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2012 Team Report: Oakland Raiders

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Matt Leinart, Terrelle Pryor

Starting QB: Carson Palmer, the number one pick overall in the 2004 draft, spent his first seven seasons with the Bengals. In Cincinnati, Palmer showed strong leadership, the ability to read defenses, good accuracy and timing, and, until his last couple seasons there, excellent arm strength. In 2009 and 2010, his passes generally lacked zip, but as a Raider in 2011 he looked much stronger and threw some well-placed deep balls. Palmer joined the Raiders mid-season after Jason Campbell was injured, was thrown immediately into action, and threw six interceptions in his first two games. Aside from the interceptions, however, Palmer was productive in Oakland's vertical passing offense: he averaged 293 passing yards per game in his nine starts. If he can keep that up for a whole season, he'll be in solid fantasy QB1 territory.

Backup QB: Matt Leinart is the team's second Heisman-winning quarterback from USC. The 10th pick overall in the 2006 draft, he failed to live up to expectations in Arizona, then spent the last two seasons as a backup in Houston. He started one game last season in place of Matt Schaub but lasted less than a half before breaking a collarbone and landing on injured reserve. He is familiar with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's system from their time together in Houston, where Knapp served as the quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons. Terrelle Pryor has had a difficult transition to the NFL so far. He missed most of his rookie training camp because the supplemental draft wasn't held until the latter part of August. He then missed the first five games while serving a suspension during which he was unable to practice with the team. He ended up taking only one snap in 2011, a play on which he committed a false start. Pryor is a fantastic athlete who could probably make an NFL roster as a wide receiver or tight end, but the Raiders believe in his long-term potential as a quarterback. He has worked hard this offseason to learn the playbook and may be used occasionally in 2012 on gadget plays. He'll have to improve his accuracy to develop into a legitimate NFL quarterback, but he has all the physical tools to succeed.

Running Backs

Starter: Darren McFadden
Backup(s): Taiwan Jones, Mike Goodson, Lonyae Miller, Brandon Rutley [R]
Fullback(s): Marcel Reece, Owen Schmitt, Manase Tonga, Rashawn Jackson

Starting RB: When Darren McFadden is healthy, he is among the most dynamic, explosive running backs in the league. He has top-tier straight-line speed and has also developed into a tough inside runner who doesn't always go down on first contact. He is also a capable receiver and pass-blocker, which means that he can be used as an every-down back. With Michael Bush headed to Chicago, McFadden could get a huge majority of the snaps in Oakland - a true feature back that is becoming a rarity in the NFL. But that's only as long as he stays healthy, which has been a challenge for him thus far in his career. In his first four seasons in the league, he has yet to play a full 16-game schedule.

Backup RBs: With Michael Bush having departed in free agency, the Raiders do not have a bruising halfback to play thunder to McFadden's lightning. Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson are both speedy backs similar in style to McFadden. Jones has terrific speed and open-field running ability, but he must show more toughness than he did as a rookie. Goodson spent his first three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, but he had difficulty staying healthy and also gained a reputation as a fumbler. Lonyae Miller has the size to be the team's short-yardage back, but there may not be enough roster spots for him to make the team. Undrafted rookie Brandon Rutley is a dark horse.

Fullback: Marcel Reece is the rare NFL fullback who may have some fantasy value. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield (and sometimes lines up wide), and is a capable runner and blocker. If the Raiders do not sign a big halfback to wear down defenses with the lead in the second half, Reece could help fill that role and could get enough touches to be a fantasy bye-week fill-in. If the Raiders decide to carry two fullbacks this season, Owen Schmitt or Manase Tonga would likely make the team.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey
Backups: Jacoby Ford, Juron Criner [R], Roscoe Parrish, Eddie McGee, Duke Calhoun

Starting WRs: The Raiders have a young and talented group of receivers. Denarius Moore is the most talented of the bunch. After making a stir in training camp last August, he made it way into the starting lineup early in the season. He has the speed to get downfield, and the leaping ability, body control, and hands to make the spectacular catch. Moore is a great fit in the Raiders down-the-field attack. Darrius Heyward-Bey has speed and big-play ability, but he lacks consistency and drops too many balls. He had nearly 1,000 yards receiving last year, but he must keep improving in order to solidify his hold on the starting spot opposite Moore.

