At the midway point of the season, I graded out the Raiders' 2010 drafted rookies to see how they were doing so far. Well now those rookies are officially rookies no more. They took the field for the last time as a rookie and will now forever be referred to as veterans. Well, to be precise, some might be referred to as former NFL players, but I don't see any of the 2010 draftees suffering that fate.
Having a successful rookie class with all of them making the team is a refreshing change from the draft class of last year that saw two players not make the team out of camp, the all-name team of Slade Norris and Stryker Sulak. Norris was signed to the practice squad and called up for a couple of games last season but yet again didn't make the team out of camp this season.
The early returns from last year's class were very poor, and it performed just as poorly as expected. By the same token, this year's class had rave reviews and also performed much as expected. And now that they have all had an entire NFL season to show what they can do, it is time to grade them out one by one.
But understand, much like the midseason grades, I fully expect these grades to change over the course of the players' careers, and the overall grade will change as well. I will also take into consideration where each player was drafted when grading them (higher draft choices mean greater expectations and lower drafted players have lesser expectations). Your criteria might differ from mine and feel free to disagree. I always enjoy a good debate.
Things started slow for the Raiders' newly anointed defensive savior at middle linebacker. But that was to be expected. Middle linebacker is often referred to as the quarterback of the defense and for good reason. He has to call out the plays and arrange his teammates. That takes some time. Many (myself included) saw him as a shoe-in for defensive rookie of the year, simply because there weren't that many rookie defenders thrown into the starting lineup from day one and in the Raiders defense, the middle linebacker has often lead the team in tackles. McClain didn't rack up triple digits in tackles like his predecessor mainly because the Raiders' improved defensive line took some of the burden off of him. He also suffered from an injury that cost him a game late in the season.
There is a lot of good news from McClain though. The Raiders didn't need him to be their savior but he came through for the team late in the season and began to live up to some of the expectations placed on him as the defensive MVP of the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. He finished the season second on the team with 85 combined tackles. Over the first nine games he averaged 4.6 tackles per game. In the final six games he averaged over seven tackles per game. This means his numbers to finish the season would have had him at 113 tackles, well into the triple digits he was expected to put up for the Raiders.
He, like McClain, was a slow starter. He actually looked much worse than McClain to begin the season. He was the trail through which the Raiders' opponents blazed to victory in the running game. Opponents saw Richard Seymour and Matt Shaughnessy on one side and a rookie on the other and chose the rookie. It was a successful route to take early in the season but something seemed to click for Houston in the bye week, because after that he went on a tear. He had his way with tackles and guards and when he hit a player, they were sure not to forget it anytime soon. Some teams continued to try to test him but the result was not the same.
He started out the season with just twelve combined tackles and two sacks over the first nine games. Over the final seven games he had 28 tackles and three sacks to finish the season with 40 combined tackles and five sacks. Not too shabby for any player, let alone a rookie round two pick.
It was a rocky rookie season for Veldheer. He was a standout left tackle who hadn't given up a sack his entire career at little Hillsdale College. Then in training camp he was suddenly asked to play the center position. He had played all of one half of football at center for the Raiders in the preseason and was inserted into the starting lineup for the first game of the season. It was a disaster. The experiment set Veldheer back on some much needed development to transition from facing Division II college opponents to facing Pro Bowl NFL opponents. He understandably struggled.
He switched back and forth with former starting tackle Mario Henderson through the first six games of the season before being anointed the Raiders' new starting left tackle. He gave up ten sacks throughout the season as well as quite a few QB pressures and penalties, but he seemed to be settling in by midseason and had a few nice games. He struggled mightily both times he faced Tamba Hali as well as Dwight Freeney, and Jerome Harrison and the Steelers defensive line. But at this early stage he appears to be a better option than Mario Henderson with more upside. He certainly was a great find in the third round.
