First of all, I do not want to come off as delusional. I am aware that on paper the Raiders' roster does leave a bit to be desired especially when compared to some of the best teams in the league, however I think that the Raiders might field their best team in the last several years this season and here's why:
1. One team is stronger than 53 guys
The last several years, the Al Davis led Raiders accumulated players that Al Davis thought highly of. They might have been former first round picks, great athletes or had some other quality Al coveted but that's just it: the only thing they all had in common was that Al liked them for some reason or another.
As we all know, most of the players from Al's tenure are gone and have been replaced by Reggie and DA's players. The difference is that the new players all do have something in common; they all love the game of football with a fiery passion and want to be great. This isn't to say that none of Al's guys did but presently this is the blue print for all signings and draft picks excluding no one.
I believe that a cohesive team filled with passionate, dedicated players will naturally play better. It is a team sport after all. The media likes to dissect the Raiders' roster in a vacuum; "They have the worst Defensive Line in the league and the worst Linebackers, Offensive Line etc." but that's not fair. It doesn't matter how each position group stacks up to the rest of the NFL. What matters is how they play together. I don't care if Pat Sims isn't a premier pass rushing DT. If he can do his job and occupy two blockers consistently he is contributing to the team's success.
I would also like to add here that every player (Charles Woodson included) that has been signed or drafted by the Raiders and sat down with Reggie McKenzie has come away glowing with praise and optimism. I realize that every team experiences some of this off season excitement this time of year but this is different than anything I have seen from Oakland in a long time and it seems that Reggie has some evidence to support his claims or else he could not have had such success signing contributing value players.
2. A strong draft class
I know that it is too soon to deem any team's draft class a success or a failure but I believe that Reggie's first true draft class (the prior year did not have a 1st or 2nd round pick) is going to be a good one.
I like DJ Hayden a lot. He is a natural cover corner with ball skills. He is a playmaker and a baller to put it simply. Mike Mayock rated him his #1 corner this year. Dee Milliner, widely considered to be the #1, is good in coverage but oh my God does he have terrible hands. At the combine I watched him drop several passes right at him. DJ Hayden has a WR's instinct and coordination to make an interception away from his body near the sideline. He also has a knack for the end zone once he secures the turnover. I believe DJ Hayden is going to step in as a good starting CB immediately. The criticism widely applied to Hayden is that he is an injury risk. That is false. The injury he sustained has never occurred on a football field before and is usually only seen in high speed car crashes! How can you dog the guy for that? He sustained an extremely rare and extremely unlikely to reoccur injury and survived. Any man that defies death like that and recovers with such determination and strength of will, I'm willing to bet on.
Menelik Watson is a beast and although he is raw he will be coached by Tony Sparano, a very respected offensive line guru. Khalif Barnes is the de facto starter right now but I believe that a younger, smarter, more explosive athlete in Watson will take his place sooner rather than later. Some analysts even considered Watson to have the potential to be the best offensive tackle in this class. Watson will add ferocity to the right side of the offensive line to balance the Hulk (Veldheer) on the other side.
Sio Moore is going to be a stud. He is one of the players that I am most excited for. He is a natural leader and wants to fulfill that role. He is very versatile and can act as a playmaker anywhere on the defense. Sio also has great pass rushing moves and will help generate some pressure on the QB. He is a determined player that loves the game and I cannot wait to see him out there. Mel Kiper Jr. and others (not to say I trust these guys in the slightest) but they have openly stated that Sio Moore might be the steal of the draft and in the running for defensive rookie of the year.
The rest of the draft class I won't get into as in depth since they are unlikely to start but I've only heard good things about Tyler Wilson at this point.
3. The roster is better than last year's anyways
Yes, it is. I believe that this year's roster is better so I don't agree with downgrading the Raiders' roster potential to bottom feeder. The players we lost weren't that good. Tommy Kelly was an offside machine, Richard Seymour was always banged up, Michael Huff was mediocre at his best, Rolando McClain sucked and is now retired, Mike Goodson had some flashes but just got arrested on drug possession and gun charges, Desmond Bryant played well but he also had a DUI this off season and an infamous mug shot, DHB, although a hard worker, was never a good WR and Carson Palmer threw more clutch interceptions than I thought possible. Phillip Wheeler was probably the best player we lost but his asking price was high and Reggie brought in a lot more LB's to help ease that loss. Lechler was a loss but he is getting older and we didn't need to commit more money to an aging punter. Brandon Myers also played well but his talent was inflated due to Palmer constantly checking it down to him in garbage time.
I don't get how people think the Raiders became significantly worst from these supposed "losses". Instead we replaced these players with dedicated, hard working and passionate football players that want to win. As stated in point #1, a cohesive team is worth more than a collection of mismatched, mediocre talent.
Our secondary has improved so much I can't even explain it properly. No one wants to talk about that though. The Raiders didn't have a single worthy starting CB last year. Not a single one and this year they have three. DJ Hayden will be a good CB and Reggie signed Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Both young players with starting experience coming from bad situations looking to prove themselves again. Combined with Joselio Hanson, a good slot defender, Tyvon Branch at SS and now Charles Woodson at FS, we actually have a strong secondary. If I had to put a number to it, I would say our secondary is a 100x better than last year. I know that sounds ridiculous but that's actually how day and night this positional group has transformed from last year. No one in the media wants to talk about that though. They loved to talk about how poor our secondary was last year but strangely no one wants to speak for how improved they are this year. Additionally, Charles Woodson's veteran leadership is going to elevate all of their play this season and I am so happy he is back (I love my #24 jersey... my first Oakland jersey in fact).
I don't see how the LB's have gotten any worst either. Sio Moore will replace Phillip Wheeler and in fact Sio is a better pass rusher and has more potential than Wheeler anyways. McClain sucked so bad and is being replaced by Nick Roach and at the other side we have a few options to choose from. Once again, this positional group is improved.
I suppose I can't make a case for the DL being better but as long as they don't jump offsides several times a game, I don't see how they are any worst. If the defensive line plays disciplined, something we have rarely seen recently, they will be fine. If they maintain their run gap responsibilities and minimize mental mistakes and penalties I don't see how this group, seemingly much less talented, could prove to be more effective than last year.
Our offensive line assuming Menelik Watson starts, as well as the beastly Veldheer, a more experienced Wiz, a young guard Bergstrom and Brisiel could be pretty good but once again everyone seems to think they are a complete disaster. With a power rushing scheme more suited to Darren McFadden, this group will be much better.
WR's and TE's and QB's I can understand the skeptism but once again, is this year's group that much worst than last year's? Jacoby Ford is back, Cribbs is in, Denarius Moore is talented and Streater has another year of experience. We have a lot of bodies at TE so hopefully one steps up. I honestly prefer Matt Flynn to Carson Palmer anyways. At least I don't know that Flynn will throw a lot of interceptions unlike Palmer. I also love that Palmer, while on the Raiders was chirped constantly, yet when he goes to the Cardinals he's seen as a savior for them and Fitzgerald and no one even mentions how badly he performed recently. I get that Kolb and co. sucked badly but Palmer is not the answer and it's another example of how biased the media is when it comes to viewing players in Oakland.
Anyways I definitely have wrote more than I intended and hopefully some of the Nation agrees with some of what was said. My frustrations hearing the Raiders constantly put down recently despite having, in my opinion, a very successful off season led to this. I can't wait for the season to start and for all the naysayers to be proven wrong. Go Raiders and Just Win Baby!