At the beginning of the off-season, our excellent staff here at S&BP wrote a series of articles detailing what the teams highest needs were in FA. My goal here is to take a look at what we thought then, what we think now, and who is left to fill those holes. Starting on Offense and going down.
What was said at the time: The Raiders absolutely must address this position in the off-season, whether it be in free agency or the draft. They aren't in a great position either way as the free agent market has basically zero quality talent and is very thin on even marginal possibilities. There is also a possibility that by the time the Raiders pick at number five, all of the first round quarterback talent will be gone already.
Team need: Urgent
FA Activity: None. It’s been rumored that the raiders key interests are Shaub and Sanchez should they become available.
Options: Right now the best options on the FA Market consist of Mike Vick, Josh Freeman and Shaun Hill with players soon to be released like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez. The Draft has a few Solid prospects in the early rounds including the obvious names like Bortles, Manziel, TB and Derek Carr as well as some deeper sleepers like WYO's Brett Smith, 'Bama's AJ McCarron, and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo.
What it Means: We still need to be looking seriously at a QB. If any kind of forward progress is going to be made this year, we have to establish a QB that can stand for a season. I have my doubts that there is someone worth taking for anything other than a mentor on the FA market. My gut tells me we're looking at Bridgewater or Manziel if they fall to #5, or hopefully trading back and picking up Carr late in the first or early in the 2nd. Odds are, though, that even if someone's brought in, a QB Battle going in to camp will happen between MM, perhaps a rookie and/or an FA and maaaaaybe Pryor if he's still around.
What was said at the time: It's a high priority because all three active running backs this season are set to become free agents. Darren McFadden will not be brought back and the team must make retaining Rashad Jennings a high priority. They have high hopes for Latavius Murray but there is no way of knowing if he can be counted on to stay healthy and/or live up to his potential. If they can re-sign Jennings, the need is somewhat lower heading into free agency and the draft. And even if they can, they must add a viable back to the mix.
Team need: High
Meaningful Changes/Known Targets: +Kory Sheets, -Rashad Jennings, Re-signed RunDMC. Andre Brown has been reached out to.
Options: FA Market has names like LeGarrate Blounte, Michael Bush, Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Andre Brown. The draft has little RB Depth at the top, but if top names like Carlos Hyde or Tre Mason slide, it could get interesting like last year's draft. There are many more options in later round and include prospects like Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, Jerick McKinnon of Georgia Southern and WVU's Charles Sims.
What it Means: At this point, there's not a really solid option. We have hopes for Latavius Murray and DMC showed he's a Raider at Heart. We'll see how our prospects shake out. Some are hoping that if the Titans release Chris Johnson we pounce, but we know RM is going to find options that fit what he wants, and right now, we're a bit worse off, but not in dire straits yet. Also, there'll be no FB section because of Marcel Reece. He's got a death grip on the position.
What has been said: There is no question what the introduction of a high-quality receiver could do to this group. The Raiders must explore the possibilities in free agency and/or the draft to try and get that go-to receiver. But if they weren't able to land one, it wouldn't be the end of the world. With both Moore and Streater showing the ability to approach 1000 yards and Holmes emerging as a threat, they have three good pieces in place. Not elite pieces, perhaps not even great pieces, but good. Some depth and competition is absolutely needed.
Team need: Moderate
FA Activity: None. No visits schedule that I’m aware of. Jacoby Ford is still UFA.
Options: Julian Edleman, Santion Holmes, Miles Austin, Brandon LaFell, James Jones, Jerome Simpson, Lance Moore, Sidney Rice, and Kenny Britt headline what's left in FA. The draft is DEEP in WRs and is headlined by Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marquise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin as the clear cut best of the class. A few other intriguing names like Wisconson's Jared Abbrederis, Josh Huff of Oregon Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss and TJ Jones of Notre Dame will pop up later in the draft.
What it Means: Oakland still lacks a real play maker at WR. If we were able to nab one of the top FA wideouts left, that could help. Hopefully this could be a big year for one of our own guys, but grabbing a Stud WR in the first couple of rounds could go a long way in opening things up for our other options. It's likely that a Solid QB can improve this group, but for now it's not our biggest area of need.
What was said before: There is too much potential at this position. And I mean that in the worst possible way. Potential is dangerous. The Raiders waited until the sixth round to address the gaping need at the position last year when they chose Kasa and Rivera and it's hard to expect a whole lot from late round rookies. Former seventh round project Ausberry has been teasing us with his potential for three years now. Think what the addition of a proven, play making veteran or a mid to high drafted player could add to this unit. Infuse a proven performer and let the other three fight for the final two spots. Remember when Zach Miller was lighting it up for the Raiders as their leading receiver? That was three years ago. It might just be too risky to go into yet another season without a known commodity at tight end. Or let it ride and hope they pan out.
