Al Davis is gone and a completely new regime is in charge. New GM Reggie McKenzie was hired this offseason and fired Hue Jackson, their previous Head Coach, replacing him with new Head Coach Dennis Allen. Unfortunately, this new regime has been completely screwed over by the old regime. Hue Jackson’s trade for Carson Palmer left them without a 1st round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, while Al Davis traded away their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks in other trades, leaving the new regime with very scarce resources to add talent through the draft. They also didn’t have a 1st round pick in 2011, thanks to a not quite as bad, but still shortsighted trade for Richard Seymour.
Al Davis’ various moves also left them in a very bad cap situation. This left the Raiders unable to sign any significant free agents or resign any of their own like Michael Bush. This also forced them to have to cut some players just to get under the cap including Kevin Boss, Stanford Routt, and Kamerion Wimbley. The latter was their best defensive player last year and they will actually be paying him 6.5 million dollars this season to play for another team. Otherwise, they would have had to pay him 13 million this season, just one year after signing him to a massive, shortsighted, and cap unfriendly long term deal.
The loss of Wimbley represents the 2nd straight offseason they’ve lost their top defensive player, after losing Nnamdi Asomugha last offseason. The loss of Stanford Routt represents the 2nd straight offseason they’ve lost their top cornerback. These two losses, along with a few minor ones, leave them incredibly thin defensively, especially in the secondary. They already ranked 29th in scoring defense last year, allowing 27.1 points per game, last season.
Offensively, they’ll be better, but not good enough to cancel out an awful defense. They weren’t even good enough to cancel out their awful defense last year, though they managed to win 8 games. They ranked 16th in the league in scoring offense, scoring 22.4 points per game. The Raiders were pretty lucky to win 8 games last year, going 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They had a Pythagorean Expectation of 6.3 wins, 23rd in the league, and ranked 22nd in DVOA. Last year, they played like a 6 win team or so and that was before all of their losses.
What ironic about the Carson Palmer trade is that, while they gave up a 1st round pick in 2012 and a 2nd round pick in 2013 for him, he wasn’t even much, if any, of an upgrade over Jason Campbell. Campbell made 6 starts last season before going down with an injury. In those 6 games, the Raiders went 4-2, averaged 26.7 points per game, and played 3 of 6 games against playoff teams. He completed 60.6% of his passes for an average of 7.1 YPA and 6 touchdowns to 4 interceptions.
Meanwhile, Palmer went 4-6 in 10 starts, during which the Raiders averaged 19.9 points per game, and played just 3 of 10 games against playoff teams. He completed 60.7% of his passes for an average of 8.4 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Palmer was obviously an upgrade over Kyle Boller, who would have started with Campbell hurt, but it’s pretty bad that the Raiders gave up a 1st and 2nd round pick for a guy who didn’t outplay Jason Campbell, who is currently a backup in Chicago.
Palmer is owed 12.5 million this season, even more reason their trade for him was ridiculous. Not only did it cost them two high picks, but it clogged their cap. And all this for a guy who had skipped the first half of the season and whose team wasn’t even using him. Owed 28 million over the next 2 seasons in 2013 and 2014, Palmer could be cut after the season if his performance doesn’t improve.
Palmer could be better this season in his 2nd year in Oakland, especially now that he won’t be starting his season midseason like he did last year. However, he’s going to be learning yet another new offense and he’s heading into his age 33 season. He hasn’t aged well at all and he hasn’t been the same since getting hurt in 2008.
He had 4000 yard seasons in 2006 and 2007, but in 46 games since, he’s completed 918 passes on 1509 attempts (60.8%) for 10548 yards (7.0 YPA), 63 touchdowns, and 53 interceptions. Over a 16 game season, that’s 319 completions on 525 attempts for 3669 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 18 touchdowns. In 2009, he led the 22nd ranked scoring offense to 19.1 points per game. Then, he led the 22nd ranked scoring offense in 2010 to 20.1 points per game, both when he was in Cincinnati. The Raiders’ offense should be around there in 2012, possibly even worse as Palmer ages.
