Oakland Raiders 5 Most Improved Players of the 2011 Season
John Doublin – Jan 12, 2012The 2011 NFL season didn't end the way the Oakland Raiders would have liked. A loss at home to the San Diego Chargers in Week-17 leftÂ the Raiders out of the playoffs and gave them their second .500 season in a row.
Many in Raider Nation were disappointed, frustrated and even angry at the team's performances in many games in 2011. Some players failed to live up to expectations and drew the ire of Raider fans across the world.
On the other hand, there were some bright spots too. Some players exploded onto the scene with great play, and others made huge strides of improvement in the 2011 season.
Who were the players that improved so much that Raider Nation had no choice but to take notice? Who are the guys that gave fans much more than expected?
Here is a look at those players who improved their game the most, (there will be no particular order on this, it's up to the fans to decide who improved the most).
Despite facing elite competition, Veldheer held his own for the most part. He surrendered just four sacks and only a handful of "quarterback hurries," (compared to eight sacks and over 15 hurries last season). When expected to run block his elite opponents, Veldheer excelled, driving his man six, eight and even 10 yards off the ball.
He made some mistakes with penalties, but those are down from last year as well. The future is indeed bright for this young stud from tiny Hillsdale College.
Darrius Heyward-Beyâ€”We all heard the talk when Al Davis drafted this lanky wide receiver out of Maryland with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. "He's a bust, he'll never be elite and they should have selected Michael Crabtree." Well, who's laughing now?
In 2011, "DHB" out-performed Crabtree in every, meaningful category. 64 catches, 975 yards, 15.2 yards per catch, four touchdowns and 68.8 percent of his catches went for first downs. While that's fewer catches than Crabtree by eight, DHB had the same number of touchdowns, more yards by 101, averaged 3.1 more yards per catch, and earned first downs 13.2 percent more of the time.
Now ask yourself: Who was more productive? Darrius is an extremely hard worker and that alone makes him a valuable member of the Raiders. With his well-documented work ethic, the ceiling for this young man is limitless.
Desmond Bryantâ€”This is a player that obtained his place on the team the old fashioned wayâ€”he earned it. "Dez" is the type of versatile player the Raiders needed in 2011. The injuries to Matt Shaughnessy and John Henderson forced Oakland to play Bryant at two positions, (defensive tackle and defensive end). Bryant never flinched. He came in, wreaked havoc on the offensive back field and did his job admirably.
While not starting a single game, Bryant's statistics increased across the board. From 21 tackles to 35, from 2.5 sacks to 5, from no forced fumbles to oneâ€”he even added a pass deflection to his numbers.
It's not clear if Bryant will fit in with the new regime as yet, but it is clear that he made a case for more playing time in the Silver and Black.
CooperÂ Carlisleâ€”I realize it's a bit odd to include a veteran player on this list, but the strides made by Carlisle are worth mentioning. In 2010, I was extremely critical of this man calling him, "the worst starting linemen in NFL history." At the time, that comment was warranted. Carlisle's pass protection was downright pathetic last season and he nearly got quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski killed on several occasions.
But, with a new season came a new, invigorated "Coop." Only one sack allowed, just four penalties, (two holding calls, one ineligible man down field and one false start) and devastating run blocking forced this writer, (and hopefully, Raider Nation) to take notice of the improvement shown in this former Bronco.
Cooper will turn 35 on August 11th, 2012 so his days as a member of the Raiders may be numbered due to a new management team looking to implement a "youth movement," but the performance he gave in 2011 is worthy of some accolades from one of his most ardent detractorsâ€”namely, this writer.
Brandon Myersâ€”Not known as a "dominant" tight end, Myers did more in 2011 than ever before in his career. His raw numbers aren't spectacular by any stretch, but they are drastically improved over last season.
His catches are up by only four, but Myers' yards are up by nearly double, his yards per reception are increased from 6.7 to 9.4, (extremely good for a tight end) and half of this receptions were on third down and resulted in first downs. Like the aforementioned Heyward-Beyâ€”that's production.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brandon's game is his blocking, which is also improved. His special teams play was nothing short of excellentâ€”eight tackles and one, CRITICAL forced fumble. These factors, combined with his improved offensive production landed Myers on this list.
Closingâ€”Whether or not you agree with every name on this list as "most improved," there is no denying that each of these players improved their performances in 2011 and deserve to have notice taken of their hard work. Raider Nation is nothing if not appreciative of players that take the time, put in the work to get better and play their tails off. Every player on this list did just that!
Follow us on Twitter: @CoachJayDee, @RNTimes. On FaceBook-Raider Nation Times.
And be sure to tune into our radio station on BlogTalkRadio.
Like Raider Nation Times
How Would You Grade the Raiders Free Agency So Far?