackle or wide receiver position in the first round. There is some validity to these claims but the offensive line was addressed in free agency.

Wide Receiver is still a need that can be filled after the first round but more important is addressing the front seven. During the draft there usually is a run on certain positions in 2008 that position was offensive tackle with eight going in the first round and the Raiders not cashing in on one of them.

This year like every year, there are no guarantees but that position could be linebacker and the Raiders need to acquire one of the best in the draft to improve the position. That means selecting one in the first two rounds. The same can be said for the Defensive Tackle position.

The Raiders need a run stopper; guys that have the size and strength to fill that need are B.J. Raji, Ron Brace, Fili Moala, Terrance Taylor and Sammie Hill.

The Raiders also need a Strong side or Middle Linebacker; the guys that have the size and strength to fill those needs are Aaron Curry, Rey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Larry English and Clint Sintim

Here is where the problem comes in, several other teams have switched base defense to a ‘3-4 front’ and are in need of Nose Tackles and Linebackers to fit their scheme. If the Raiders decide to pass on drafting at these positions in the first two rounds the majority of the guys mentioned will be off the board.

Adding Center Samson Satele to the team was nice, Keep in mind that in the deal the Raiders traded away more than just a sixth round pick. Oakland swapped fourth round picks and moved down 18 spots.

As always I’m hoping that the Raiders will draft well and continue to improve the team. I want the defense to dramatically improve at stopping the run. I want the improvement to be so dramatic a change that you’ll have to place a warning placard in Oakland the reads “Frequent Stops”.

I know what you’re thinking, but a guy can dream can't he?

The team as of now doesn’t have a 5th or a 6th round pick. My middle round ‘sleeper pick’ at Outside Linebacker for the silver and black is Jason Williams of Western Illinois.

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