Where to begin? Let’s not kid ourselves, the “need” list in Oakland is about as long as the question list for A-Rod. Even though the last six years have been a sad reminder of just how far we’ve fallen from the “Commitment to Excellence”, there have been flashes of hope.
Al Davis has shown us that he still has a sharp eye for talent by unearthing gems such as Michael Bush (4th round, 2007), Justin Fargas (3rd round, 2003), Mario Henderson (3rd round, 2007), Johnnie Lee Higgins (3rd round, 2007) and Kirk Morrison (3rd round, 2005).
Immediate position needs:
OT – Gallery seems to have finally found a place where he is comfortable after being moved from tackle to guard last season and Mario Henderson looked very good when taking over at left tackle late in the season. Kwame Harris appears to be another free agent signing gone bad and the only way I can explain Cornell Green still starting at right tackle is that he must have some pretty nasty photos of Al Davis. You can be sure that getting a tackle with the #7 pick in the draft will be a serious consideration.
C - Jake Grove has voided his contract and will test the free agent market leaving the Raiders with an immediate need to address the loss of a starter on the O-line. Grove has showed some real talent but has also missed his share of games due to injury over the years.
WR – The Raider receiving core was a mess last season. Javon Walker was given a contract worth $50 million, had to be talked out of retirement and then went out and caught only 15 balls before going on IR. Drew Carter was a free agent signing who never made it to the regular season after sustaining a serious knee injury. Ron Curry should have been the top target for Russell but never emerged as the reliable receiver we had hope he’d become and his Raider days appear over. Johnnie Lee Higgins, who led all Raider wide outs with 22 grabs, and Chaz Schilens both showed a lot of promise late in the year. Schilens could be another gem. The former San Diego State Aztec was a 7th round pick who stands 6’4″ and can run like the wind. Al’s glowing review of Higgins and Schilens combined with Zach Miller’s emergence as a future Pro Bowler at tight end could mean that the Raiders will be staying the course at receiver.
DT – The Raider run defense was nonexistent last season ranking 31st in the NFL. It goes without saying that stopping the run starts up front with the big guys. Terdell Sands put his fist to the face of Shane Lechler and might now be putting his walking shoes on to hit the pavement. Gerard Warren has never become the dominant defensive force in the league that he looked like in college. There is a very definite chance that this could be a need addressed in the first round. We’ll know more after the combine.
OLB – Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard are the fastest linebacker duo in the NFL and are capable of being dominant if given some help from the D-line. Morrison’s coverage skills could be batter suited to move him to the outside position instead of in the middle, but rest assured that the Raiders will need to get a new linebacker one way or another to be added to the Morrison and Howard combo.
Concerns going forward:
CB – The Nnamdi Asomugha saga has been the topic of national debate with every team in the league licking their chops at the thought of a shut down corner hitting the free agent market. The smart money is on Nnamdi getting the franchise tag for 2009, but beyond that, his Raider future is very much up in the air.
S – Michael Huff has just not lived up to the expectations that have come with being a top 10 draft pick. He is an amazing athlete but has been unable to grasp all the responsibilities of being the last line of defense in the NFL. He could be a better fit as a nickel corner, but his future is in doubt amid reports he will be given his out right release. Tyvon Branch was another great find in the 4th round last year and were it not for injures, his rookie season had the looks of being a breakout. Branch was a corner at Connecticut, but he played some safety last year and could be the opening day starter alongside Gibril Wilson.
P – It is not often that you would address the need for a punter in the draft, but the possibility of losing Shane Lechler is looming larger with each passing day. Lechler is, statistically, the best punter in the history of pro football. His scuffle with Terdell Sands has become the best reason for the speculation of his possible exodus.
DE – Derrick Burgess has been saddled with injuries the past two seasons. It was not long ago he was the most dangerous pass rusher in the league but now is showing the wear and tear of 9 seasons in the NFL.
All in all, this young Raider team is not that far away from being much more competitive. The end of the 2008 season showed a lot of what is possible and the ever changing face of the AFC West has even sparked some hope of a return to the playoffs. One thing is clear, the 2009 draft is crucial to this team’s future. I hope that Al Davis is paying close attention to every detail in Indianapolis this week.
Topics: A-Rod, Al Davis, Chaz Schilens, Cornell Green, Darren McFadden, Derrick Burgess, Drew Carter, Gerard Warren, Gibril Wilson, Jake Grove, JaMarcus Russell, Javon Walker, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Justin Fargas, Kirk Morrison, Kwame Harris, Mario Henderson, Michael Bush, Michael Huff, Nnamdi Asomugha, Robert Gallery, Ron Curry, Shane Lechler, Terdell Sands, Thomas Howard, Tyvon Branch, Zach Miller