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Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden Pic Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders have gone nine seasons without a playoff berth.

Under Hue Jackson, the 2011 Raiders believed they were poised to end the drought after a 5-2 start. They lost quarterback Jason Campbell to a broken collarbone in Week Six. Capitalizing on a brief power acquisition following the passing of longtime owner Al Davis, Jackson attempted to save the season by sending first- and second-round draft picks to Cincinnati in exchange for quarterback Carson Palmer. The move backfired miserably as Palmer threw 16 interceptions in ten appearances, and Jackson was fired after the season.

New G.M. Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen inherited the league’s worst situation from both a salary cap and drafting standpoint. Though their hands were largely tied, McKenzie and Allen did the best they could to supplement and solidify the roster by making some key offseason additions and retaining difference-making safety Tyvon Branch with the franchise tag.

Strengths.

Running back Darren McFadden has recovered fully from last year’s season-ending Lisfranc sprain and returns as the straw that will stir Oakland’s offensive drink. New playcaller Greg Knapp — who also coordinated the team’s offense in 2007 and 2008 — is installing a zone-blocking scheme up front while bringing a decidedly run-first philosophy to The Black Hole. He’ll lean heavily on McFadden as an offensive centerpiece.

Young receivers Denarius Moore, 23, Darrius Heyward-Bey, 25, and Jacoby Ford, 25, surround Palmer as explosive, big-play threats. 22-year-old rookie Juron Criner gives Oakland more of a physical possession target fitting Knapp’s West Coast-based scheme. With Moore flashing No. 1-caliber receiver tools and Heyward-Bey turning the corner after two miserable seasons to begin his career, the Raiders may quietly boast a top-ten NFL receiver corps.

Defensively, the Raiders are relatively stacked up front. Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston are impact defensive ends, while versatile backup Desmond Bryant can play inside and outside and is coming off a five-sack season. Interior linemen Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are aging, but still going strong. Although their consistency was lacking, the Raiders’ front four flashed the ability to control 2011 games in the trenches.

Weaknesses.

Knapp’s West Coast offense historically gets quarterbacks on the move on rollouts and bootlegs. It could be a tough schematic fit for Palmer, who has lost all semblance of mobility nearing age 33. Palmer can still power the football downfield, but it may not end well if the Raiders ask him to fit their scheme, as opposed to adjusting their offense to fit the quarterback.

Knapp is also implementing system change on the offensive line. While his zone-run scheme has a successful track record, projected starting right tackle Khalif Barnes and left guard Cooper Carlisle are potential liabilities. Carlisle will be 35 when the season starts, and is no longer playing at a high level. As a right tackle, Barnes plays a crucial position for a run-first team. And he has never been an effective blocker.

The Raiders will rely on castoff veteran cornerbacks in Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, who were each released by their former teams this offseason. Bartell has been a strong starter when healthy, but missed all but one game last season with a fractured neck. Spencer has never been very good.

Changes.

Bartell, Spencer, backup quarterback Matt Leinart, reserve defensive end Dave Tollefson, and linebacker Philip Wheeler were all low-cost pickups for a cap-strapped franchise. New right guard Mike Brisiel knows Knapp from their time together in Houston and was Oakland’s costliest spring addition, signing for $20 million over five years. The Raiders also traded for running back Mike Goodson, and they’ve consistently been linked to free agent Cedric Benson in rumors and reports leading up to training camp.

Campbell, longtime backup running back Michael Bush, and defensive tackle John Henderson have moved on.

The biggest changes occurred up top, though, with managing owner Mark Davis hiring McKenzie, and the new G.M. tabbing Allen to coach up the roster. Bouncing around a bit, Allen is on staff with his third different team in as many years. He was the Saints’ defensive backs coach in 2010, and the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2011.

Camp battles.

Goodson, Taiwan Jones, and perhaps Benson (if signed) will battle it out for the backup job behind McFadden. Fifth-year veteran McFadden has never played more than 13 games in a season, so the running back behind him is more likely than not to be counted on for a big role in 2012.

