With the season over, now is the time for evaluation of the team over the course of the year. There were ups and downs, and obviously the Raiders did not achieve what was desired, by the players, staff, front office, or fans. That is not necessarily a reason to clean house, but it does leave the door open for change. Here is the first of three evaluations, one each for staff, offense, and defense. For what it's worth...
DL - An off and on year for this unit, which started strong, faded badly, then came on again at the end of the season. It looks as if Seymour may be through; his injury will allow the Raiders to void his contract, and if he comes back at all it will certainly be at a more cap-friendly number that will reflect his dimishing time on the field. That doesn't mean that his time is wasted; it seems clear that this unit plays better as a whole with him rather than without him. Houston had an outstanding year, and while he played well in spurts to begin the season, he ended it on a tear, going off in pretty much every game. I admit that I thought of bringing him inside to DT, but I will change on that, and have him stay right where he is. Kelly was up and down as well, having some big games, and disappearing in others. Bryant is shaping into a solid player, but needs to hold his position more consistently. Bilikudi looked good in limited action, but is clearly still a project. Tollefson did what he was signed to do, which is to play in a rotation; expecting big games from him would have been a mistake. Carter was brought in late in the year to provide some pass rush, and was effective in a limited role. Shaughnessy is the biggest question mark; what happened to the explosiveness he displayed before? Is he going to be able to play to that level again, and if not, how long will it take to find another DE?
LB - A unit that played much better than I expected. Although McClain looks to have worn out his welcome here, Gaither came in as a street agent and played fairly well. He didn't set it on fire, but he didn't make any glaring mistakes either, which is more than could be said for McClain. Curry turned out to have medical issues that forced him out, but Wheeler and Burris played some very good football. Wheeler had never had a starting spot, and Burris is a rookie, and those situations showed over the course of the season in some uneven play, but overall they were a bright spot on the defense. More depth is needed here, more competition, but if these three had to start next year, the unit wouldn't be in bad shape.
S - I have said before that while I like the fire that Mitchell plays with, he is a liability in coverage, and the NFL is a passing league. Branch also struggles at times with coverage, but not as much, and is more rounded. Giordano is basically a ST guy, and shouldn't really be starting, or even on the field for any extended period. Another guy I like, but he just isn't up to the task of playing S. Huff will likely be brought back to S from DB, and will be the starter across from Branch. I'd expect a look at better depth through the draft.
DB - A unit absolutely wracked by injury, forcing players out of position, and to step up well beyond what was expected from them. Spencer looked as if he was going to be able to play well enough, and I would think that he will be offered another incentive contract for a year. Underwood went in and out so quickly I didn't get much of a read on him, but I would not be surprised by the same as for Spencer. Adams looks like the real deal, although still somewhat raw. Hanson is a decent nickel back. Ross is raw but talented, Francies is marginal, Chekwa has yet to really earn a roster spot other than through injury. There looks to be fewer question marks for next year, with players that looked to be ready to take the next step. I would still expect that the position will be addressed through draft/FA.
I'm going to add K and punter to this list as well.
P - Lechler had a poor year by his standards; his net average was average at best, and he seemd to struggle more with his kicking than I've ever seen. I think that if he doesn't renegotiate his contract, which I wouldn't expect, that the Raiders will make a move towards King. It will be hard to see Lechler leave, but making hard decisions about players is the nature of the NFL.
K - Janokowski had another great year, providing much (too much) of the team's scoring. Even with a bloated contract, I don't see the Raiders being willing to part ways with Jano just yet, but that time is coming, as the work continues to get the salary cap under control.
Bottom line: This unit started out well, and injuries to Seymour and the defensive backfield sent it into a tailspin. As they got more comfortable with the scheme, and understood and followed their assignements better, their play picked up again later in the season. Houston looks to have become the sparkplug for the defense, but there needs to be something provided from the MLB position that has been lacking. McClain didn't provide it, perhaps Gaither can, or someone else that may be brought in. More effective depth on the DL would be an asset, as well as a DT starter to replace Seymour.
Somewhat like last year, there is some talent on this unit, but there has to be better depth, and an upgrade at a few starting positions will help. Given players having to think less and just play more with a year under their belts in the system, I believe that this unit is ready to take a significant step forward next year.