And now the final position which will get the last decade comparison treatment -- safety. It's not an easy position to quantify. There are a lot of variables to consider when judging a safety. The Raiders haven't been completely starved at the position but Pro Bowls have eluded them for some time. Some of that has to do with being in the same conference as the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Some of it has to do with the overall poor play of the Raiders over the past ten years.
Being a safety is all in the name. It's the guys who fill in the gaps and pick up the slack. But they cant be everywhere so if there's too many gaps or too much slack, stuff gets missed. And the Raiders very much felt the absence of one of their starting safeties last season. Let's see where the 2014 safety duo projects among the last decade of Raiders safety tandems.
1. Tyvon Branch, Matt Giordano/Michael Huff (2011)
This top ranking may surprise a few people. Mainly because this is a "what have you done for me lately" league and the last memories most Raiders fans have of Matt Giordano was him giving up big plays and being banged up a lot. But that wasn't always how it was. This particular season, he led the team with 5 interceptions. Branch had his best season, though he tends to be a pretty steady performer. Huff wasn't a world-beater but he was still decent. Not to mention one of the more memorable plays in recent Raiders history occurred between Branch and Huff.
In the week four game in Houston, two days following the death of Al Davis, it came down to the final play. The Texans were inside the ten yard line, Matt Schaub rolled to his left looking either for an open receiver or room to scramble. Branch made a quick decision and rushed Schaub to keep him from tucking it and running it in. It forced a weak throw to the man Huff was covering and Huff intercepted it in the endzone to seal the win for the Raiders. It was discovered afterward that the Raiders did this with just ten men on the field for that play. It was an emotional victory in honor of their late owner.
2. Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff (2009-10)
As I said before, Branch is a steady performer. He had over 100 tackles in each of these two seasons. In 2009 Branch had 119 tackles while Huff added 3 interceptions and 14 passes defended. 2010 saw Huff kick in 94 tackles of his own. He had arguably his best season and was one of the better tackling safeties in the NFL -- a title usually reserved for Branch.
3. Tyvon Branch, Charles Woodson (2014)
After missing all but one game of the 2013 season with a leg injury, Branch will have his much needed return to the lineup this season. He will pair up with Woodson for what looks to be his final season in the NFL. Branch will continue to do what he has done for the past few years as a strong safety which is solid tackling and run support. Woodson was a strong presence at free safety last season and I expect he will continue to perform at an NFL starter level. However, he has slowed down and will continue to do so being that he will turn 38 in October. He had suffered several injuries, including two times breaking his collarbone, in his final couple seasons in Green Bay but steered clear of the injury bug last year to start the entire season. If he can do it again, he will earn some kind of ironman award. If he didn't, it would not be a huge surprise and the Raiders secondary would likely be worse off in his absence. Either way, the leadership he provides this team can't be measured in stats.
4. Gibril Wilson, Hiram Eugene/Michael Huff (2008)
It was a huge deal when the Raiders signed Gibril Wilson away from the Super Bowl winning Giants. It was also a huge deal... as in contract. Wilson had a fairly decent season with 129 tackles. It just wasn't the kind of performance the Raiders were hoping for and definitely not the value of his contract. Huff ws benched midseason in favor of Eugene, who wasn't much better. Eugene was a special teams ace and that's where he belonged. Huff had been playing at strong safety in the two previous seasons and hadn't quite made the transition to free safety yet.
5. Tyvon Branch, Matt Giordano (2012)
A typical season for Branch - good tackler, run stopper, average in coverage. For Giordano, he was beaten up the whole season and was constantly having to come out of games hurt. Michael Huff was supposed to start but with the injuries at corner, he was forced to switch to cornerback. The whole secondary was banged up, aside from Branch, making for a pretty rough year.
6. Michael Huff, Stuart Schweigert (2006-07)
Huff was never a good fit at strong safety, though the Raiders played him there for two seasons before switching him. That was partially for lack of better options. Huff was the Raiders' pick at 7th overall in 2006 so of course he started immediately. It was Schweigert's second season as a starter and he had 107 tackles that season. Huff improved considerably in his second season, from 1 pass defended to 11 and added his first interception. Schweigert's production went down and he had low marks both in coverage and tackling efficiency.
7. Brandian Ross, Charles Woodson (2013)
Tyvon Branch was lost in the second game of the season and his back-up was Brandian Ross. For most of the season, he was ranked as the worst safety in the NFL. He did nothing well whether it be run support, tackling, or coverage. He finished with no interception, just 26 tackles-which is horrible for a free safety - and gave up twice as many touchdowns (6) as he had passes defended (3). Not the nicest way for Charles Woodson to spend his first season back in Oakland. Though Woodson wasn't a revelation himself, he was earning his keep while trying valiantly to make up for the lack of any help from Ross.
8. Jarrod Cooper/Derrick Gibson, Stuart Schweigert (2005)
The Raiders were giving former first round pick, Derrick Gibson every chance to prove his worth. He started the first six games of the season before being lost for the season with injury. Cooper took over for him over the final ten games. Cooper was actually an upgrade to Gibson. He was a great tackler and made a career out of being a special teams ace. The ten games he started this season were the only NFL games he ever started. Schweigert was in his second season as a third round pick and took over the job he was drafted for. His stat line was not too bad - 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumbled recoveries, and 87 tackles.
9. Marques Anderson, Ray Buchanan (2004)
These two were one and done for the Raiders as they were in search of a long term answer. It was the season after Rod Woodson's retirement and the 33-year-old Ray Buchanan's final season in the NFL. They were part of one of the worst pass defenses in Raiders history, on the cusp of a complete rebuild.