What Are the Oakland Raiders Real Needs for 2013?
John Doublin – Jan 14, 2013
As the post-season rolls along, devoid of Silver and Black representation, the business of rebuilding the Oakland Raiders' roster is at hand. The coaching staff will head up one of the Senior Bowl teams, and the scouts are spread throughout the country and reporting back to general manager Reggie McKenzie.
In light of this, the questions become: What positions are the Raiders' scouts look for as a whole, and which positions are atop the priorities list for the Raiders?
Priority number one: Pass Defense.
The single most glaring weakness of the 2012 Raiders was a horrible pass defense. The reason for this was two fold: No pass rush and a lack of talent and depth in the secondary.
The pass rush and secondary work in tandem to create a good pass defense. The pass rush needs to pressure the quarterback to force quick decisions and bad throws, and the secondary needs to cover for as long as possible to create time for the pass rush to get home.
Oakland could do neither with any consistency in 2012.
Constantly, fans watched teams convert 3rd and more than 10 yards against Oakland with relative ease. Wide open receivers and an opposing quarterback being allowed to stand in the pocket for what felt like hours led to Oakland surrendering big plays and massive amounts of points.
The 2012 Raiders allowed more points than any previous Raider team in history, giving up 27.7 per game.
To remedy this, McKenzie and the Raiders' scouts need to put a premium on both pass rushers who can win their one-on-one battles and apply pressure, as well as defensive backs who can cover with consistency and make plays on the ball.
Don't be surprised if the Raiders' first three or four picks in the 2013 NFL Draft address these two positions, almost exclusively. Which position is drafted first will come down to the grades assigned to the potential players by scouts. In other words, the best player available at these two positions will be taken first.
If Oakland sticks with a 4-3 base defense, it will mean defensive ends and cornerbacks, but if the Raiders make the switch to the 3-4, it will mean outside, "elephant" linebackers and cornerbacks.
Either way, it would be a shock if McKenzie doesn't take one or both of these positions very early in the draft. He could also target these spots in the free agent signing period.
Priority number two: Inside Linebacker.
It's no secret that Rolando McClain has failed to live up to his potential...or his salary. Constant trouble with the law, shouting matches with head coach Dennis Allen, and remarks like, "I have four million reasons not to care," referring to his salary all led to McClain being suspended for the last two games of the year.
It's not likely he will return in 2013, which would leave a hole at the "Mike" linebacker spot.
To fill this void, the Raiders signed Omar Gaither from the waiver wire, and he came in and played pretty darn well. However, he'll be 29 years old next season, and is closing in on the end of his career.
This is the perfect time to draft the "Middle linebacker of the future," so he can be groomed and coached-up for the next season or two while Gaither continues to play out his career. Getting a good young player at this spot now will provide some much needed depth as well.
There are a lot of quality inside linebackers in this year's draft, and with the needs at pass rusher and defensive back, McKenzie could be forced to pass on the high-profile player, like Notre Dame's Mantei Te'o, and lock in on a lesser-known player later in the draft.
Whenever it happens, count on McKenzie taking an inside linebacker at some point of the draft or free agent period.
Priority number three: Right Tackle.
Khalif Barnes is not what he was billed to be when he signed as a free agent to start the 2009 season. Injuries and penalties have marred his time in Oakland and leaves the Raiders with a severe need at right tackle.
With Willie Smith having failed miserably in his shot at the starting lineup, McKenzie will need to find a player who can start on the right side immediately, or go with Barnes for one more year. After witnessing all the holding and false start penalties this year and last, it's not likely McKenzie is willing to roll with Barnes one more second, much less another whole season.
Look for the Raiders to go after some unknown tackles in both the draft and the free agent period.
Priority number four: Offensive line depth.
Obviously the left tackle and center positions are set for the next decade with Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski, but what about the other positions? Tony Bergstrom was drafted in the 3rd round last year, and managed to unseat the free agent mistake known as Mike Brisiel, which would leave one thinking that he's the starter at right guard as of now.
That leaves Cooper Carlisle at left guard. After a great 2011 season, Carlisle took a huge step backward in 2012, giving up sacks and getting beaten pretty badly on running plays as well.
Oakland has undrafted rookie, Lucas Nix waiting in the wings. Nix has shown himself to be an absolute animal in run blocking, but also a liability in pass protection. His readiness to start is up in the air at the moment.
All of these facts mean just one thing: The Raiders will be acquiring offensive guards to compete for the starting job, regardless if Carlisle and Brisiel stay with the team.
Don't expect McKenzie to go after the big names we're all hearing though. Other team needs and the salary cap will likely prevent Oakland from getting a well-known free agent, like Winston Justice of the Colts. More likely, there will be a lot of "under the radar" guys brought in to compete.
Priority number five: Quarterback of the future.
Carson Palmer's contract makes it financially difficult to release him, and Terrell Pryor showed promise, but still has a long way to go before he can be considered a real NFL quarterback. His mechanics are still very raw, he is still behind the curve when it comes to pre-snap reads, and he's only able to read about half the field at a time.
This is not to say Pryor necessarily can't be a starter, just that he needs a lot more work than can be accomplished in one more off-season. Perhaps Pryor can compete for the starting job in 2014, but he's just not ready now.
This makes one ponder the idea that McKenzie will look for a quarterback to come in and compete with Pryor for the backup job in 2013, and the starting job thereafter.
If McKenzie sees "his guy" available in free agency or in the 3rd or 4th round of the draft, don't be shocked if he pulls the trigger on him.
Priority number six: Weapons.
Yes, the Raiders have a good stable of young running backs and wide receivers, but they all have their flaws. In the case of the running backs, injuries are common. Darren McFadden can be the best player in the league if used correctly, but has yet to finish an entire season. His backup, Mike Goodson has had his injury problems too.
The wide receivers are young, speedy and explosive, but inconsistent. Dropped passes, missed reads and general lack of productivity makes the receiving corp in Oakland high in potential, but low on reliability.
At tight end, Brandon Myers proved he could be a great receiver, but struggled mightily at times in his blocking duties. David Ausberry is a matchup nightmare for defenses, but hasn't been getting time on the field for unknown reasons. Perhaps it is a result of not fully understanding the playbook. Richard Gordon is a blocking machine, but drops more passes than he catches.
The only consistent and reliable weapon the Raiders have at any position is Marcel Reece.
All this put together means McKenzie could be looking for players at these positions who can come in, learn the playbook and provide reliable hands and play-making ability in 2013.
Look for McKenzie to surprise us all by drafting a "skill position" player that no one expects somewhere in the later rounds of the draft.
It's not at all easy to predict what McKenzie is thinking, and since he's not talking to the media about it, Raider Nation is left to speculate. Most fans would agree however, that this list is pretty close to accurate as far as what the team actually needs to improve next year.
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