A Love/Hate Article: Raiders Preseason Ranking
Jon York – Jul 26, 2012
I could have missed the boat a little bit - or perhaps caught it since time on a lake kept me from getting much news. Anyhow, pre-season power rankings and predictions are making their way to computers near you.
At first I was shocked. Maybe I had an 80s flashback - when there were only 28 teams being ranked 23rd was pretty bad... Well, not that it's any good now, just not as bad.
A big part of any season is quarterback play. Sure an outstanding defense or a great running game can mask signal caller deficiencies but most teams live and die by the play of their quarterback. Look at Prisco's list, the higher ranked teams are those with good and consistent quarterback play. Yet he puts the Raiders behind the Cardinals and Seahawks - two teams that aren't even sure who will start. Palmer may have been inconsistent but he has proven much more than Kevin Kolb or Matt Flynn.
Still, it made me wonder - where would I honestly rank the Raiders right now? If I took off my Raiders hat for a second, where would I put the Raiders on my personal pre-season ranking?
I wouldn't put them 23rd, I know that much.
There are a lot of questions on this team so it would take more bias than I am willing to give to call them a top ten team. That's not to say I don't have faith in this team or don't hope they are a great team. However, if I'm going to make an honest assessment of where they should be right now, well, it's not near the top.
The biggest holdover question has to be health. Take a look at the opening day depth chart from 2011 - every skill position starter lost time with injury as well as backups at wide receiver, running back, fullback, and tight end. Matt Shaughnessy was expected to have a breakout season but was lost early. Rolando McClain spent a portion of the season dinged up. Every projected starter in the secondary missed time - including both backup cornerbacks. For evidence of this, consider Lito Sheppard signing with the Raiders on October 31st last season and started on November 10th.
A key to the Raiders 2012 will be health. However, right now they are all healthy. How do you grade health? Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey have never played all 16 games, so it wouldn't be realistic to expect them to now - yet I don't feel it's realistic either to expect 14 of 22 projected starters to go down, as they did in 2011.
The offense should be explosive. Carson Palmer should benefit from a full off-season with the Raiders and at least return to 2010 form. Darren McFadden is one of the best running backs in the game when healthy. Marcel Reece is a match up nightmare. Darrius Heyward-Bey had a (partial) breakout 2011, Denarius Moore looks to build on rookie promise, Jacoby Ford is an explosive playmaker, and the young depth players have made an impression. A very good offensive line returns four out of five starters. There is no reason to expect less than a top ten offense out of this group.
The defensive line is deep, talented, and will be aided by the return of Shaughnessy. At linebacker Phillip Wheeler could be better on first and second down than Kamerion Wimbley while Dave Tollefson should be able to partially fill those shoes on third down. Aaron Curry will get the full off-season benefit. Tyvon Branch (2011 version) and Michael Huff (2010 version) could be as good as any safety duo in the league.
That said, outside of health the biggest questions are on defense. Have we seen the best Rolando McClain has to offer or was last year's regression a fluke? Is there enough linebacker depth on the roster? Will the cornerbacks be able to cover anyone? Will the run defense ever even be adequate?
I believe Ron Bartell will turn out to be a great signing. He was a very good cornerback for the Rams until his injury. Shawntae Spencer has a lot of starting experience and has worked with Jason Tarver. The re-signing of Tyvon Branch freed up money that could be used on linebacker depth. A new scheme may benefit Rolando McClain.
A new scheme puts many questions on hold. We can expect more blitzing and zone coverage - things John Marshall did in 2010 and we saw the best overall Raider defense in some time. That doesn't mean blind faith in an upper echelon defense but with the talent on hand I can't see a 20th or so ranked defense being out of the question.
So after all of that where do I put the Raiders right now?
A top ten offense... A 20th (or so) defense... One of the top special teams units in the game. Those do not seem unrealistic at all - and I cannot see how they add up to a ranking in the 20s.
My honest and 95% bias-free preseason ranking puts the Raiders at 18. Behind them on my list are the Bills, Jets, Seahawks, Chiefs, Titans, Panthers, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Redskins, Dolphins, Rams, Vikings, Browns, and Colts.
That may upset some of you. I should mention that the teams in the teens are very close and the ones that I gave an edge to don't have rookie coaches, or quarterbacks with something to prove, or a running back coming off a foot injury, or cornerbacks that barely played in 2011. I should also mention I believe that the Raiders have by far the biggest upside of any team ahead of them in my rankings.
Still, they do have questions. I expect good answers to many of them. I think the 2012 Raiders are the best we have seen in some time. I believe they have the talent to be a playoff team.
For just a moment I wanted to take my Raiders blinders off and be completely honest. I do look forward to seeing those questions answered and watching the Raiders finish where I believe they will be.
Love it or hate it, this is where I believe the Raiders deserve to be right now.
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