Projected Starters: Stanford Routt, Tyvon Branch, Hiram Eugene, Chris Johnson
Noticeably absent from the names listed above is, of course, Nnamdi Asomugha. The combination of a convoluted contract married with a labor stoppage has created a free agency limbo in which football’s best cover corner currently resides.
Imagining a future without Asomugha Island is hard to digest. Let’s not even mention how rarely opposing QBs even look his way. One of the bigger voids left by Aso’s potential departure would be in the locker room and in the community.
Few players in modern sports are truly role models. Nnamdi is that rare athlete as his athletic prowess is matched only by his charitable work.
Losing Nnamdi is more than just losing an All-Pro. He’s also the best possible face of the franchise and has been a pillar of the community. There is no way to replace him.
All that aside, the biggest wave the Raiders made prior to the work stoppage was to re-sign Stanford Routt. His mega-deal drew many headlines as most just assumed Al Davis has pulled his old routine of overpaying for underperforming players. Time will tell but a lot of people felt Asomugha was overpaid as well. We can debate whether he was worth the price but Asomugha (unlike the sorts of Albert Haynesworth) worked even harder and played better after inking a huge deal.
You can’t really put a value on Routt at this point but he has been, without a doubt, the best corner to play opposite Nnamdi and his numbers in 2010 reflect that.
Routt’s size and speed are typical of Raider corners. What else is typical is his ability to stand on that lonely island on the other side of the NFL’s least picked on corner. When compared to DeAngelo Hall’s brief stint in Silver and Black, Routt looked like Rod Woodson in his prime last season.
He might not be the total package that Nnamdi is but Routt is a better ball hawk than Asomugha and has steadily improved each year in the league. If the Raiders are truly going forward without #21 then #26 will have to step in as the #1. Replacing a shutdown corner is next to impossible but Routt is up for the task and the way I see it he could very well be in Hawaii representing the AFC in the near future.
Oakland’s top three corners were among the best in pass coverage last season. Asomugha and Routt were among the least burnt corners in the NFL and nickel corner Chris Johnson was not far behind them.
CJ has been a true revelation. He made MeAngelo expendable, earned a $12-million deal and has been vital in pass coverage ever since. While he tends to run hot and cold, Johnson has great closing speed that helps negate some of the mistakes he makes. He’ll be in line to become a starter once again if Asomugha does depart.
Two years ago Tyvon Branch announced himself as one of the best young defenders in the league. After suffering through an injury plagued rookie campaign, Branch burst onto the scene with a dynamic breakout year as the starting strong safety.
Last season was a bit of a let down as Branch had his struggles. Still, he came up with some big plays at key moments and is slowly improving in pass coverage.
Playing safety in Oakland is as tough a job as there is and no man has a more difficult task then the free safety.
Michael Huff might not ever live up to his draft status but 2010 was his best year by far. Too bad it looks like he saved his best for last as he could be gone.
The Raiders, due to a little know league rule, were unable to make Huff an offer prior to the lockout and the native Texan has since expressed his interest in playing for the Cowboys. Time will tell but there is always a chance the market for Huff won’t be so substantial that departing the East Bay will be worth his while.
As an insurance policy the Raiders inked Hiram Eugene to a new deal. A deal that left me a lot confused.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Eugene and give him a lot of respect for earning his keep in the NFL as a UFA. The problem is he’s just not nearly consistent enough to play free safety in Oakland’s scheme.
Sure, he can cover plenty of ground which is vital. Much like Huff, Eugene is not a great tackler in the open field and he’s not even close to being a ball hawk. Eugene is a good situational player but as a full-time starter he is average at best.
Stock Grade for the Secondary: B
Backups: Michael Mitchell, Jeremy Ware, Walter McFadden, Stevie Brown, Jerome Boyd
If there is one guy Raider Nation is dying to see have a breakout year it’s Mike Mitchell. His second round selection brought ESPN’s draft coverage to a halt as Chris Berman was sent scrambling to find out anything about the former Ohio Bobcat.
Know for his ferocious hits, Mitchell has the size and athleticism you love in a safety but he has yet to find his true position on the roster. He’s played both safety positions, has featured in goal-line packages and even saw some time as a nickel corner.
Last season was Mitchell’s best yet but there is still a lot of room for improvement. When given the chance, Mitchell has shown the knack to be a playmaker. As usual, consistency is the key.
Jeremy Ware, to me, was the best of the Raiders two corners drafted last year. He’s got good size, great speed and is a hard hitter which is a quality you don’t find in many corners. Due to injuries, Ware saw some extended playing time in some big games but unfortunately didn’t do enough to suit up every week. He has the makings of a quality pro but needs more time to develop.
Walter McFadden was hailed as a true cover corner coming out of Auburn. That remains to be seen at the NFL level. Unfortunately his most memorable game as a rookie was being abused by Davone Bess and the Miami Dolphins. McFadden has a slight build which makes it difficult when he’s pressing bigger receivers. His best bet is to study all of Nnamdi’s game tape to see what All-Pro footwork looks like.
Brown was primarily a special-teams contributor but got a few opportunities to play and showed some promise.
Boyd is a gifted athlete but is still transiting to playing safety in the pros. The Raiders have kept him on the practice squad for two years running so you know they see potential in the former Oregon Duck.
Stock Grade for Backups: C-
Potential Draftees: Jimmy Smith, Colorado; DeMarcus Van Dyke, Miami; Curtis Marsh, Utah State
It wouldn’t be a Raider draft without a DB or three being selected. This year will be no different as there is a long list of potential draftees. If ever there was a year Al Davis wishes he had a top 10 pick its 2011. Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara are about as can’t miss as it gets (of course, so too was Robert Gallery). Both men have the size, speed and coverage abilities Davis loves.
Still, there is plenty of value to be found in this DB-rich draft.
After Peterson and Amukamara, Smith is the next best corner in this draft. He’s got great size (6’2”), NFL speed (4.42) and can flat-out cover. He’s got some character concerns but is still a likely late first rounder. If teams feel he is too much of a gamble he could slide into Oakland’s lap in round 2 where the forgiving nature of Mr. Davis awaits.
If there were a Most Likely to be a Raider award handed out at the combine it would go to Van Dyke and his 4.25 40-yard dash. He’s got a small frame and is very raw. But his combine performance took him from a 7th round pick to potentially being drafted in the 4th or 5th round. He is a project for sure but as the saying goes, you can’t coach speed.
Marsh is going to be a Raider. I don’t see it any other way. He’s got the size and the speed you need to sport Silver and Black. More importantly he’s got a good feel for the game despite being very raw. Marsh is a converted running back and only started one year at Utah State. He is going to be a project but his upside is off the charts. The Raiders could find real value in picking Marsh in the 5th tough he could go as high as the 4th round.
Topics: Al Davis, Albert Haynesworth, Chris Johnson, Curtis Marsh, Davone Bess, Deangelo Hall, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Hiram Eugene, Jeremy Ware, Jerome Boyd, Jimmy Smith, Michael Huff, Michael Mitchell, Nnamdi Asomugha, Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Robert Gallery, Rod Woodson, Stanford Routt, Stevie Brown, Tyvon Branch, Walter McFadden