There were several things that we knew about this Raider team going into the draft. But what did the the new acquisitions tell us that we may not have known?
We knew the Raiders had several holes to fill, question marks at certain positions and other positions that just needed an upgrade. There was rarely a consensus on where the biggest need areas were or exactly what to do or which players to bring in to solve it.
Now that the draft is complete and there are quite a few new faces that will be showing up in Alameda in the coming days, there are a few things that can be surmised about the Raiders at this point.
1. There will be a new defensive scheme next season
--The idea of the Raiders switching the 3-4 has been bandied about quite a bit lately. With every new acquisiton, that theory has come closer to being proven correct.
The first time the theory was uttered was the beginning of last season when the Raiders traded their 2011 first round pick for DE Richard Seymour. He has been a 3-4 DE his entire career and went to several Pro Bowls. He is bigger than any of the defensive tackles the Raiders have on the roster, which is just weird.
Near the end of last season, the defense dabbled in some 3-4 sets with Trevor Scott switching from DE to taking over at starting weak side linebacker. The transition was a successful one.
This offseason the team sent their low 3rd and 5th round picks to get two 3-4 hybrid outside linebackers in Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves. In the draft itself, they spent their 2nd round pick on 300 pound defensive tackle Lamarr Houston out of Texas. Afterward, Cable said his intentions were to use him at defensive end. Like Seymour, you only find 300+ pound DE in a 3-4 scheme.
Then with the final pick in the draft, they pick a guy named Stevie Brown out of Michigan who played safety until his senior season when they switched him to linebacker. So you could call him a "tweener". Not the exact same hybrid tweener we are used to hearing which is the DE/OLB tweener, but a tweener none the less. There are many who think he is simply a special teams pick but that is not what I see. I see a guy that the Raiders hope they can mold into a gem at outside linebacker. At Michigan, he was, at very least known for his hitting ability. If he doesn't pan out as an OLB, then they will at least have a solid special teamer. Teams don't usually spend a draft pick on a guy with the sole intention of putting them in kick and punt coverage. They draft guys that they hope will be much more and if not, then they can hopefully contribute on special teams.
So I don't want to say for certain that the Raiders are switching to the 3-4 exclusively but the defense will at very least have 3-4 looks to it a good portion of the time.
2. The focus is (finally) on the trenches
Tom Cable said in his pre-draft interview said that the Raiders have problems in the trenches and his primary goal going into the draft was to fix that problem. He wasn't lying.
The first pick was for a run-stopping inside linebacker. Among his many talents, Rolando McClain specializes in plugging holes and stopping the run. It has been a long time since the Raiders were able to stop the run consistently and while the defensive line was the easy target for blame, the linebackers were just as responsible. After McClain, came the Lamarr Houston pick in round two to further strengthen the defensive run stopping ability. After that it was time to work on the offensive line.
Round three brought small school phenom offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. He may have played at little Hillsdale college but all that did was serve the Raiders ability to grab a steal round three. This kid impressed the Raiders in the East-West Shrine game enough to get their attention. Then once he had that attention, he didn't lose it. He further impressed when he was the only offensive lineman at the combine to finish in the top 10 in every category at his position. In the weeks afterward, he worked his way up the chain of command speaking to line coach Jim Michalczik, head coach Tom Cable and eventually, Al Davis himself. The Raiders would likely have taken him sooner but they knew that his having come from a small school would keep him available until the third round. It was a gamble but one they guessed right.
The very next pick the Raiders got the guy everyone thought they were going to get in the first round-- Bruce Campbell. Sure, he is a workout warrior that everyone expected the Raiders to take him just because of his measurables. But who cares when you can get a guy with that kind of raw talent and athleticism in round four? They probably just took him because they were so surprised he was still on the board ala Louis Murphy last year (and that pick turned out pretty well).
After that pick, the Raiders were done with the lines in the draft. But they weren't done completely. When the draft ended they went to work filling the trenches with some undrafted free agents as well. Most notably they grabbed talented guard Alex Parsons out of USC and Memphis DT Kellen Heard. I've been known to geek out a little about undrafted free agents but come on, this Kellen Heard is 6'6" and 355 pounds! Uh...can you say monster nose tackle?
3. Jonnie Lee Higgins' days are numbered
Two seasons ago Higgins was the toast of the town with his three kick return Tds while leading the Raiders wide receivers in catches. Last season, we saw the other end of the spectrum however. He was an absolute liability in returns. Early in the season JaMarcus Russell threw a high pass to him down the middle that got him nailed and taken out with an injury. Many attribute that hit to his being timid in the return game because after that, he was never quite the same. I don't see it that way.