A healthy Jason Campbell wasn’t the only reason why the Raiders averaged about 7 points per game in their first 6 games. Darren McFadden also went down around the same time, missing the final 9 games and only carrying the ball twice in their week 7 game. He had 113 carries for 614 yards and 4 touchdowns when he was healthy, but he never has been able to stay healthy. He’s never played more than 13 games in a season and only once surpassed 113 carries in a season. When healthy, though, he averages 4.8 YPC for his career and in 2010, his best season, he caught 47 passes.
If/when he gets hurt, the Raiders won’t have Michael Bush to turn to because he signed in Chicago. Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones will be his backups and split carries when he’s hurt. Jones was a 4th round pick in 2011, who rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries last year and caught 2 passes. Goodson, meanwhile, has just 125 carries for 501 yards and 3 touchdowns in 3 seasons, with 43 catches. They aren’t nearly as talented or proven as Bush and none of them are the power back that Bush was, to compliment McFadden. Because of this, they have been linked to veteran backs such as Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant, though they have yet to sign either.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Luckily, Carson Palmer does have good receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the 7th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft and a major surprise pick. His doubters had a lot of ammunition after he caught 35 passes for 490 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first 2 seasons combined. However, he had a breakout 3rd year last year, leading the team in receiving by catching 64 passes for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s better than any season that Michael Crabtree has ever had. Crabtree was the guy the Raiders passed on for DHB (cut to 49ers’ fans grimacing).
DHB might not be the Raiders’ #1 receiver in 2012, but it won’t be his fault. Denarius Moore looks like a breakout star waiting to happen. As a mere 5th round rookie, Moore caught 33 passes for 613 yards and 5 touchdowns in just 13 games. In 6 games with Carson Palmer, Moore caught 19 passes for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns, good for 51 catches for 1083 yards and 8 touchdowns over 16 games. Palmer has been raving about him this offseason and he could definitely be even better in his 2nd year because receivers normally take a year or two to adjust to the NFL. He could surpass 1000 yards this season, leaving DHB as a solid 2nd option for Palmer.
The Raiders have adequate depth as well. Once upon a time, Jacoby Ford was a popular fantasy sleeper who many envisioned could become a Denarius Moore type player before Moore did it. Ford missed 8 games with injury last season, but caught 19 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown last year after catching 25 passes for 470 yards and 2 scores as a rookie. He’s a decent depth receiver and slot guy. Meanwhile, 5th round rookie Juron Criner was an absolute steal. He’s already gotten Louis Murphy traded and should be the #4 receiver at worst this year. He’s the possession receiver that none of their other receivers are so he could have an immediate impact, especially around the end zone.
However, while they have good wide receiver talent, the tight end position is a different story. Kevin Boss failed miserably in his first year in Oakland and was promptly cut this offseason. Lacking the cap space or draft picks to bring in a replacement, the Raiders will be starting blocking tight end Brandon Myers with 2011 7th round pick David Ausberry as the “move” tight end. Myers is a solid blocker, but he only has 32 catches in 3 NFL seasons. Ausberry, meanwhile, is undersized at 6-4 245 and a former wide receiver. The Raiders like his ability as a pass catcher, but he’s not much of a blocker at all. He only has 2 career catches so he’s definitely no sure thing, but there is a little upside with someone that athletic.
The Raiders also have a lot of young players on the offensive line, but they’re not quite as talented. Last season, they ranked 17th in pass blocking efficiency and 16th as run blockers on ProFootballFocus. The Raiders’ quarterbacks did them a favor and only took 25 sacks on 145 pressured drop backs, good for a sack rate of 17.2%. Carson Palmer was even better, taking a sack on just 16.2% of his pressured snaps, which ranked 25th highest in the league out of 36 eligible quarterbacks
Left tackle Jared Veldheer is a very good young player and solidifies the most important position on the line for them. The 2010 3rd round pick had a breakout year in 2011, allowing just 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 28 quarterback pressures, while run blocking well. The one weakness in his game was 11 penalties, something that was a major problem for the Raiders last season. The Raiders committed 163 penalties for 1358 yards in 2011, both NFL records. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem as they led the league with 148 penalties for 1276 yards in 2010 as well and they were 2nd with 117 penalties in 2009.
