Change has come to Oakland. It just might take a few years for it to be positive.
The Raiders' organizational structure changed with the passing of owner Al Davis last fall. Reggie McKenzie is the team's first GM since Davis became the principal owner. He named former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the head coach -- the first time a defensive-minded coach will lead the Raiders since John Madden in 1978. Fifteen of 19 assistant coaches are either new or returning to the Raiders after coaching elsewhere.
Unfortunately, those are all the major changes the Raiders were actually able to make. Between cap issues and previous trades involving draft picks the team was handcuffed in free agency and the draft. Though they did add some talent -- guard Mike Brisiel, linebacker Philip Wheeler and cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell are the highlights -- the team will have to rely on the players they added and got something out of last season.
While that will spell trouble for the defense, that's not necessarily a horrible thing for the offense. Carson Palmer found himself in Oakland after holding out from Cincinnati and will commandeer an offense ripe with young, upstart receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey began to live up to Al Davis' expectations last season, Denarius Moore showed flashes as did Jacoby Ford. During offseason workouts rookie wideout Juron Criner showed he might be a steal for the Raiders.
But we're not kidding anyone here. Darren McFadden will be the Raiders' primary offensive weapon this season -- so long as he stays healthy. McFadden got off to an amazing start in 2011, totaling 768 yards and five touchdowns in seven games before suffering a Lisfranc sprain that shelved his season. He was a regular participant this offseason and is expected to be 100 percent to start the season. That's good because in his last 20 games he's averaged 88.5 rush yards, 33.0 receiving yards with 15 total touchdowns -- and those stats came with Michael Bush playing alongside him.
Bush is gone from Oakland, opening the door for McFadden to work quite a bit. A 16-game season could yield 1,800 total yards and double-digit touchdowns for McFadden, but another foot injury could be debilitating. Owners will risk a big pick on McFadden in every Fantasy draft, but it's the smart ones who back him up properly who won't feel left out in the cold. Expect to read about McFadden's exploits all summer long -- it might be the best press the Raiders get.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND - not expected to get drafted|
Sleeper ... Carson Palmer, quarterback
Palmer has only had two 4,000-yard seasons but kept up a pace last year that easily would have had him top that mark for a third time. He averaged 293 yards per start thanks in part to either playing from behind or being involved in shootouts (or both). Oakland's offense is evolving this year; there shouldn't be many hiccups in the transition and Palmer should still be in a position to sling it early and often to a receiving corps overflowing with potential. He's the perfect quarterback to draft in Round 11 or 12 as a No. 2 option and either use when your starter is on bye or facing a nightmarish matchup.
Bust ... Denarius Moore, wide receiver
Many people are tying their wagons to Moore, including my colleague Jamey Eisenberg. I've seen Jamey take Moore as soon as Round 7! That's way too high. Some stats from Moore's rookie season are incredible: He had 100 yards or a touchdown in 6 of 13 games and converted a first down or a touchdown on 26 of 33 receptions. But he caught less than 50 percent of his targets and totaled 111 yards in the seven games he didn't have 100 yards or a score. He also got banged up and missed three games last year and pulled a hamstring during non-contact practices this spring. Moore is the ultimate boom-or-bust wideout this season, not quite in the mold of DeSean Jackson and not as flimsy as Devery Henderson. Don't be the guy who drafts him with a mid-round pick -- he'll disappoint you. Heyward-Bey is the much, much safer mid- to-late-round Raiders receiver to target.
Keeper-league target ... Juron Criner, wide receiver
Al Davis might be gone, but the Raiders still chased rookie receivers in the draft. The one they took in the fifth round this year might be worth the pick, however: Criner flashed some impressive speed during spring workouts and made some fabulous catches from Carson Palmer, including a bomb in double coverage. Criner's size (6-foot-3 and 224 pounds) and hands (75 catches for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior at Arizona) are awesome, and while his timed speed at the combine (4.68 in the 40-yard dash) leaves a lot to be desired, what he showed this spring could be an asset to Oakland if he can keep it up in the summer, fall and winter. Put a star next to this guy's name if you are in leagues that keep players year after year.
Raider Nation can play the disrespect card legitimately this season: Of the Raiders' eight road games, five are in the Eastern time zone with 1 p.m. kickoffs. Last year the Raiders went 0-2 in those spots and they haven't won a game on the East Coast with a 1 p.m. kickoff since 2009 (at Pittsburgh). If there's a silver lining, it's that their last six games will provide them with a few chances to win, including the Carson Palmer Bowl at Cincy in Week 12 and a three-game stretch where they stay at home starting the week after. Hopefully McFadden's feet keep him on the field and not in a doctor's office for that part of the schedule.
Training camp topics
|Michael Bush||256 carries, 37 catches|
|Darren McFadden||113 carries, 19 catches|
|Darrius Heyward-Bey||64 catches|
|Marcel Reece||17 carries, 27 catches|
|Denarius Moore||33 catches, 5 carries|
The race to back up McFadden is officially on! After losing Michael Bush to the Bears in free agency, the Raiders traded for Panthers rusher Mike Goodson and might be on the verge of bringing in another veteran (Cedric Benson's name keeps popping up). Second-year speedster Taiwan Jones is also on the roster. It's imperative that whoever is slated to be the backup is taken in Fantasy drafts with a mid- to late-round pick by the owner who spends a Top-20 pick on McFadden. For now it's Goodson; he totaled 275 rush yards on 59 carries and 125 receiving yards on 16 catches with a score in the only three games he ever started in three years with the Panthers. He's entering a contract year and working with an offensive coordinator in Greg Knapp who isn't afraid to use multiple backs in his offenses.
Knapp also hasn't been afraid to throw downfield, which is good since the Raiders have tons of receiving threats. Heyward-Bey stands out as the most reliable for Fantasy purposes; after he got out of Hue Jackson's dog house last season he connected with Palmer for 541 yards on 37 catches and three of his four touchdowns in seven games. And in those seven games, DHB caught four-plus passes in all but one. He's a lock to end up as a consistent contributor for the Raiders.
Moore should be the other primary receiver, but everything else is up in the air. Jacoby Ford has tons of talent but has been plagued by injuries through his two-year career. Louis Murphy has shown flashes of being effective but even when he was forced into action he wasn't overly effective. Criner could wedge his way into playing time. Watching how the receiving corps shakes out behind Heyward-Bey and Moore will be interesting.
Tight end is also open for the Raiders. They have a raw talent in David Ausberry, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound guy with some speed, but he has almost zilch for experience. Brandon Myers and Richard Gordon will compete with Ausberry for the starting job and a role in the offense. If there's any reason to watch this camp battle, it's because Knapp's offenses have prominently featured tight ends: Four of the last six starting tight ends he's coached have led their teams in receptions and all six have had at least 44 catches. The tight ends involved? Alge Crumpler, Zach Miller and John Carlson. We're not talking about big names here.
And we'll keep not talking about big names as the Raiders' defense comes into focus. A year after losing Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency, the team parted ways with cornerback Stanford Routt. They reloaded with underwhelming options and only have safety Tyvon Branch as a reputable member of the secondary. It gets worse: Pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley also left Oakland via free agency, leaving the team with Matt Shaughnessy (12 sacks) as their premier pass rusher. Simply put, a lot of offenses will "get right" against the Raiders this season, starting with the Chargers in Week 1.