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Oakland Raiders Positional Breakdown and Draft Possibilities: The Offense

Quarterbacks:

Currently under contract: JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, JP Losman

Analysis:  For now, forget anything you may have heard about Al Davis using the uncapped year to rid himself of JaMarcus Russell.  Davis is committed to giving Russell at least one more year and the recent signing of Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator only reinforces that belief.  There's some speculation that Davis may cut Russell at the end of training camp if he shows up fat and out of shape again and stinks up the practices.

Gradkowski is an RFA and it's hard to imagine the Raiders not taking advantage of that fact to keep him around, given how effective he was when Cable finally got fed up and benched Russell.

Charlie Frye started as the 3rd stringer and ended up starting due to the ineptness of Russell and injuries to Gradkowski.  He did well enough, I suppose, though his play seemed to indicate he'll never be anything other than a backup in the league.  He is a UFA, but will be an RFA if the uncapped year happens.

JP Losman was signed as emergency third stringer and threw 1 incomplete pass against Denver. 

It's not a hard thing to imagine the Raiders standing pat on quarterbacks.  Russell isn't going anywhere (for now) and with Gradkowski and Frye having a year in the system and played anywhere from adequately to good, it should be a simple matter to put an RFA tender on both of them.  It is difficult to imagine other teams beating a path to their door in any case.  Losman may be kept around to provide camp competition for Frye, with the winner getting the 3rd string position.

Will the Raiders draft a QB? I don't see it, though Davis may take a flyer on someone like Fordham's John Skelton or Troy's Levi Brown in the 7th round if Losman isn't kept for camp.

 

Running back

Currently under contract: Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, Michael Bush

Analysis: One of the main disappointments of the Raiders 2009 season was the inability to make proper use of their talented triumverate of runners.  Each has complimentary strengths and weaknesses.  Each of these guys have concerns:  McFadden doesn't fight through tackles enough, Bush has problems with conditioning and Fargas is injury prone.  However, given that all are under contract through the 2011 season, it's hard to imagine any of them going anywhere.  Instead the Raiders will hope Hue Jackson can use them more effectively.  There's an outside chance Michael Bush may be dangled as trade bait on draft day. 

Will the Raiders draft a RB? Extremely unlikely, unless Al falls in love with someone at the Combine.  Then you may see Bush or Fargas shopped.

Fullback:

Currently under contract: Oren O'Neal,  Luke Lawton, Marcel Reese, Gary Russell

Analysis: The organization loves Oren O'Neal, but he has sustained two major, season-ending injuries in as many years.  Luke Lawton was ineffective, suspended for violating the league substance abuse policy and is a free agent in any case.  He's almost certainly gone.  Reese was promoted from the practice squad after Lawton's suspension and Gary Russell is a converted running back who is an average blocker, but talented at catching passes out of the backfield. Part of the reason the running game fell short of expectations was the fact that the lead blocking was at times absolutely woeful. 

Oren O'Neal has potential, but who knows if he can ever stay healthy.  Marcel Reese is uninspiring and Gary Russell is not a natural fullback. The position is a need.

Will the Raiders draft a fullback? It's virtually certain a new one will be picked up.  Rashawn Jackson, John Conner and Cory Jackson are all possibilities in rounds 5-7.  At the least, I predict someone signed as a UDFA.

 

Offensive tackle:

Currently under contract: Mario Henderson, Khalif Barnes, Cornell Green, Langston Walker, Erik Pears

Analysis:  Up and down year for this group.  Mario Henderson started off the year incredibly strong, just as he had finished 2008.  Unfortunately, he faded as the year went on and by the end was struggling.  I tend to blame a lot of this on the injury to Robert Gallery as Henderson suddenly wasn't feeling as comfortable that the blocking assignment to his right was taken care of.  Still, he has to learn to manage on his own. 

Cornell Green is an unmitigated disaster at right tackle and his contract is expiring.  He is a good run blocker, but is a liability in pass protection and is a false start machine.  To the delight of Raider Nation, his time in Oakland is probably coming to a close.

Khalif Barnes was signed to great fanfare to compete with Henderson for the left tackle spot.  Instead, he got injured and was terrible when plugged in at right tackle when Cornell Green was hurt.  He's a UFA and probably not returning.

Erik Pears was signed as depth and didn't do much to inspire.  Again, he was unimpressive when given a shot at right tackle, but was surprisingly competent as guard and as an extra tight end in "jumbo" sets. He may be kept around as depth. 

Langston Walker was signed during the season as depth tackle.  Can't remember if he even played the position, but did step in at guard and was shockingly good.  Again, he may be kept around as depth tackle/guard.

Will the Raiders draft a tackle? It's as close to a lock as you can get. Right tackle is maybe the single biggest need on the team.  They need a reliable pass protector and mauling run blocker at that position.  Anthony Davis and Trent Williams are the likeliest possibilities.  In addition, Bruce Campbell or Bryan Bulaga may be selected with the thought of moving Henderson to the right side.

Guard:

Currently under contract: Robert Gallery, Cooper Carlisle, Chris Morris

Analysis: The single best thing Tom Cable has done for the Raiders organization was to rescue Robert Gallery's career.  A bust at left tackle and mediocre right tackle, the shift to guard has converted Gallery into a dominant mauler and made left guard the one position on the offensive line the Raiders have zero concerns at.  Problem:  That's when he's healthy.  Gallery underwent a siege of injuries this year.  If he can stay healthy an entire season, I firmly believe he'll receive serious Pro Bowl consideration.  He's that good at guard.