If you go back to the preseason the year prior, he looked just as bad. He was fumbling the ball and getting taken down by the first tackler or running out of bounds just as he did last season. At that point, I was wondering how he was still employed in the NFL. Then the season came and suddenly he started to get some space which led to his three returns. But that wasn't Higgins' doing; it was his superior blockers and special teams coach Brian Schneider. The first proof came when the Raiders signed Justin Miller mid-season and he quickly returned two touchdowns of his own. Miller was cut before last season but Higgins is still on the team.
Last season simply exposed Higgins because some of the best special team guys were either not on the team or they were hurt. Combine that with losing Brian Schneider to USC, and JLH had his feet in cement. It was clear the Raiders needed to draft his replacement. Enter Jacoby Ford.
When the Raiders traded up into the fourth round to draft the speedy receiver out of Clemson, I was admittedly a little peaved about it. Not because I don't think he can be any good. I just thought that Kirk Morrison was too much to give up and round 4 was too high to take a kick returner.
But with that much given up to get him high in round 4, the team must have big plans for him. Well, big in the sense that they intend to use him in the receiving game. Bringing in a new WR/KR leaves an odd man out-- Jonnie Lee Higgins just had his job taken from him.
4. Raiders are satisfied with their interior line play
I heard a lot of people calling for the Raiders to draft calling for the Raiders to draft a guard and/or a center to replace Samson Satele and Cooper Carlisle. The Raiders showed in the draft that they are perfectly satisfied with the play of both. And I agree with that.
For all those calling for the head of Cooper Carlisle, I kept wondering ‘Are they watching the same team I am?' Carlisle played quite well last season as he has for the past couple of seasons. I have studied his play extensively and he executes his duties in the zbs extremely well. What a lot of people don't see is that he was often forced to do the duties of two or even three players. Cornell Green would miss a block on the inside and Carlisle looks bad because the running back can't get through the guard tackle gap. Carlisle makes a hole but when the linebacker come up, Luke Lawton can't clear him and the back goes nowhere again. If you watched him as closely as I do, you would see that Coop is doing his job. And apparently the Raider coaching staff thinks so too as they felt no real need to draft his immediate replacement (Bruce Campbell will not be ready for a while at least, if they do indeed move him to guard).
Satele gets a bad rap because he struggled at the beginning of last season. But it always takes a little while to acclimate to the zbs. About week four, he was back at center and after that he did just fine. Besides, I don't think the team would trade for him only to try and replace him a year later. That doesn't make logical sense.
5. JaMarcus Russell is done in the NFL
He was replaced after week nine last season because he played so terribly. He comes back in to start when Bruce Gradkowski goes down with injury with a chance to win his job back. He responds by being in Vegas during the final team meeting. Then this offseason he is still given the chance to do the things he needed to do to win the job back. His response? Show up to voluntary mini camps a day late--but he was closing on a house. Shows up reportedly having lost considerable weight (271) despite being 11 over his listed weight of 260. Then ballooning back up to 290 pounds within a couple weeks. Chance blown.
The Raiders immediately start speaking to the Eagles to see what it will take to get Donovan McNabb from them. They are asking for more than the Raiders are willing to pay but the Redskins were game and trade to get him. The fallout is the Redskins are willing to part with their former starter Jason Campbell. The Raiders don't find a quarterback in the draft and after the fifth round of the draft, they make the deal to bring Jason Campbell to Oakland.
They immediately signed their new quarterback to a $4.5 million extension thru 2011. With the deal they tell Campbell that he will be their starter next season. With Russell due $9.5 million next season, he would be the most expensive backup in the NFL. By cutting him, the Raiders save around $6 million next season. Russell has said that he will not take a pay cut. If that is true, his days in Oakland are over. He seems more attached to his money than his ever being a productive NFL player. And if he is cut from the Raiders, can you tell me a single team that would be willing to sign him? If you can think of any, now tell me if you think that team would be willing to sign him for anything more than the NFL minimum? I didn't think so. JaMarcus would rather take his money and run. Well, "Run" may not be the best word to use. Perhaps "Sit" or "Eat" might be more accurate.
6. The Raiders are back...baby
I just had to throw this last one in there. Mainly because for the first time in about seven years, I truly believe the Raiders are going to have a great season. Last season they proved that they were some decent quarterback play away from competing. Now they have two great quarterbacks in Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. Not only that but they got some players to help protect them.
This team had the best draft I have ever witnessed. And I truly mean that. Just the first three picks alone make this draft a rousing success. Combine those prospects with the success the Raiders have had in recent years in the lower rounds, and by this time next year, we could be looking back at a great draft almost top to bottom.
I share in the excitement I am hearing from Raider fans since the draft and I really look forward to seeing them take the field in mini camps next weekend. As usual, we'll keep you posted on what we see.