We kick off AFC West team needs with the Oakland Raiders. Don’t take too long a look at this picture to the right, unless you have a paper bag handy.
Otherwise, you might lose your lunch.
OL: The Raiders have ranked in the top six in sacks allowed for two straight seasons, and in the top 11 in six consecutive years. Offensive linemen apparently don’t run fast enough forty times for “Coach” Al Davis to deem them worthy of premium picks; he hasn’t drafted one earlier than round three since 2004. Barring an unlikely trade up, Davis may not buck that ugly trend this year because he already traded away his 2011 first-round pick. The Raiders will likely lose starting tackle Mario Henderson to free agency. (Not that he’s any good, anyway.) Center Samson Satele, right tackle/guard Langston Walker, and left guard Robert Gallery’s contracts are also up. The latter is Oakland’s top lineman.
CB: Free agent Nnamdi Asomugha’s likely departure gets the headlines. The Raiders are set at one corner spot with underrated Stanford Routt, but the position opposite him has too many question marks for comfort. Though Walter McFadden has the speed Davis craves, he earned all of 50 snaps last season. Oakland hasn’t shown much faith in veteran Chris Johnson in recent years, and there’s little behind them. The Raiders’ cornerback weaknesses are exacerbated by free agent safety Michael Huff’s probable exit. Huff had a breakout year in 2010.
QB: New coach Hue Jackson is high on Jason Campbell, so much so that the Raiders failed to tender Bruce Gradkowski as a restricted free agent. But Campbell is more stopgap solution than franchise quarterback, and is entering a contract year. Oakland has shown interest in Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, who figures to get serious consideration if he’s still available at the No. 48 pick in the draft.
LB: The Raiders should be set in the middle with 2010 No. 8 overall pick Rolando McClain, but there’s a hole across from strong-side ‘backer Kamerion Wimbley. Incumbent weak-side starter Quentin Groves is more of a situational pass rusher than every-down player, and former second-round pick Thomas Howard is no longer part of the Raiders’ plans.
Overview: The Raiders made noticeable strides last season, going 8-8 and undefeated in the division. Top to bottom, their roster is as strong as its been since the early 2000s.
But Davis must get serious about upgrading his offensive line. Campbell has a deliberate release that hinders pass protection, and the Raiders don’t have enough talent in front of him to make up for it. If Oakland does solve this weakness, it can become a true contender in the AFC.