Cooper Carlisle was once one of the game's best guards. Time has taken its toll, however and he showed a marked and disturbing decline in 2009.  He'll need replacing soon, though he's under contract for several more years.  Gotta love Davis and his contracts.

Chris Morris is a versatile backup who can play both center and guard.  He struggled with full time starting duties, however and seemed overwhelmed at times.  He's an RFA and a Cable favorite, so you'll probably see him retained.

As mentioned above, both Langston Walker and Erik Pears were serviceable when plugged into guard at various times during the season.

Will the Raiders draft a Guard? Odds are very good, considering the depth of this year's guard class, which is one of the best in years.  Cable was reportedly enamored of Mike Lupati (no surprise there), though to get him the Raiders will either have to reach or trade back into the mid-first or up again into the late-first to get him.  As we all know, though, this is one organization that says "reaches be damned, this is who we want."  Lupati's a natural left guard and Robert Gallery isn't going anywhere, but I have a hunch Cable thinks he could teach Lupati to play right guard or even right tackle.

Cable and Davis also like versatile linemen who can play multiple positions.  It's not out of the realm of possibility they might snatch up a guy like Maurkice Pouncey in round 2.  In addition, keep your eyes on guys like Mike Johnson, Marshall Newhouse, Brandon Carter or Jon Asamoah in rounds 3 or 4. (Like I said, this is a deep guard class)

Center:

Currently under contract: Samson Satele

Analysis: Satele was brought in from the Dolphins in a trade that saw former Raiders center Jake Grove shipped off to Miami.  Sadly, Satele struggled to learn the nuances of the center position in the zone-blocking system.  The center is perhaps the most important position in the ZBS, as he is required to diagnose the defense at the line and call out any blocking corrections.  Satele was so bad at this, that Chris Morris actually won the starting job as center out of camp. 

Happily, Satele improved by leaps and bounds as the season went on and was a perfectly adequate starter by the end.  However, "adequate" doesn't really cut it in the NFL and it's likely the Raiders will be on the lookout for someone to push Satele and maybe even win the starting job.

Will the Raiders draft a center? Odds are good that at the least, someone will be signed as a UDFA, though a center will probably be drafted. As I said above, Maurkice Pouncey's versatility and athleticism (potentially might run a 5.1 at almost 320 pounds) could have him squarely on Oakland's radar in round 2.  J.D. Walton from Baylor and Eric Olsen out of Notre Dame could be snapped up with one of Oakland's round 3 picks.  Finally, Kenny Alfred, Erik Cook, Jacob Hickman and Chris Fisher are all possibilties at the tail end of the draft or as UDFAs.  (Have I mentioned this is a great year for teams with offensive line problems?)

 

Wide Receivers:

Currently under contract: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, Javon Walker, Todd Watkins, Johnnie Lee Higgins

Analysis: This is a group with a bright future, though you wouldn't much know it from their performance last year.  They and JaMarcus Russell were caught in a sort of mutual cycle of destruction as the struggles of each fed off each other.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is almost too much of a cipher to even evaluate.  To call him massively disappointing is perhaps the understatement of the year. Like  so many Davis draft picks, he's a raw project full of potential the organization seems forever unable to develop.  Can't call him a bust yet, no matter how bad he seemed.  We'll know more after this season.  In any event, he's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chaz Schilens is the Raiders' no. 1 receiver.  That may sound like a bad thing since he was a 7th round pick out of a small school.  But if you think that, you haven't seen Schilens play.  He's a great route runner who catches just about everything thrown his way.  He missed much of last year with a nagging foot injury, but if he can stay healthy in 2010, he's poised for a breakout season.

Louis Murphy impressed most observers this season, including me.  As the season went on and his confidence improved, he began to assume the position of the Raiders #2 receiver.  Look for him to continue the strong upward trend.

Javon Walker.  What a sad disappointment.  Was inactive for almost every game this year and I have to think Davis will honor his request for a release sometime over the summer.

Johnnie Lee Higgins was struck with a crisis of confidence after week 1 when Russell hung him out to dry on a crossing route and Eric Weddle nearly killed him with a hellacious hit.  He was hesitant and tenative from then on and his punt returning ability also suffered.  He needs to pick it up.  There's an outside chance he'll be a camp casualty if he doesn't improve, though I suspect he'll be around for 2010.

Todd Watkins is your classic 4th or 5th receiver--pretty uninspiring, but could be worse.  Guys like him come and go.  He could be gone, he could be back.

Will the Raiders draft a receiver? Not in the first 3 rounds and probably not in the 4th either.  A lot depends on if guys like Javon Walker, JLH and Watkins are cut.  If you're looking for possible names in late rounds: Riley Cooper, Marcus Easley, Taylor Price and Antonio Brown are the ones I'd consider most likely

Tight ends:

Currently under contract: Zach Miller, Brandon Myers, Tony Stewart

Analysis: Zach Miller is the best tight end you've probably never heard of.  An outstanding blocker, he truly excels in the passing game.  He's one of two receivers (the other is Schilens) that JaMarcus Russell ever developed any chemistry with and has acted as his security blanket for 3 seasons now. 

The organization likes Brandon Myers so much that they actually moved up last year to make sure they got him.  Drafted primarily as a blocker, he showed a surprising talent for catching during camp.

Tony Stewart is a decent enough "jack of all trades, master of none" option.

Will the Raiders draft a tight end? Doubtful, since Miller is the clear #1 and I don't see who they'd get that would be any better than Myers or Stewart.

 

Coming soon:  Part 2....the defense!

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