Team need: Moderate
FA Activity: None, no visits that I’m aware of. Jaron Mastrud is still UFA.
Options: Jimmy Graham (Ha!), Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley, Fred Davis and not much else are on the FA Market. We're exceptionally unlikely to draft a TE in the first two days of the draft, but some intriguing names that could be available at the end of day 2 or on day 3 are Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Troy Niklas of Notre Dame, Joe Don Duncan of Dixie State (A personal favorite sleeper of mine), Gastor Hoskins of Marshall and Colt Lyerla of Oregon.
What it Means: Our TE position is a hot "Meh." Rivera could be quite good, but most of our TEs are either one dimensional blockers, or not enough of a receiving threat to be compensate for lack of blocking. I'd be surprised if we didn't do something here, but it'll probably be well into May or June before something significant happens. It's a position that's a little too "Meh" to really focus on, and not good enough to justify leaving it entirely alone.
What was said before: The national NFL media likes to look at the stats and gasp at how many sacks the Raiders gave up on the season. But if you actually know what happened, you realize it isn't near as bad as they think it is. They see the 44 sacks opponents (3rd most in the NFL) had on them and say ‘wow, they need offensive tackle help'. But that is not seeing the whole picture. Terrelle Pryor and Matt Flynn were sacked a combined 38 times over 10 games - a rate of nearly four sacks per game. Those numbers miraculously improved to exactly one sack per game in the six games Matt McGloin started. Funny what a little pocket presence can do (remember when Tim Tebow made All Pro Ryan Clady look like hot garbage? That happened). Oh, and just 12 of those 44 sacks were given up by the tackles. The offensive tackle position is fine.
Also fanning the flames is the fact that Jared Veldheer is set to become a free agent. I have even seen some draft gurus suggesting he may not be re-signed. He will. There is no way the Raiders are letting him get away -- even if it means slapping the franchise tag on him -- so just get that thought out of your pretty little heads right now. The Raiders also spent a second round pick on right tackle Menelik Watson last season whom they'd like to see if he can be a starter. If he can't, Pashos and McCants showed they are more than capable of stepping up again. And, of course, there's always the possibility that Barnes could be back as well.
Team need: Low
Options: Charles Brown, Tyson Clabo, Jeremy Trueblood, Zach Strief, Donald Penn and a couple other warm bodies fill out the remaining FA Class. If we go for a top OT in the draft, Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan all are rated highly. This class has many intriguing names, however, and Solid OTs should be available deep into Day 2 of the draft, even day 3 has some interesting names.
What it means: Menelik Watson, more than likely, will be our opening day starter at LT. We have to believe that RM was ok with that. Many are not happy with the Saffold fiasco or letting Veldheer walk, but those are situations that are complicated and over. In my mind, still have ample time to add depth, and if we went into camp with Howard, Watson, McCants and one ore two more solid options from Day 2 of the draft or someone like Donald Penn, I wouldn't be too broken up about it.
What was said: There can be a fine line between a high need and an urgent one. The only things keeping this from being urgent are two possibilities. 1) Bergstrom is somehow able to improve drastically from last year's camp. 2) The team yet again re-signs Khalif Barnes with the intention of starting him at guard again (though this only puts a band aid on the position).
Then there's the third possibility which is a bit more of a flier - move Wisniewski to guard. This is something I hadn't entertained previously because Hue Jackson had said Wisniewski was the team's center of the future and the new regime said he would remain there as well. However, the snapping issues raise concerns that weren't there before. Even still, it doesn't change the team need because if Wisniewski did move to guard, they would have to fill the center position which is not at all easy.
Team need: High
FA Activity: Resigned Khalif Barnes. Andre Gurode is still UFA.
Options: Alex Mack (Transition Tagged), Kyle Cook, David Bass and Dan Koppen make up the best Centers in FA. Eben Britton, John Jerry/Richie Incognito, Willie Colon, Davin Joseph, and Possibly Travelle Wharton make up solid available Guards. The draft lacks noteable top G's, but has a lot of options for Days 2 and 3 including Spencer Long of Nebraska, OSU's Andrew Norwell, Furman's Dakota Dozier and Stanford's David Yankey. Centers are in the same boat with Arkansas' Travis Swanson leading the charge. I also like the sleeper potential of Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma and Va Tech's Andrew Miller.
What it Means: It means that our O-Line really needs something. We can't have Nix on the o-line anymore. That was dreadful. I can't get over the idea that we need a huge front-loaded offer to Alex Mack (something like 3/20 with 12 of that up front.) and try to force the Browns to not match. If we can plug in someone solid, we'd have flexibility and a much better situation on the O-Line. This is still an area that needs focus from Reggie and Co.
I'll post the Defensive edition in the next day or so, and hopefully keep it updated as things progress this off-season. We're not even a full week in, but I like having a picture in mind of where we're going. Thoughts?