They say “steel sharpens steel.” For the Oakland Raiders, the best steel is right in their own division.
In 2013 the AFC West division sent three teams to the playoffs. An impressive feat in the tough landscape of the NFL. Unfortunately for the Oakland Raiders, they were the odd man out finishing with a 4-12 record.
Looking at the AFC West, I see a division that has grown and overcome in just a few short years. A division that was a laughing-stock as early as 2011, has now come full circle and is home of the AFC Champion Denver Broncos.
The Broncos were dominated in Super Bowl XLVIII losing to the champion Seattle Seahawks, who rose from a very similar NFC West division.
The NFC West division was the worst in football in 2010. Boasting the starting quarterbacks of an aging Matt Hassleback, Derek Anderson, Alex Smith, and rookie Sam Bradford. The Seahawks won the division that year and backed their way into the playoffs with a disgusting 7-9 record.
In 2014 all four NFC West teams now boast incredible defenses and credible quarterback play, even if you count Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford. In 2013 the Rams finished last in the Division with a 7-9 record, which in 2010 would have been good enough for the playoffs.
So how do you go from the Worst Division in Football, to the Best?
Well, you bring in great Head Coaches and GM’s, and more importantly you bring in impact players through the NFL Draft.
Take a look at this chart of NFC West Impact Players Drafted between the 2010- 2013.
|2010 NFL Draft||Daryl Washington||Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold||Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor||Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Navarro Bowman|
|2011 NFL Draft||Patrick Peterson||Robert Quinn||KJ Wright, Richard Sherman, Malcolm Smith||Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick,|
|2012 NFL Draft||Michael Floyd, Bobby Massie||Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson||Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson||N/A|
|2013 NFL Draft||Jonathan Coopers, Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington||Tavon Austin, Alec Olgetree, Zac Stacy||N/A||Eric Reid|
The chart provides a stark visual to the phrase “build through the draft”.
It further highlights the importance of the NFL Draft as all four teams landed impact players and starters in nearly each of the draft years.
To add to the impressive drafts, these NFC West teams also made great choices in Head Coaches. They made the tough decisions of cutting the bait with a head coach when necessary, and brought in top flight Head Coaches with something to prove.
Pete Carroll was washed out in New England, before taking USC to a couple National Championships. Carroll was thought of as too “rah,rah”, a player friendly college coach who just wouldn’t cut it in the NFL. One Super Bowl later, and those criticisms are now a distant memory.
Jim Harbaugh another former college coach from Stanford, helped turn a talented yet under achieving team in the 49ers, into a playoff team after one year. Harbaugh has yet to get his Super Bowl ring, but the 49ers are now one of the elite teams in the NFL.
Both the Rams and Cardinals have done the same. The Rams brought in the respected Jeff Fisher, who ran his course in Tennessee, but now brings a disciplined winning pedigree in St. Louis. Bruce Arians helped propel the Cardinals to the next level, with his innovative and daring offense. As well as his great enthusiasm and passion. Arians was a long time assistant who earned the right to be a Head Coach, and is well-respected throughout the league.
The teams in the NFC West competed against each other, drafted well, and brought in great Head Coaches. They went from mediocre to great, by not trying to compete with the rest of the league, but by trying to compete with each other
The AFC West is now in a very similar position. All four teams in the AFC West now have proven quarterbacks, with ironically Alex Smith once again making an appearance. The Chiefs brought in respected Head Coach Andy Reid last year and made the playoffs after a 2-14 season the year before.
Denver got their man in 2011, hiring John Fox after the Josh McDaniels debacle. I’ve always been a fan of John Fox, and was hoping the Raiders would hire him after the firing Tom Cable. Although Fox has enjoyed success with Peyton Manning, it was his time with Tim Tebow as his starting QB that impressed me. Fox is a disciplined defensive minded Head Coach, who has also fielded competitive football teams.
Both current Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy and the Raiders Dennis Allen have worked under Fox in Denver. While both are respected, up and coming, first time Head Coaches, time will tell if they are the right men for the job.
In the end, even with a great Head Coach, it is the NFL Draft that is paramount. How do the Oakland Raiders compare against the other AFC West Teams?
Lets take a look at the AFC West Impact Players Drafted between 2010-2013.
|2010 NFL Draft||Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker||Ryan Mathews, Donald Butler||Eric Berry, Jon Asamoah||*Lamarr Houston, *Jared Veldheer |
*Not on 2014 Roster
|2011 NFL Draft||Von Miller, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin||Corey Liuget, Vincent Brown||Rodney Hudson, Justin Houston||Stefen Wisniewski, Tawain Jones, Denarius Moore|
|2012 NFL Draft||Derek Wolfe, Danny Trevathan||Melvin Ingram, Ladarius Green||Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen||N/A|
|2013 NFL Draft||Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams||DJ Fluker, Manti Te'o, Keenan Allen||Eric Fisher||Sio Moore, Mychal Rivera, DJ Hayden, Menelik Watson|
As you can see, the loss of both Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston in free agency leaves the Raiders with only “Three” starters drafted between 2010-2013. With only “One” Stefen Wisniewski, drafted prior to Reggie McKenzie. The other two are Sio Moore and DJ Hayden, although both Menelik Watson and Mychal Rivera could earn starting roles this season.
I was even a bit generous in adding Tawain Jones and Denarius Moore. Jones is a special teams “Ace” and maybe the best gunner in the league. Denarius Moore has had his moments, but his inconsistency may see him leaving Oakland soon. Check out my previous article.
I hate to beat a “Dead Horse” (No Denver Bronco pun intended, Haha), but the Raiders inability to land top-tier talent has left them playing catch up in one of the toughest divisions in football. Which as a Raider Fan, you know is thrown in your face nearly every day by the Sports Media and fans alike.
As May 8th approaches, an almost second Christmas for most football fans, we should keep things in perspective. The Oakland Raiders are a work in progress. Yet achieving the goals of making the playoffs and competing for a Super Bowl begin and end with the NFL Draft.
The competitive AFC West should not be viewed as some impossible mountain to climb, but as a true blessing in disguise. The way the Seahawks rose from mediocre, to competitive, to Super Bowl Champs can be duplicated. The Raiders have the blueprint and elite competition in their division to build a championship team.
Competing and beating the best is the only way to win in this league. It is the Raider way, and they should embrace the challenge looking forward to a bright future.