The Oakland Raiders will welcome the 2013 NFL draft with open arms.
Rookie head coach Dennis Allen’s club lost three times as many games as it won in 2012. It was one of those distinctions that fall within the dubious, unfortunate and generally unwanted categories.
As such, the upcoming draft in April will serve as a springtime blessing for a bevy of different needs. A few pockets of talent notwithstanding, every positional grouping in Oakland is ripe for an upgrade—from the offensive line on one end, to safety on the other.
Only kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler can rest assured. The starting 11 on defense certainly cannot.
Let’s take a gander at the Raiders’ top five draft needs.
5. Offensive Guard
Center Stefen Wisniewski is good, left tackle Jared Veldheer is solid and right tackle Khalif Barnes is okay. Right guard Mike Brisiel is none of the above.
Brisiel was responsible for the third-most penalties by an offensive lineman. His 10 flag-inducing infractions were the byproduct of being outmatched all year long by defensive fronts in the pass and run game.
Only once in four 100-yard games did an individual Oakland running back generate more nine yards when rushing behind Brisiel. His 26 quarterback hurries given up in 2012 was second-most for an NFL guard.
A consistent lack of clean-pocket throwing opportunities for its quarterbacks and a bottom-five rushing attack for the team itself were much the result of Brisiel’s blocking deficiencies.
Lucas Nix is a bright young player but is far from a proven commodity. Oakland must address this portion of its O-line come April.
Oakland’s contingent of defensive backs charged with preventing big plays over top did not receive a passing grade.
Strong safeties Tyvon Branch and Mike Mitchell and free safety Matt Giordano’s failure in coverage helped facilitate the third-most pass plays of 40-plus yards allowed (12). Those three by themselves combined for nine touchdowns surrendered in 2012 as well.
Opponents also rushed for a total of 18 plays of 20- and 40-plus yards, good for sixth-most in the NFL. These safeties were responsible for the shortcomings on the back end.
Branch might be the only one with starting potential. But even he accounted for a 75.2 completion percentage and 113.1 efficiency rating given up. Giordano and Mitchell—aside from big hearts, high effort and decent tackling—are poor run-stuffers and have backup material written all over them.
The Raiders need serious upgrades for both their in-the-box and deep centerfield safeties. Moving Michael Huff back to his original position is a start; it’s just not nearly enough.
As bad as the aforementioned grouping was in 2012, this latest corps was even worse.
Ron Bartell gave up four touchdowns out of just 28 targets. Quarterbacks boasted a league-high 139.1 efficiency rating when attacking him. The Raiders said goodbye to Bartell in early December.
Joselio Hanson was serviceable at times, but isn’t anywhere near starting quality. He was complicit in affording quarterbacks a 108.1 efficiency rating and unsightly 81.7 completion percentage. That latter number was second only to Marcus Gilchrist’s 83.6.
Huff, a safety by trade, did not fare well as Oakland’s No. 1 CB. He gave up the fourth-most touchdowns (six) and only seven other players surrendered a higher average per catch of 15.6.
Brandian Ross, Chimdi Chekwa and Cory Nelms were all first-year players last season and aren’t future answers at the position.
A shutdown No. 1 corner is an absolute must if the Raiders are in the business of big-play reduction.
Much of the issues plaguing Oakland’s awful performances against the run and pass stem from its weaknesses at linebacker.
Philip Wheeler showed flashes of brilliance, while rookie Miles Burris demonstrated some future potential. Unfortunately, these two simply couldn’t cover any tight end, running back or other would- be pass-catcher.
Wheeler surrendered the sixth-highest completion percentage (83.6) and seventh-greatest efficiency rating of 111.1 among 4-3 outside linebackers. Burris complied with a 100.0 efficiency rating and an NFL-high 94.1 completion percentage allowed.
They also own the regretful distinction of missing tackles. Both rank in the top 10, with Burris handling No. 1 duties with a league-most 20 at OLB.
Opponents tore up the Raiders for large gains time and again because Wheeler and Burris couldn’t match up in coverage underneath or deep. The same went for running backs breaking way too many tackles and taking it to the house 18 times in 2012.
Only the Buffalo Bills allowed more scores on the ground than Oakland’s 18. And only six teams surrendered more than it’s 28 touchdowns in the air. Embattled (and once suspended) inside backer Rolando McClain’s two TDs and 125.4 efficiency rating given up (fifth most by ILB) contributed toward that unfortunate end.
The void that is middle linebacker with McClain’s tenuous status and Omar Gaither as his replacement is a devastating one indeed.
So, whether outside or inside, the Raiders must target a linebacker of any kind that can wrap up ball-carriers and win battles in coverage. The mid rounds of the 2013 draft would be a good place to start.
1. Defensive End
The Raiders totaled 25 sacks last season. Only the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars accumulated fewer.
It goes without saying that a dominant edge rusher is a dire need. Quarterbacks simply cannot have the luxury of operating undisturbed in this pass-first league.
Left defensive end Lamarr Houston was the one bright spot. He possesses the requisite talent and versatility, and was productive last year with 54 total QB pressures. He still collected just five sacks, however.
Houston’s backup Andre Carter turns 34 in May and isn’t a front-line edge rusher anymore. Neither is Matt Shaughnessy, the right defensive end who amassed a mere 15 QB pressures in 367 pass-rushing downs.
Again, five sacks just won’t cut it for a player whose primary duty is bringing down the opposing quarterback. Oakland simply cannot rely on the 6’5’’, 280-plus-pound rookies Christo Bilukidi and Jack Crawford. They’re still developmental projects at this point.
The prevailing sentiment these days is that teams must have a franchise quarterback on one side of the ball and a premier rusher in charge of neutralizing said QB on the other. The Raiders have neither.
Taking one of the game-changing defensive ends at the top of the draft with the No. 3 overall pick would be a wise move on all accounts. This class is just too rich at the position; it isn’t in offensive field generals.
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