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27 Mar 2013

State of the Team: Oakland Raiders

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.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

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.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.




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.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 27 Mar 2013

34 comments, Last at 05 Apr 2013, 5:03am by bubqr


by Theo :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 5:49pm

"Watch his film and take into consideration his tarnished reputation in the locker room"

What film is this?

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 6:42pm

He starred in a B-movie called 'The Blob' but unlike the 50s original this blob failed to engulf anyone, it catches very few people and then they are able to get away, then it acts like a dick. Not a financial success.

by fb29 :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:36pm

haha really made me lol. I googled Rolando McClain and it's all trade rumors. Man who thinks the Raiders are getting a pick back for the blob?

by Anonymous Howard (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 12:14pm

I would use a coloring system that was varying shades of the same hue. This is kind of confusing.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 6:44pm

When I look at that roster it seems that an all-Bay area team would only have 49ers on it. It really isn't often that you look at a team and there's nobody you covet, not a single guy.

OK, maybe the kicker.

by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 7:55pm

Id have d.moore as a 2nd rec, plus Reese as my 2nd te. Beyond that...

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:26pm

Moore over Boldin? I like Moore but at this stage I'd take Boldin's record.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:41pm

C'mon.... Boldin is 8 years older than Moore. Even you can't say that Boldin has more upside than a receiver who's only 24 yrs old...

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 10:31pm

OK, I was talking about this coming year, if you were building for the future then I would probably go for Moore too and he'd make a great speed threat for the all-Bay area squad.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 11:06pm

Its a close call. I don't know how much boldin is real versus just playoff heroics. He was being mentioned as an obvious cap casualty prior to the playoffs and many kept mentioning Flacco's weak receiving core to explain his low completion percentage. Just off gut, I'd still take Moore but I understand what you mean.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 11:09pm

I also think Lamar houston is kinda good. Of course, since the majority of the team is made up for 49ers- its probably going to be a 3-4 defense which means he'd be miscast. If they were forced to run a 4-3, I might take houston over brooks just for the pass rush aspect(especially since SF has plenty of good run defenders to compensate). Again, this is another toss up.

by Sifter :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 10:42pm

I think your 4-3 would have Houston and McDonald in the middle, Justin Smith and probably Aldon Smith on the outside. Then Willis, Bowman, Brooks behind. Tyvon Branch would probably get a go at safety ahead of Craig Dahl. That's 2 minor upgrades.

For offense...hmm well I personally think Palmer vs Kaepernick is closer than everyone thinks - but I'd still take Kaep. Marcel Reese would be your FB. Veldheer vs Anthony Davis for an OT spot would be close in my view. Veldheer for better pass blocking, Davis for run - depends what's required. Jonathon Goodwin vs Wisniewski would also be close - and definitely Wiz going forward given he's 10 years younger. So probably only 1 minor upgrade here (Reese), 3 at best.

Too right the Raiders really are short on talent compared to their Bay Area brothers.

by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 7:15pm

Long term I'd take Wiz over Goodwin in a heartbeat, though I would reiterate that that was not the basis for the original statement and I'd take Goodwin this year. I would also assume that the niners' starting FS is in the draft, I'd be gobsmacked if it was Dahl.

I'd take Miller at fullback but take Reese for the old Delanie walker spot, they do play quite different positions.

by LionInAZ :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 1:28am

I'd say even for the coming year Boldin should be in for a slide. Beyond the inevitable physical slide (which he might put off for another year), he's going to be facing significantly better pass defenses than he did in 2012. Seattle, Arizona, and even StL had better pass Ds combined than Pit, Cin, and Cle. The differences in DVOA were even more pronounced against #2 WRs. So I have to believe that Boldin won't be able to be as effective as he was last year even if his physical skills don't decline much.

by BlueStarDude :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 7:57pm

No kidding, what an insanely bad roster.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:32pm

No kidding. Almost makes me feel sorry for Carson Palmer -- he might have been better off with the Browns or Cards at this stage...

by bubqr :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 7:07am

Well he would have been a lot better off with the Bengals to start with. AJ Green, solid OL, solid defense.

That Raiders team has 0 star player, and their only 2 good (=green) happen to be a FB and a kicker. How sad.

by Dean :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 11:11am

Refresh my memory - would they have been able to acquire Green without the picks from the Palmer trade?

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 12:37pm

You mean players colored green?