Another offensive lineman with 11 penalties last season was right tackle Khalif Barnes, who was below average in all facets of the game and especially awful as a run blocker. He ranked 54th out of 73 offensive tackles on ProFootballFocus last year overall and 66th as a run blocker. He also allowed just 2 sacks, but also 9 quarterback hits and 24 quarterback pressures. He’ll compete with Joseph Barksdale, an inexperienced 2011 3rd round pick who played just 156 snaps last season, for the right tackle job. Neither is a good fit for their new zone blocking offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
One player who will benefit for the switch is 2011 2nd round pick Stefen Wisniewski. Wisniewski will also benefit from moving from guard to his natural position of center, where he’ll replace Samson Satele, a solid starter who wouldn’t have fit the new scheme. Wisniewski struggled as a rookie, particularly as a run blocker, but he played all year through injuries and the scheme and position switch could propel him to a breakout year now that he’s fully healthy and no longer a mere rookie. He played his best football in 2 starts at center last year.
Taking Wisniewski’s old spot is free agent acquisition Mike Brisiel. Brisiel was the only significant free agent they could afford, but at least they used their cap space wisely, bringing in someone at a position of need who has experience in the new zone blocking scheme. Brisiel was a solid starter in a zone blocking scheme for the past few years in Houston, where Knapp came from.
Rounding out the offensive line is Cooper Carlisle, who was resigned for the veteran’s minimum this offseason heading into his age 35 season. He should be glad his team didn’t have any premium picks or cap space as he could have been replaced. He struggled as both a run and pass blocker last season, ranking 57th out of 76 guards on ProFootballFocus. He’ll be pushed for his job by Tony Bergstrom, a rookie who the Raiders acquired with their highest draft pick, a late 3rd round compensatory pick for the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha in the prior offseason. Even if he can make his way into the starting lineup as a rookie, there’s no guarantee he’ll be an upgrade.
The Raiders do have some talent offensively and a full season from Darren McFadden will help, but I don’t think they’ll get it and I think they’re being held down by Carson Palmer. Palmer has led offenses to 19.7 points per game over his last 42 starts, including just 19.9 points per game in 10 starts last year. That would have ranked 24th in the league last year and he’s only getting older. They should rank somewhere in the early 20s in terms of offensive scoring rank with about 19-21 points per game.
Defense is where the Raiders were hurt the most this offseason by their lack of picks and cap space. Not only were they unable to upgrade the league’s 29th ranked scoring defense, 26.9 points per game, they also lost two more starters in Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley, with the latter being their best defensive player. This comes one offseason after losing their former best defensive player, Nnamdi Asomugha.
Meanwhile, middle linebacker Rolando McClain is facing jail time and Richard Seymour, who might now be their best defensive player, is heading into his age 33 season, as Tommy Kelly heads into his age 32 season. They figure to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league again this year and they have a good chance to be even worse than they were last season.
Though his base position was linebacker, where Kamerion Wimbley’s biggest absence will be felt is on the defensive line. Wimbley would come down and play defensive end on passing downs and had 6 sacks, 16 quarterback pressures, and 40 quarterback hits on 478 pass rush snaps last year, a rate of 13.0%. They don’t have anyone else like that and could struggle to get to the quarterback in 2012.
To make up for his loss, the Raiders signed Dave Tollefson and will get Matt Shaughnessy back after he missed all of last season except 3 games with injury. That’s not going to work out well. Tollefson was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated defensive end last season, mostly because he couldn’t get to the quarterback to save his life. Playing on a Giants defensive line loaded with guys to take attention off him, he managed just 5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 13 quarterback pressures on 355 pass rush snaps, good for a pathetic rate of 5.6%. He didn’t play the run well either.