Backup WRs: Jacoby Ford is yet another deep threat. He was the fastest player in the 2010 draft, and he will also fight for the ball in traffic. His style of play is reminiscent of the Panthers' Steve Smith. Ford suffered through hamstring and foot injuries in 2011, but if he can stay healthy, he is a very dangerous target in the slot. Eddie McGee is a former quarterback with excellent athleticism. He is a project but has the potential to develop into the player the Raiders were hoping that Chaz Schilens would become. Rookie Juron Criner was very productive in college, but lacks the speed that the Raiders typically like in their receivers. He has the size and leaping ability to be a red zone threat, however. Roscoe Parrish was signed at the end of August, primarily as a return man, but he will also add depth at WR. Duke Calhoun will have to excel on special teams to make the final roster.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brandon Myers
Backups: David Ausberry, Richard Gordon, Andre Hardy

The tight end position appears to be the team's weakness on offense. Brandon Myers got a couple of starts early last season while Kevin Boss was injured but failed to make an impact in the passing game. Myers has decent hands, but he lacks the speed to get downfield and is seldom targeted as anything but a check-down. Further, he lacks the ability to get yards after the catch. David Ausberry is a better receiver than Myers and could win the starting job with improved blocking. If Ausberry can work his way into the starting lineup, he would have fantasy potential that Myers lacks. Richard Gordon is a blocking tight end who can also line up at fullback, but he isn't much of a receiver. Andre Hardy is a former basketball player who is inexperienced as a tight end. He has potential, but is raw.

Place Kicker

Sebastian Janikowski : The Raiders specialist stalwarts are generally considered the top trio in the league (although people on the other side of the Bay might disagree). Kicker Sebastian Janikowski's big leg had another big year in 2011. He made 31 of 35 (88.6%) field goals. Of those made, seven were from 50+ yards. Of those, one was from 63 yards, tying the NFL record for longest FG. Punter/holder Shane Lechler and long snapper Jon Condo are also pretty good at what they do. After being mired near the bottom of the rankings for four straight years, the Raiders shot up to 1st in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010. Last year they slipped to 12th.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jacoby Ford, Bryan McCann

When healthy, wide receiver Jacoby Ford is one of the best return men in the game. Slowed by an injured foot in 2011, he should rebound this season and continue as the lead kickoff returner. The Raiders have an outstanding insurance policy in cornerback Bryan McCann, who was himself Top 10 in yards per kick off last year.

Punt Returners: Denarius Moore, Bryan McCann

McCann has the talent that he may push wide receiver Denarius Moore for the punt return duties, and could even take over kick returns should the Raiders which to focus Ford on offense.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Cooper Carlisle, C Stefen Wisnieski, RG Mike Brisiel, RT Khalif Barnes
Key Backups: T Joseph Barksdale, T Willie Smight, G Tony Bergstrom [R], C Alex Parsons, G Lucas Nix

PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Jared Veldheer is an ascending player who could achieve Pro Bowl status sooner rather than later. Veldheer is a tall but graceful lineman who has learned much despite being only two seasons out of Division II Hillsdale College. Left guard Cooper Carlisle was cut and then re-signed in the offseason. He will be entering his 12 season. Carlisle played right guard last year and is nearing the end of his career. Third-round pick Tony Bergstrom from Utah will be in competition for that starting left guard spot. Center Stefan Wisniewski will be moving back to his natural position after spending his rookie season doing a good job at left guard. Wisniewski had off-season surgery on his shoulder, and that situation bears further attention. Right guard Mike Brisiel is a gritty free agent acquisition from Houston and has familiarity with the scheme that the new coaching staff is installing. Brisiel and tackle Khalif Barnes should do a good job on the right side in this zone blocking scheme. Swing tackle Joseph Barksdale could be a spot starter, but overall the depth on this team is questionable. Undrafted free agent Lucas Nix out of Pittsburgh should compete with Ed Wang for a backup spot. The good news is that a zone-blocking line doesn't necessarily require top-level talent to be successful. Comparing them to the rest of the league, this unit a collection of good players. With the exception of possibly Veldheer, however, there are no obviously great players on the Raiders offensive line.