Some people thought at midseason that I should have given Bruce Campbell an 'incomplete' because we have yet to see him play in an NFL game. My response is simply, there is a reason for that. Fans may not have seen him on an NFL field in the regular season but I have seen him in practice and he has not done anything that would give the coaches any confidence in putting him in the lineup. While one can say Cooper Carlisle had a fine season at right guard and never suffered any injuries to take him out of the lineup, that doesn't explain why Campbell was inactive for the final five games of the season. If Campbell was really an injury away from the starting lineup, he would at least have been on the active roster. He is just not ready. He was able to get away with having crazy physical abilities in college but in the NFL, everyone is big and talented. His technique is lacking and from what I can tell, it will take some serious work. He may just get there. Then again, he may not. It is simply a good thing he was taken in the fourth round instead of the first round that everyone seemed to be talking about after his freakish combine numbers.
What can I say about this guy that has not already been said many times in the past couple of months? The Raiders traded up to draft him in the fourth round based on his blazing speed. Tom Cable said prior to the draft that one of his target areas was a kick return specialist. They got their man in Ford. But I don't think anyone expected he would have the kind of ball skills as a receiver that he possesses. He went from a disappointment to a star in a little over one half of football in week nine against the Chiefs. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown and then carried the Raiders to an overtime victory with several critical catches. He would have two more kick return touchdowns before the season was over. He also had several other moments of heroics including taking an end around for a touchdown on the first play of a game and showing his ability to take the ball away from a defender for a second time. Nearly all of his 470 yards receiving happened in the second half of the season and he finished fourth on the team in receiving yards and second among wide receivers. His seven total touchdowns were good for third on the team. There is no denying his lethal combination of ball skills and speed. He is extremely exciting and I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the future.
In camp and the during the preseason he appeared to be a great pick by the Raiders. Only time will tell whether that is true or false. But when he was given his chances for the Raiders this season, he didn't look too good. He was injured through the first part of the season so it was hard to know for sure how he would perform. Following the bye week, with both Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson out with injuries, it was crash course time. McFadden was burnt for so many yards in that game that it was hard to tell there were any other corners in the game. And just like that, what was once seen as a deep corner rotation became very thin. Asomugha was forced to play with an injured ankle because the alternative to a half step slower Nnamdi was Wal*Mac. So it was a small sampling but it let the coaches know that at very least, some work needed to be done.
This rookie sixth round pick didn't have a tough act to follow after last year's sixth round debacle, Stryker Sulak. Just making the team was a step up. The Raiders chose this outside linebacker out of Arizona State with designs on converting him to middle linebacker. That isn't the typical route considering the more demanding duties at middle linebacker. But Goethel performed pretty admirably. He often shared the duties of spelling Rolando McClain with Ricky Brown. While I can point to a few instances where Brown was a liability, Goethel looked to hold his own by all indications. He certainly earned his playing time and could earn more playing time in future. And who knows, maybe he will be more like the Raiders' round six pick two years ago, Trevor Scott. Much better aspirations to be certain.
He, like Walter McFadden, looked quite good in training camp. It seemed whenever Coach Cable was asked which rookies were standing out, Ware's name was mentioned. He was the first of the two rookie corners to be called upon to pick up the slack for the injured Asomugha in the secondary. He had a critical interception in the endzone in that game that prevented the Chiefs from scoring and allowed the Raiders to win the game in overtime. He came in for an injured Chris Johnson the next week and didn't look nearly as good. And as soon as the Steelers spotted this rookie in the game, they pounced on it. Ware had one half of football to show his 'wares' and that was all the coaches needed to see. They went with Walter McFadden in the next game until Asomugha returned from injury. Ware also did not play well on special teams which is important for any low round pick's hopes of sticking around until he gets his chance to contribute on defense. His hitting ability has led to some experimenting with him at the safety position. But with the Raiders stacked at safety at the moment, he would have some difficulty breaking into the lineup.
Brown was drafted in the late seventh round out of Michigan where he played both linebacker and safety for the Wolverines. As with most players with his physical abilities and size, he was seen as a guy who could contribute on special teams. He was extremely opportunistic in the preseason and really made a name for himself after intercepting the ball in each of the first two games and making plays throughout the preseason. He didn't make the team out of camp but was called up to the regular season roster prior to week two. He earned his keep during the season as he continued his stellar special teams play. As the season wore on, he got in on more and more defensive snaps. His best game was the week 13 win over the Chargers in which he had five solo tackles and a pass defended. He finished the season with 30 combined tackles and two passes defended. Those are great numbers for a guy who saw such limited duty as Brown. He made the most of his opportunities.