TheBaker’s NFL Preview: Oakland Raiders

August 5, 2009 – 7:53 am by TheBaker

DOLPHINS RAIDERSFour coaches in four years.

Four quarterbacks in four years.

An average of just under four wins a season during that four-year stretch.

That’s not the type of forward movement Al Davis and Oakland Raiders fans are looking for. 

Davis used to make the Raiders relevant. Now, he’s made them inconsequential. But it’s not for lack of trying. He throws money around wastefully (see DeAngelo Hall, Javon Walker and Tommy Kelly signings) and drafts big name, big hype, exciting players.

So why hasn’t it worked? Why don’t the Raiders “Just Win Baby!”

This is the year to find out if former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell is the franchise’s future. If he can’t hold off a 39-year old shrimp, who to his credit has a ridiculously hot wife, then it’s hard to envision anything but a Silver and Bleak outlook for Russell. 

Who knows, the Raiders might have a better chance to win with the steady Jeff Garcia, but no Oakland fan is rooting for that outcome. Well maybe the fellas across the bay in the Castro District.

Oakland Raiders

Last Season: 5-11, 3rd in AFC West.

New Faces: QB Jeff Garcia, FB Lorenzo Neal, T Khalif Barnes, DE Greg Ellis, C Samson Satele, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, RB Gary Russell.

Subtractions: WR Ronald Curry, LB Robert Thomas, C Jake Grove, S Gibril WIlson, QB Andrew Walter.

The Draft: I mean what can you say about the Raiders’ draft? They took a player at No. 7 no one had going in the top-15. Then they drafted a no name safety from Ohio – not Ohio State – in the second round, which had Mel Kiper flipping through his encyclopedia. But you know what, Darrius Heyward-Bey is signed. That Michael Crabtree fella isn’t. And that super sleeper Michael Mitchell, the one no one heard of, the epic reach, he would have gone two picks later to Chicago. So it’s good to know the Raiders aren’t the only idiots. 

The Good: Nnamdi Asomugha. A two-time Pro Bowler, Asomugha is generally regarded as the best cornerback in pro football. That’s lofty praise for a guy with 10 career interceptions, but that’s in part because no one dares throw in his direction. Asomugha has ideal size (6-foot-2, 210 lbs.), speed and technique and after another Pro Bowl campaign, he spent a few days on ESPN’s Bristol campus to get some much needed face time, most of which was spent by morons saying, “Look at me, I can pronounce Ass-umm-waww.”

In February, Oakland re-signed their stud corner to a three-year deal making him the highest paid defensive back in league history. Like his boss, Al Davis, Asomugha is color blind, so silver and black work just fine. The first two years of the contract are fully guaranteed to the tune of $28.5 million. The third year of the contract is a team option, and if the Raiders want to keep him, they must pay him the average of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks or $16.875 million, whichever is higher. And it helps to know that money is going to good use through Asomugha’s many philanthropic causes.

There’s little to dislike about him. When everyone’s obsessed with the Michael Vicks and Pacman Joneses, it buries the worthy stories like Asomugha, who has paneled with a President and takes Oakland youths to visit colleges out East. He fits local high schools with Nike gear and helps to provide for orphans and widows in Nigeria. In other words, good on and off the field.

The Encouraging: Young backfield. This is year three of the JaMarcus Russell Era, and so far it’s been rather tame. The same criticisms exist today that were brought up on Draft Day 2007. He needs to keep his weight down, get his head in the game and perfect his accuracy. The former No. 1 overall pick will be given dibs on the quarterback job, but if he falters, the crafty and shockingly lucky Jeff Garcia will pick up the pieces. 

Last year’s top pick Darren McFadden was frustrated with his role last season, as the Raiders split carries between McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. A sharing of the load is one thing, but when Fargas gets 100 more carries than Run DMC, there’s a problem. That’s not to say Fargas is a bad player – far from it. But he is what he is. He’ll get you the four yards and move the chains. McFadden can do so much more. And he needs to be given the chance. The former Razorback had one game with 20 carries (Week 2 when he ran for 164 yards against Kansas City). It was his only 100-yard game. Not exactly the Adrian Peterson-like effect Raiders fans were hoping for. Here’s an idea: give him the friggin’ ball!aldavis

The Ugly: Al Davis. Literally, this guy is without question hideous. Davis looks like a skeleton in a sequin jumpsuit. He’s actually starting to mirror the Merchants of Death seated in Section 104 of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. 

Now, no one should poo poo what Davis has accomplished with the Raiders franchise, both in the AFL and NFL. His unquenchable desire to win was good for football. But now, he’s just out of touch. That happens with age. And there’s no denying, Al is aged. Like most despots, he’ll hold onto power as long as he can.

Last year’s bizarre public spat with Lane Kiffin made for great television. Davis’ presser has great re-watch value. It will be entertaining “for weeks, and months and a year and time.”

Fantasy Island: Zach Miller. Chaz Schilens is listed as a starter at wide receiver. If that doesn’t tell you Miller’s value, I don’t know what will. It’s a similar situation as the one in Chicago where Jay Cutler will lean heavily on Greg Olsen rather than the no-name receiving corps he’s been given. Difference is, Olsen is going at least six rounds higher in most fantasy drafts. Unlike Heyward-Bey’s value, which is completely linked to JaMarcus Russell’s deep balls, Miller won’t be affected either way whether it’s Russell or the whimsically-armed Jeff Garcia. He’s either getting the ball from a young quarterback as a safe check down or he’s catching passes from a guy whose range is about 25 yards. Expect Miller to blossom into a top-6 tight end.

At running back, there’s a lot to like talent-wise. But for fantasy purposes having a trio of runners is far from ideal. Darren McFadden will have an increased role, but how much is there to go around with Justin Fargas and Michael Bush still in tow. Oakland’s running game usually nets good returns, but it’s dicey to count on anything consistent for McFadden, though it will be tempting to grab him in the late fourth round of a 12-team league. 

Potential Breakout Player: DE Trevor Scott. A converted college tight end, Scott recorded five sacks in reserve duty last season, showing good burst to the quarterback. He’ll challenge the incumbent left defensive end, Jay Richardson, in camp and Tom Cable has told him the job is there for the taking. Richardson looks the part, but his four sacks in 22 starts leaves much to be desired. Scott is the type of high motor guy the Raiders’ defense relies on. Veteran Greg Ellis was brought in from Dallas to push both Derrick Burgess, who is on the trading block, and Richardson, but Scott is younger, faster and motivated.

Schedule: Luckily for the Raiders, I don’t expect AFC West rivals Kansas City or Denver to be any good. Home games against beatable opponents (New York Jets in Week 7, Cincinnati in Week 11 and Washington in Week 14) will offer hope. But Oakland has a challenging road schedule with out of division games at the Giants, Cowboys, Steelers and Texans, who are very strong at home.

Best Case: Javon Walker pops bottles of Dom Perignon for an actual reason.

Worst Case: Al Davis finally figures out who Tom Cable is, fires him, and then re-hires Mike Shanahan just to prove he was right all along.

Prediction: 6-10, 2nd in AFC West. 

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