There is some feeling that 2011 supplemental draft pick Terrelle Pryor could unseat Leinart for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Palmer. If Criner’s spring OTA and minicamp performances were any indication, he’ll also make a solid case for a depth-chart climb.

Keep an eye on promising second-year cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke, who held his own in four starts last season. He could put some heat on Spencer for the job opposite Bartell.

Prospects.

On paper, at least, the Raiders don’t at all resemble a truly bad team. They have a game-breaking running back and two-time Pro Bowl quarterback. The receiver corps is very promising. Oakland’s offense should not struggle to score points.

There is talent throughout the defense, particularly in the front four. While the Raiders are a bit makeshift in the back seven, strong line play can make the rest of the defense look better.

The Raiders are still a team in major transition with big question marks on both sides of the football. While there is some potential for Oakland to contend in the wide-open AFC West, we ultimately couldn’t feel comfortable ranking them any higher than 23rd.

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14 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Oakland Raiders”
  1. shootscuz says: Jul 13, 2012 1:21 PM

    If McFadden could stay healthy the entire season then they might have a small chance at the AFC west title. But with Payton Manning in Denver the bar has been raised and it will take double digit wins to take the title.

  2. despinosa8 says: Jul 13, 2012 2:16 PM

    Our season rests on the shoulders of Palmer. In his career he has thrown way to many int’s. If he limits his mistakes to under 10 da Raiders make a serious run for the SUPERBOWL!!!

  3. humb0lt says: Jul 13, 2012 2:23 PM

    No. 23 may be a little high for the Raiders. But who knows really. The Silver and Bleak are a pretty big mystery going into the 2012 season after the death of Al Davis (RIP).

    I do wonder what the identity of this team will be, now that Al is gone. His son, Mark, has said and shown he has little interest in running an NFL franchise. He empaneled a group that included John Madden to look for a GM, and they came up with Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie is the only person M. Davis interviewed for the job. McKenzie then fired Hue Jackson and brought in another unknown to replace Jackson, Dennis Allen, whose only qualifications are one year a defensive coordinator.

    The Fades are in salary cap hell. McKenzie was forced to jettison several starters, including last year’s best pass rusher, Kamerion Wimbley. He also let their leading rusher last season go – Michael Bush. On top of that, they didn’t have a single draft pick until the 4th round (a 3rd round comp pick is really a 4th round pick).

    Their defense cost them the playoffs last season. And they go into this year with aging players up front, and several of the replacement starters are downgrades over last year’s starters. Perhaps the worst LB corps in the League.

    On offense, there are question marks about their aged QB with a noodley arm. This QB quit on his former team, and said former team went to the playoffs with a rookie at QB. If things go south for the Raiders, is Palmer going to quit on them too?

    It may take awhile for things to turn around in Oakland. But this team still has no identity.

  4. nashwaakkidd says: Jul 13, 2012 2:24 PM

    finally i have some hope for my raiders, i like what the new gm is doing. never mind bounty gate, hue jackson should be investigated for trading those picks to cincy and then going to work there, double agent if ever there was one. sooooooo glad reggie fired him after his little “Napolean stunt” We also better hope pryor turns out to be something at qb, palmer couldn’t elude grandma in the backfield.

  5. justwinbaby29 says: Jul 13, 2012 2:50 PM

    Raiders are trending up. The reason the Raiders finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs last year after starting 7-4 was because of a horrible defense led by an incompetent defensive coordinator. Carson Palmer played well considering being thrown into action. The only player the Raiders lost that they really wanted to keep was Kamerion Wimbley. Everyone else not a big deal.

    With McFadden, Moore, Ford, DHB and Palmer with an entire offseason this offense should be top 10 easily.

    The Raiders stay healthy this team will win 9 or 10 games and have a shot to make the postseason.

  6. canadiantampa2fan says: Jul 13, 2012 2:52 PM

    You’ve got the Raiders ahead of the Bucs? Really? I’m not saying the Bucs are Super Bowl contenders or anything, but they’ve done a lot to improve themselves over the offseason. The Raiders, on the other hand, look like they’re going to be handcuffed by previous head office stupidity for the next couple of years.
    I just don’t see the Bucs being worse than the Raiders this season. The only thing that might save the Raiders is the division they’re in – I guess that’s the same reason that might sink the Bucs. Tough call.