Meanwhile, Matt Shaughnessy is coming off a major injury and has a history of injury problems. His specialty is playing the run, but he can get some pass rush as he had 8 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 18 quarterback pressures on 290 pass rush snaps, a 10.0% rate, in 2010, his last full season. Those two will rotate with LaMarr Houston, who can also play some defensive tackle. A big defensive end at 6-3 305, Houston’s specialty is obviously stopping the run, but he can get some pass rush, with 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 27 quarterback pressures on 384 pass rushes in 2011, a 8.9% rate.
Their best pass rushers are probably defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. Seymour, ProFootballFocus’ 11th rated defensive tackle, had 6 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 25 quarterback pressures on 550 pass rush snaps last season, good for an 7.3% rate, impressive for a defensive tackle. He ranked 3rd among defensive tackles as a pass rusher on ProFootballFocus and also played the run well.
Kelly, meanwhile, had 8 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback pressures on 518 pass rushes, for a 6.6% rate. He ranked 8th as a pass rusher at his position. The problems with Kelly and Seymour are that they are entering their age 32 and 33 seasons respectively and they both are often penalized. I mentioned this was a huge problem for the whole team. Seymour was penalized 11 times and Kelly 10, which ranked 1 and 2 among defensive tackles. No one else had more than 8.
The Raiders will also miss John Henderson, an incredible situational run stuffer, who ranked 5th on ProFootballFocus at his position against the run. The top reserve will be Desmond Bryant, a solid run stopper, and LaMarr Houston could see some action there at his natural position now that they have some more defensive end depth. The Raiders also used a 6th round pick on Christo Bilukidi to add some youth at defensive tackle, but he won’t have much of an impact this season. The same goes for 5th round pick Jack Crawford, a defensive end, and Miles Burris, a 4th round pick hybrid linebacker/defensive end.
The Raiders likely drafted Burris, that hybrid linebacker/defensive end, with Kamerion Wimbley in mind, but for 2012, they’ll definitely miss Wimbley. Not only was he a great pass rusher, but he was a key part of their run defense as a linebacker. He ranked 3rd at his position overall on ProFootballFocus. He’ll be replaced by Philip Wheeler, who was a solid two down run stuffer in Indianapolis last year, but guys like that are a dime a dozen.
Another linebacker the Raiders could miss in 2012 is Rolando McClain. McClain is facing a 180 day jail sentence for firing a gun shot near a man’s head. He’s currently appealing so it’s unknown when his sentence will start and how long it will actually be, but between that and a possible suspension from the NFL, he should miss at least part of this season.
He’s a solid player whose strengths are run stuffing and blitzing, though he struggles his coverage. He was ProFootballFocus’ 51st ranked coverage linebacker out of 53, but 18th as a run stuffer and he had 5 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and 10 quarterback pressures on 103 blitzes, good for a rate of 19.4%. Whenever he misses time, he’ll be replaced by 2010 5th round pick Travis Goethel, who has played just 90 snaps in 2 seasons. He’ll obviously be missed.
The other outside linebacker is Aaron Curry. Curry was a major bust as the 4th overall pick of the Seahawks’ in 2009, but a fresh start in Oakland led to him being a decent starter. He’s not a great player, but he can cover and stop the run solidly. He’ll be an every down linebacker next season, as will whoever starts at middle linebacker, freeing up Wheeler to focus on what he does best, stuffing the run as a two down run stuffer. However, they do look really thin at the position, especially with McClain likely to miss time. That would leave Curry as their best linebacker, which is not a position you want to be in.
The Raiders didn’t do too badly in coverage last year, allowing 7.1 YPA, 15th in the NFL, in their first season without Nnamdi Asomugha. That number is a little misleading though because they committed a lot of penalties, which don’t count towards the number, but hurt nonetheless. The reason they weren’t awful in coverage was because Stanford Routt had his best season and because of their strong pass rush, led by Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley and Routt are gone now, however.
With no early picks and no cap space, the Raiders had to hit the bargain bin for starters at cornerback, signing Shawntae Spencer and Ronald Bartell. Spencer was once a starter in San Francisco, but didn’t play that well in that role. He opened last season as a nickel in San Francisco, but missed a lot of time with injuries and when he came back, he barely played. He played just 87 snaps last season.
