It’s almost embarrassing that ESPN’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson ranked the top defensive linemen in the division and Raiders occupy four of the top six slots. It’s embarrassing for a lot of reasons.
For one the unit looked nothing like a top tier bunch last season. Top notch D-lines don’t get the ball shoved down their throats by every team under the sun no matter their running pedigree. The New England Patriots couldn’t run the rock to save their lives until they came to Oakland last season. Just sayin’.
It’s also embarrassing because much of what went into Williamson’s rankings is all based on potential and past promise. Richard Seymour is at the point in his career when he gets a pass based on his past accomplishments. Seymour clocks in at the top spot in the AFC West according to Williamson. I’m not saying Seymour is past his prime and isn’t playing at a high level. I’m just making the case that Tommy Kelly has been the better performer these last two years.
At the number four spot, just beneath Kelly, is Lamarr Houston a man that showed plenty of potential as a rookie yet didn’t progress much during his second season. Houston has long been the darling of scouts because of his upside. We’re all still waiting to see that talent come to the field every Sunday.
While we’re on the subject of potential, Matt Shaughnessy rounds out Oakland’s D-line bounty as the sixth rated lineman in the AFC West. Now we all know Shaughnessy’s talent is real. Truth be told he could be Oakland’s best lineman but he too has yet to put it all together. 2011 was supposed to be his breakout season but a shoulder injury ended that.
Overall the talent is there. Problem is when you throw on the game tape you don’t see it every Sunday. Some games Seymour and Kelly are monsters in the middle while Shaughnessy and Houston are terrors on the outside. The next week that line is nowhere to be found.
Consistency is what separates the greats from the very goods. Oakland’s line has been very good but not great.
Perhaps the new defensive philosophy will allow this unit to shine the way we know it can. But until then this is just more hype. Wake me up when the results are on the field.
In order for the Raiders to take that next step and make the leap into the playoffs they’re going to need an improved defense. Not a dominant defense, not with the amazing collection of offensive talent the Raiders boast. Just an opportunistic, bend but don’t break style of D that can make big plays and get key stops.
Is that asking too much?
Football still is and always will be a physical competition. The rules may change by the essence of the game remains the same. The tone is set by the men in the trenches doing the dirty work. Oakland’s D-line has the talent to affect the outcome of any game on any given Sunday. We just haven’t seen that often enough. This could be Seymour’s final season as a Raider so it would be nice to see him come full circle by getting this team into the postseason. It is a real possibility if all the promise of the front four comes into full view in 2012.