Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Mar 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 "starters" for each unit rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
Injuries and general ineptitude killed the Raiders in 2012. One could argue that the system they were playing in, particularly the zone-blocking scheme up front, was a poor fit for the personnel. Now the Raiders head into the draft with major needs at every position, including quarterback. Al Davis and Hue Jackson (now with Cincinnati) certainly never imagined the offense being in this position when they dealt first- and second-round picks for Carson Palmer.
QB: Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor; Lost: Matt Leinart
RB: Darren McFadden, Jeremy Stewart, Marcel Reece; Lost: Mike Goodson
Palmer no longer has the golden arm that once got him drafted first overall, but the Raiders like his passion and effort. Clearly, though, he needs better talent around him. He’s not good enough to overcome this lineup’s deficiencies. Pryor is a mystery. His work ethic has been a pleasant surprise behind the scenes, and he has obvious athleticism. But project quarterbacks rarely (read: never) thrive in the NFL.
McFadden is electrifying in open space. We don’t get to see that too often though, because he’s nursing some sort of injury. Even when he is healthy, Oakland’s ground game is somewhat limited by his inability to make people miss. Reece is listed as a fullback but doesn’t have the physical strength to be a consistent interior lead-blocker. He does, however, have unique receiving skills, and not just as a guy coming out of the backfield.
WR: Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Juron Criner, Rod Streater; Lost: Derek Hagan, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE: Richard Gordon, David Ausberry; Lost: Brandon Myers
You may be surprised to see us tag Moore and Ford as "jury still out" even though they've both been in the league a couple of years. Moore has elite downfield speed and separation skills, but inconsistency and injuries have kept us from figuring out whether he's just a run-of-the-mill acceptable starter or something greater than that. Ford is a softer version of Moore, with larger questions about how he will bounce back from missing most of 2012 due to foot surgery. Criner and Streater are both short-area type weapons who are still learning the NFL ropes. Oakland’s passing game badly needs a more dynamic tight end. The guys they had last year were resoundingly average; it’s the same group this year minus Myers, who fled to the Giants.
LT: Jared Veldheer LG: Jason Slowey C: Stefan Wisniewski RG: Mike Brisiel RT: Willie Smith
Backups: Tony Bergstrom, Alex Parsons; Lost: Khalif Barnes, Cooper Carlisle
This line hasn’t been quite as bad as the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t mean these parts couldn’t use an upgrade. Veldheer hasn't really shown much improvement in three years as a starter, yet he's clearly the best tackle on the team. Finding a decent right tackle would do wonders for the entire group. There is also a gaping hole to fill at left guard, and bringing back the incumbent Carlisle would not suffice for filling it. It’s possible that most of this group will improve simply by changing from Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme to new coordinator Greg Olson’s man-blocking methods. The exception is Brisiel, who has declined a bit since his days with Houston and really doesn't fit in the man-blocking scheme.
Missed tackles and blown assignments plagued the Raiders in 2012. Just a guess, but there were probably about seven or eight starters that Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie wished they could have replaced. Unfortunately, timing and economics didn’t allow it. It allowed it this past month, though. There’s too heavy of an ongoing overhaul process for this defense to thrive in 2013, but it can at least start heading in the right direction. That will give Allen more leeway for installing the elements of his scheme that he hasn’t yet been able to even introduce.
DE: Lamarr Houston, Jason Hunter, Jack Crawford, Brandon Bair; Lost: Andre Carter, Richard Seymour, Matt Shaughnessy, Dave Tollefson
DT: Pat Sims, Vance Walker, Johnny Jones; Lost: Desmond Bryant, Tommy Kelly
This has been Oakland’s only encouraging unit on either side of the ball in recent years. This despite the fact that most of the time, it’s lacked a true speedster on the edge. Even with major revamping efforts, that’s the case again this year. Inside, Seymour will be missed, but with him turning 34 in October and still toting a heavy price tag, now is as good a time as ever to rebuild in his spot. Sims and Walker are fine temporary -- and maybe even long-term -- solutions.
OLB: Kaluka Maiava, Kevin Burnett, Miles Burris, Travis Goethel; Lost: Phillip Wheeler
ILB: Nick Roach, Kaelin Burnett; Lost: Rolando McClain, Omar Gaither
Words can’t express how important it was to replace McClain. Watch his film and take into consideration his tarnished reputation in the locker room and outside of football, and it’s reasonable to assert that the former No. 8 overall pick no longer even belongs in the NFL. Roach will be a noticeable upgrade. However, that doesn’t mean he’s the right long-term answer. He got destroyed by lead-blockers in traffic when filling in at middle linebacker for the Bears last year. But the inside is about the only place to play Roach given that Maiava (a pounder) and Burnett (a glider) are both very solid outside veterans.
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Phillip Adams, Akwasi Owosu-Ansah, Brandian Ross; Lost: Joselio Hanson, Shawntae Spencer
S: Tyvon Branch, Cory Nelms, ________; Lost: Mike Mitchell, Matt Giordano, Michael Huff
Branch was a star a few years ago, but in Allen’s scheme, he’s asked to play downfield a lot more often. So far, he hasn’t looked comfortable with that. The versatility of Oakland’s sub-packages disappeared with the dismissal of Huff, Mitchell and Hanson. Those changes, for various reasons, were all understandable. Now, places need to be filled. Every spot can be considered a hole, save for maybe -– maybe –- Adams at corner. He wasn’t bad with underneath coverage concepts down the stretch last year.
K: Sebastian Janikowski, P: Marquette King; Lost: Shane Lechler
Janikowski is effectively "blue" on field goals, where his leg strength changes offensive strategy, but "black" on kickoffs, where he has surprisingly mediocre career numbers despite that leg strength. Lechler is 36 and seriously declined in 2012 after being one of the league's best punters for a decade, which is why Oakland didn't have any problems letting him walk.
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