Bartell, meanwhile, missed every game but 1 with a neck injury in St. Louis last year. He used to be a decent starter, so there’s some bounce back potential, but it’s never a good thing to have to sort through the bargain bin for cornerbacks in a pass heavy league. Competing with those two veterans for starting jobs will be 2011 3rd and 4th round picks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, who played 329 and 122 snaps respectively as rookies in 2011, and not well I might add.
Their secondary is saved by a talented duo of safeties. Both Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch are above average starters who have been given long term deals in the last two offseasons respectively. Huff and Branch will be relied on more than ever before in 2012 given their troubles at cornerback. They also liked to use 3-safety sets pretty often in sub packages last year, to combat their lack of cornerback depth. They may continue that this year, but it’s worth noting that their 3rd safety, Matt Giordano, didn’t play well.
As you can see, the Raiders have been gutted of talent defensively in the last 2 offseasons, losing Kamerion Wimbley, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Stanford Routt. Meanwhile, Rolando McClain is facing a length jail sentence and/or suspension and their top defensive linemen, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, are over the hill. On top of all that, they haven’t had a 1st round pick in the last 2 years and didn’t have a non-compensatory pick before the 5th round this year. They also didn’t have a lot of cap room to work with. They ranked 29th in the league defensively last year, allowing 26.9 points per game. They could be even worse this season.
Dennis Allen is incredibly inexperienced as far as Head Coaches go. He was Denver’s defensive coordinator for just 1 year (when they ranked just 24th defensively I might add) and before that he had just 3 years experience as a head position coach, coaching the Saints’ secondary from 2008-2010. Before that, he was an assistant defensive line coach with the Saints for 2 years. He’s also a symbol of turmoil in the Raiders organization. The team has finally gotten to .500, going 8-8 in each of the last 2 seasons, but they’ve also fired their Head Coach after each season. That’s not good for team morale and continuity.
Simply put, this was a team that did not deserve to go 8-8 last year and now they’ve been gutted this offseason and couldn’t do much about it. They played like a 5 or 6 win team last year, but got lucky, going 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They also only played 6 playoff teams, going 2-4 in those 6 games and both wins were with Jason Campbell as quarterback.
Under Carson Palmer, the Raiders were actually pretty significantly worse offensively than under Jason Campbell. Some of that was Darren McFadden, some of that wasn’t, but he’s no sure thing to stay healthy either. Palmer is heading into his age 33 season and has been leading offenses to about 19 points per game over the last 3 seasons. Also heading into his age 33 season is Richard Seymour, while Tommy Kelly will turn 32. On a gutted defense, those are the leaders.
They’ll be mediocre offensively, awful defensively, and they have had a lot of roster and coaching staff turnover in the last 2 seasons, which will hurt their morale and continuity. They’ll be one of the worst teams in the NFL. They’re one of about 5 or 6 teams that could end up losing 13 or 14 games this season, but I have them doing so because of their tough schedule and because of the NFL’s parity. Every season since the NFL went to the new playoff format in 2002, there have been on average 4.4 teams with 6 points of parity per season (6 more wins or 6 more losses). I have San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington and I need a 4th team.
Meanwhile, their schedule will be really tough. I doubt they’ll play just 6 playoff teams again. Their division isn’t great, but I think all 3 teams are better than them and, outside the division, they play the NFC South and AFC North, two tough divisions. I think they could go 1-5 in the division. Outside of the division, they host Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Cleveland. 3 of those games seem pretty easy, but the Raiders are also going to be a pretty easy opponent.
Their non-divisional road games are at Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Carolina. It’ll take some bad luck for them to go 2-14, but there’s not much difference between a 2 win and a 5 win team in the NFL. They played like a 5 or 6 win team last year and are much worse this season. They have an awful defense and will struggle to score points and keep up in shout outs, which will lead an aging and erratic Palmer to turn the ball over a lot. Anything from 2-6 wins would not shock me, but I have to put them at the lower end for a variety of reasons. That’s just how it works out.
Projection: 2-14 4th in AFC West