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Dean :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 1:34pm

No. Bubqr was talking about AJ Green above. I was busy juggling my internet habit with actual work for a change this morning and vaguely remembered the Bengals trading up in the 1st to take AJ Green. I couldn't remember if they'd used picks from the Carson Palmer trade to make that move or not and was hoping someone else would do the legwork for me. Now that pesky things like actually earning my living have subsided for a moment, I can think a little more and realize that I was confusing AJ Green/Cincy with Julio Jones/Atlanta and a draft day trade to acquire Green simply didn't exist in 2011, rendering the question irrelevant.

by bubqr :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 5:03am

To be fair you actually got me doubting. But anyway, I do think this team with Palmer at the helm instead of Dalton in 2011 could have made more noise than it actually did. And to end up at the Raiders then the Cards... Well karma and all.

by ChicagoRaider :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:43am

I think there are 3-4 teams that would covet Houston as a DE. That position seems to fit his game perfectly.

by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 7:00pm

Maiava should be red or purple...trust me.

It looks like you are going alphabetical order by division. Looking forward to when you get to the AFC North.

by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:20pm

Wow, this really isn't a very good collection of players. I'd feel bad for Raiderjoe, except that he's so cool that he doesn't really need sympathy. (or should I say "smpytaty")

by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 5:38am

A year ago Veldheer and McFadden would have been 1 colour higher each, I think that says a lot about the idiotic offensive scheme installed last season. Let me rephrase that - I HOPE it says a lot about the scheme - cos there really isn't much else to look forward to.
Also - no love for Burris? thrown in as a mid-round pick onto an awful defense last yr - bodes well for the future I think.
The DL may have been a bright spot compared to the secondary/LBs, but the raiders have had horrible, awful run-D for years now - even with the supposed talent there.

But if you go through that roster, why not cut bait on Palmer I guess. The only reason would have to be (a) you never know what gold you might strike in draft/remaining free agency and (b) you might need Palmer on board for a year just to see if the receivers can develop and whether McFadden could possibly be worth keeping (he'd have to be Adrien Peterson to gain yardage if Pryor was QB).
Unlike baseball, where you can tear things up and start again, because you can still analyse players performance to see what you got - in football you often need some parts around just to provide some semblance of offense/defense so you can see if the others have anything going for them- which they can't if the RB is being hit in the backfield or the QB is on the deck every play.

by nath :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 3:33pm

Other advanced sites love Veldheer. I was surprised to see him rated as "just a guy" here.

I was not surprised that Greg Knapp tried to run an offense without regard to the skills of the players he had.

by Sifter :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 10:20pm

I think part of the problem for Veldheer is that he seemed to play better later in the season...but by that point most people had stopped watching the Raiders. Not sure if Andy's in that boat or whether he thought his WHOLE year was merely OK. I thought he was OK at the start, good by the end. I also think Veldheer's the best player the Raiders have on offense, Palmer included.

I assume you're referring to PFF's ratings of Veldheer. Also interesting is their rating of Rolando McClain - much better than most people are saying. I wonder what the truth really is. Is McClain getting underrated because of the peripheral factors involved in rating a player ie. off-field stuff? Or are PFF just overrating him?

by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 10:22am

Is PFF reliable at all? I've never been able to make heads or tails of that site, and now that they've gone paysite, I guess I never will.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by CBPodge :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 6:21am

Wow. No player above adequate beyond the kicker. Damning.

Out of interest, how much extra scouting do these articles take for you Andy? Or is it more a case of "this is what my notes from the season say"?

Anyway, I like this series. A good overview of every team in the league.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 6:24am

Any problems i had figuring the colors are gone. It works well.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:20pm

It's definitely less confusing when you have two fewer colors to work with.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 8:17pm

GM Reggie Mckenzie gutted the roster when he took over. Over half of 2011's roster was gone by end of 2012 season, and now a few more in the postseason. However you look at it there are not going to be 30 high quality players out on the street waiting to be picked up. You're going to end up with a shit roster.

McKenzie has taken the tack of getting value from players and paying them salaries that match their worth (the Moneyball approach). There were some horrible contracts hanging around from the Al Davis period.

But do you need to clean house in one sweep like that when you previously had a team that had finally put together back-to-back 8-8 seasons? Perhaps with the culture previously in place at the Raiders it was a good idea. Get new guys in, get them going in the right direction. Perhaps though it would have been better to have grabbed an experienced coach to kickstart that.

by theslothook :: Sat, 03/30/2013 - 9:49pm

Before Mckenzie took over, the raiders were about as poorly run an organization as you can imagine. They tossed away draft picks for players like Jason Campbell, overdrafted people like Heyward Bey and Mike Mitchell, then traded a ransom for Carson Palmer mid season and dolled out horrendous contracts on top of that. The fact was, the rug was about to be yanked out under the raiders either way. Better you do it all at once, live with the horror show that will be the raiders for the next two years and grow your crop of talent from the ground up. Frankly, with the dearth in picks and cap space, there was really no other way to go for McKienze. I just hope for his sake, he doesn't end up being the lame duck in charge of the rebuild while someone else ends up with a much better roster after hes gone.

by Anonymous13 (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 12:49pm

This Oakland roster also has two players who could not make the 9ers PS (Slowey and Nelms).