The Oakland Raiders are coming off their second straight 4-12 finish and have now gone 11 straight seasons without a winning record. The last time Oakland was in the playoffs was 2002, when they got embarrassed in the Super Bowl 48-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While the Raiders won just 4-games and closed out the regular season with six straight losses, ownership didn’t hit the panic button. The front office and coaching staff were brought back and rightfully so. When you consider the talent Oakland had on their roster last year, winning 4-games was a success.
Oakland has had one of the more promising offseasons of any team. Despite losing starting left tackle Jared Veldheer, the Raiders appears to have improved up front on offense. They added tackles Donald Penn and Austin Howard, plus they brought in guard Kevin Boothe. Oakland also signed running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver James Jones. They didn’t forget about the defense. The Raiders added a couple of potential starters at corner in Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, plus they beefed up the defensive line with the additions of Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley.
The only real significant loss outside of Veldheer was defensive end Lamarr Houston. Other notable departures include running back Rashad Jennings, defensive tackle Vance Walker, cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and receiver/return specialist Jacoby Ford.
The focus for Oakland now shifts to the NFL Draft. The Raiders have one selection in each of the first four rounds and two in the 7th, but are without a pick both the 5th and 6th. Oakland will be on the clock in the first round with the No. 5 overall selection. Here’s a quick look at the five positions I think the Raiders need to target this May.
As much as excitement as Terrelle Pryor brought to this team early with his ability to run the football (576 rushing yards), he’s not a polished enough passer to warrant a starting job. Neither is backup Matt McGloin. Oakland made this pretty clear when they traded away their 6th round pick for former Houston Texans starter Matt Schaub. Bringing in Schaub could be a sign that Oakland might not take a quarterback at No. 5, but there’s no question they will be drafting a quarterback early.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
Regardless if it’s Schaub, Pryor or a rookie starting at quarterback in 2014, none of them are going to play up to their potential unless the Raiders add in some more weapons on the outside. Rod Streater and Denarius Moore are Oakland’s top two returning receivers. While both are serviceable, neither is a legit No. 1 threat. If their quarterback is off the board and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is still available at No. 5, Oakland should pounce on the opportunity. The Raiders will also be looking to upgrade the tight end position, as they have nothing in terms of talent on the roster right now.
Oakland was able to re-sign veteran free safety Charles Woodson, but the 37-year-old isn’t the same player he once was and can’t be trusted to stay healthy at this point in his career. Tyvon Branch is slated in as the starting strong safety and Usama Young is the top backup to Woodson at free safety. If those two end up having to play the majority of snaps on defense, Oakland’s pass defense will struggle again in 2014.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker:
I know the Raiders added in some big names to fill this void, but Tuck is 31, Smith is 32 and Woodley will turn 30 during the season. Bringing in someone to learn the ropes and serve as an insurance policy would be a wise investment and could pay off huge down the road. Oakland could probably hold off until later in the draft to address this need, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took Khalil Mack out of Buffalo with the No. 5 pick.
While Oakland lost Walker inside, they were able to bring back run-stuffing defensive tackle Pat Sims. The big issue here is depth, as the Raiders don’t have much to offer outside of Sims. Unfortunately they probably wouldn’t be able to go after help here until later in the draft and by that time their won’t be a whole lot of talent left on the board.
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