Team Defense

The normally stout defense has run into some trouble. While it had, until this past season, been getting more effective, the Raiders had spent too much money and have had to let some excellent players go to meet cap requirements. Worse, due to trades the team did not pick until late in the third round. Overall this is a defense which appears to be in disarray. It can certainly play above it's apparent ability--new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has a lot to prove moving across the Bay to Oakland from San Francisco. It's just hard to imagine that this team will be able to right its ship very quickly. Aaron Curry and Philip Wheeler will have to step their game up at outside linebacker to make up for the departure of Kamerion Wimbley, now with the Titans. The secondary is not all that solid, especially without Chris Johnson who was cut for cap reasons. There is a ton of uncertainty here and the franchise has not always been adept at doing more with less.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE Lamarr Houston, DT Richard Seymour, DT Tommy Kelly
Backups: DT Desmond Bryant, DE Dave Tollefson, DE Jack Crawford

Starting DL: Matt Shaughnessy returns after a shoulder injury that cut short last season for the promising DE. Shaughnessy is a stout run defender and could easily return to his 2010 numbers of around 40 solo tackles with 6-8 sacks. The Raiders are likely to remain a four-man front with some multiple looks, but Shaughnessy is too good to take off the field. Lamarr Houston performed admirably last season and looks to have grown a lot as a player. What fantasy owners can expect from Houston is a solid DL3 with the potential to be a low-end DL2. Richard Seymour is a DT1 in most leagues. Even at his ripe age, he can still be a disruptive force from the interior defensive line and rarely comes off the field. Seymour may not be what he used to be in terms of tackle numbers, but he is a reliable DT. Tommy Kelly presents little value in fantasy leagues from the 1-technique NT position in standard leagues, but his 8 sacks last season were no accident. In sack-heavy scoring, Kelly is a DT1.

Backup DL: Dave Tollefson was an astute signing by new GM Reggie McKenzie. Tollefson, who started his career in the NFL on the Raiders' practice squad, comes full circle and should be a good rotational player for them. If an injury keeps Shaughnessy or Houston out for a prolonged period of time, I expect Tollefson to step in and be a DL3.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Rolando McClain, OLB Aaron Curry, OLB Phillip Wheeler
Backups: OLB Miles Burris, OLB Nathan Stupar, MLB Travis Goethel

Starting LBs: Rolando McClain's solid play down the stretch last season has to give fantasy owners a lot of hope for his 2012 campaign. McClain played a little bit tentatively as he did in his rookie year at times, but slowly improved. McClain is an LB2 in most scoring systems but cannot be trusted as an LB1 until we see drastic improvement in his play. That is to say, he has the talent to do so. However, McClain has recently been sentenced to 180 days in jail for assault charges. Until we know specifics, it would be ill-advised to dismiss him in fantasy leagues, but keep abreast of this story. Aaron Curry, who moved to the Raiders from Seattle last season, will play the WLB position. If Curry can stay on the field on all three downs, he could be a sneaky LB2. Projecting his 2011 numbers across 1,000 snaps, his tackle numbers would have equalled those of McClain. Phillip Wheeler will play the SLB position and can't be relied on to be much more than an LB4.

Backup LBs: Miles Burris, formerly of San Diego State, was drafted by the former regime in the fourth round in 2010. Burris was a gifted pass rusher in college and could compete for the starting SLB position with a good offseason. Rookie Nathan Stupar was a late round selection by the team. He is a high motor player who projects best to the weak side and will back up projected starter Aaron Curry. Completing a trio of young linebackers, Travis Goethel is the primary backup for middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Goethel is one to watch as he could benefit from McClain's legal woes; the starter is due to face 180 days in jail for assault charges.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Ron Bartell, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, SS Tyvon Branch, FS Michael Huff
Backups: CB Shawntae Spencer, S Mike Mitchell, CB Chimdi Chekwa

Starting DBs: Ron Bartell should fit in well to the Raiders' predominantly man coverage scheme. The veteran cornerback is coming off an injury and his tackle upside is not great. Bartell is a player I would avoid in fantasy leagues. Opposite Bartell will be either second-year CB DeMarcus Van Dyke or veteran Shawntae Spencer. Either way, this is a situation to steer clear of. The safety position is a different story, as Tyvon Branch remains one of the premiere options at safety in fantasy circles. Branch is a near lock for 75+ solo tackles, although he offers little upside in terms of pass rush. Branch's greatest asset is his week-to-week consistency. Michael Huff missed some time last season, allowing Matt Giordano -- who the Raiders recently re-signed -- to take his place. Huff is a decent depth option at safety and will continue to be a ballhawking threat in the middle of the field. However, the safety you want to own in Oakland is Branch.

Backup DBs: Mike Mitchell, the former second round pick, played over 500 snaps last season but had very poor production and did not play well. Unless Huff or Branch go down with injury, Mitchell's best place is the bench. Inexperienced CB Chimdi Chekwa could be worth a flier if he can seize some playing time, but don't count on that.

Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:13:56

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