  7. Chairman Al says: Jul 13, 2012 2:57 PM

    @humbolt –

    Not going to disagree with all of your comments. Some make a lot of sense. Others are predictably sprinkled with bias (question what the identity of the team is and them summarizing that they STILL have NO identifity).

    Oakland’s identity is in it’s core strength – speed and youth at the receiver position. Oakland’s WRs are dangerous. DHB came into his own, and Ford and Moore are late-pick studs. The offensive weapons are stronger than some may think. Bush left, and that stung, but watch for Marcel Reece to fill that role. Some people have no idea who he is; others thought he should have made the Pro Bowl.

    The defense will be the question. If Chindi Chekwa and DVD can improve, it will be a big help. The LBs are weak. But Aaron Curry showed signs of life last year. I think that will continue.

    Make no mistake – Oakland is going to give up a lot of points this year. But even with a defensive-minded coach, to answer your question, humbolt, the identity of the Raiders is youth and speed on the offense, with a veteran QB to guide them.

  8. dumbolt says: Jul 13, 2012 3:20 PM

    choo choo charger superbowl express…Go Norv! Go AJ……..we are destined to be derailed again, and again, and again, and again……

  9. ch8878 says: Jul 13, 2012 3:43 PM

    humb0lt is still mad from 2 years ago when the Raiders used the AFC West as a floor mat what other AFC West team can say 6-0 in the AFC West 0.

    The Chiefs can play defense but Cassel as QB ?

    The Chargers lost there best WR and added 4 string WR’s is that any better ?

    The Broncos added Manning will he be the Manning of old or a washed up has been ?

    The Raiders lost Wimbley and Routt but Wimbley could only rush the passer and that was pretty much it he can’t tackle or play in passing downs, Routt got torched and was rated #1 in pass interference calls.

    To me they Raiders will be improved and the other AFC West has some big question marks.

  10. radrntn says: Jul 13, 2012 9:05 PM

    just remember this is a team due to injuries lost their starting QB, the leagues leading rusher,(and back up taiwan) starting DE, starting CB’s (3 of them) starting free safety 2 of them), starting WR’s (2 of them) , and still until the last week of the season could have won the AFC west.

    This was with Breshnahan calling the “D” who was way over his head. Coach Allen will be a great head coach, and Tarver is a highly intelligent individual. Plus this article does not mention that Al Saunders will still be up in the box calling plays to Knapp.

    Say what you want, but to say the Raiders are the worse team in the AFC west in my opinion is a reach …so keep the hate coming , the nation love’s it.

  11. mullman7675 says: Jul 13, 2012 9:52 PM

    @humbolt- Your passion for the RAIDERS is clearly evident.

    Big Reg has the franchise headed in the right direction. He is allowing his coaches to coach and made the first fiscally prudent decisions in a long time.

    The RAIDERS are establishing a new identity. At least let them play a few games under the new regime before spewing trite nonsense.

    Al Davis (RIP) passed in 2011. The franchise will never be the same, but in this day and age that could be a good thing.

  12. rodster213 says: Jul 13, 2012 11:51 PM

    Juron Criner will eventually beat DHB out for the WR spot opposite Moore.

  13. jeffz303 says: Jul 15, 2012 10:19 AM

    Now I’m not one to tell Raiders’ fans how to act, but I probably wouldn’t talk so much trash if my team HADN’T HAD A SINGLE WINNING SEASON IN THE ENTIRE LAST DECADE….

    But that’s just me.

  14. omniusprime says: Jul 21, 2012 9:22 AM

    If the Raiders depend on McFadden too much then he’ll get injured again and we Raider fans can kiss another season goodbye as far as playoffs go. McFadden could have been a great RB but he got injured every damned season, talk about being snake bit for luck. I’m hoping that the Raiders do more with their passing game now that they have some legitimate USC QB’s instead of that awful garbage we’ve had the past decade. Time to get the vertical passing game going, the staple of the old great Raider teams I enjoyed in the 60′s and 70′s.

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