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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Oakland Raiders

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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.

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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.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Carson Palmer 12
Running Backs
Darren McFadden 2
Mike Goodson 11
Wide Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey 9
Denarius Moore 9
Jacoby Ford ND
Tight Ends
David Ausberry ND
Kickers/Defense
Sebastian Janikowski 14
Raiders DST ND
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.

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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.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
SD @MIA PIT @DEN bye @ATL JAC @KC TB @BAL NO @CIN CLE DEN KC @CAR @SD

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

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
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.

Injury update

Darren McFadden (foot; probable for the start of training camp) ... Denarius Moore (hamstring; probable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


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(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


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Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


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It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


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(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


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Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


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(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

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