No ifs ands buts or maybes about it. The 2011 edition of the Silver and Black is in prime position to reclaim the AFC West throne. However before we start the ‘I told ya so’ party there are a few things that must occur next season (whenever that starts).
To begin the Raiders have to be able to stop the run. That has been the biggest problem without a codeine addiction that has been plaguing this franchise since 2002. Secondly Jason Campbell has got to get more consistent. Hopefully he’ll be more at ease without the worry of Bruce Gradkowski lurking in the background. Finally, Darren McFadden has got to stay healthy. If Run DMC gets a full 16 games under his belt with no injury concerns I guarantee he’ll be the consensus top pick in fantasy leagues worldwide.
Of course the biggest question mark of all is the offensive line. But that is another topic unto itself. We’ll discuss the O-line in depth at a later time.
All that being said the Raiders are young at their core. Therefore they’re going to need key contributions from of their up and coming talent. Here are 5 Raiders that must breakout in 2011 in order to get back to the top of the AFC West Mountain.
5. Bruce Campbell – There was little doubt that Campbell was going to be a Raider. You just can’t slip past Al Davis when you’re 6’6”, 315-lbs of pure muscle and move like a tight end but play offensive line. Davis has spoken glowingly of Campbell despite not seeing much of the Maryland big man outside of practice. Campbell was converted from tackle to guard and now has an open path to step in as a starter…if he’s ready.
4. Stefen Wisniewski – It seems unfair to place high expectations on a rookie that hasn’t even been allowed to workout with his coaches or even participate in an OTA. But the Raiders didn’t draft the Young Wiz on the strength of his last name alone. He’s expected to be a fixture in the middle of the line from day one. With Samson Satele’s Raider days seemingly nearing their end and major questions up and down the line, Stefen figures to be starting as either center or guard. The lockout hasn’t done him any favors so he’ll have to catch on quick.
3. Mike Mitchell – It has been two three years since Al Davis left Mel Kiper speechless by grabbing Mitchell in the second round of the ’09 draft. Mitchell enters his third year with the opportunity to work his way out of part-time situational work and into a full-time starting gig. We know all about his hard hitting reputation. We’ve seen him make slow but steady progress. He’s proven to be a versatile talent capable of playing both safety positions and nickel corner. All that remains is for Mitchell to put it all together and help to reestablish the Raiders Ways of yore.
2. Rolando McClain – Give McClain credit, he improved each week as a rookie. That’s about all you can hope for from a young middle linebacker. Problem is the Raiders aren’t looking for slow improvement now that they’re squarely in position to make a playoff push. Thus he’s going to be expected to be a playmaker during his second year. Rolando’s play will be vastly important in helping to rebuild the run defense. In addition he’s got to become a vocal leader on the field. There’s no reason why McClain can’t become one of the league’s best. Hopefully he’s been watching plenty of game tape during the extended offseason.
1. Darrius Heyward-Bey – What hasn’t been said about DHB? I’ll tell you what. Anything good. From the moment he became a Raider there has been nothing but criticism. Of the little praise that has come his way it’s been in the form of compliments for his work ethic or how coachable he is, nothing to do with his actual play. 2011 is the season Hey-Bey must become more than a decoy. He has got to become the deep threat Mr. Davis envisioned when he demolished the collective mock drafts of a nation by selecting DHB 7th overall. The team has been patient but that patience has got be wearing thin as the likes of Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford have lapped Heyward-Bey. Nobody expects him to become an All-Pro but if defenses are force to respect DHB when he’s on the field it will help make life easier for the entire offense.