32 teams in ... less than a year: Oakland
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 03, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 4-12 (283-398)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-6
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 4.9-11.1
All-time franchise record: 400-313-11 (.560)
Playoff record: 25-18 (.581)
Last five seasons: 19-61 (.238)
Best game of 2007: 26-24 home win over Cleveland (Week 3). The Raiders definitely peaked early – after they won their Week 4 game at Miami, Lane Kiffin was possibly Coach of the Year with Oakland at 2-2. The Week 3 victory over Cleveland, meanwhile, was its first and only Quality Win since the 2005 season. But it would be all downhill from there for the Raiders, who would lose all eight of their remaining games against teams who finished .500 or better.
Silly-season activity: Oakland's offseason has been an easy target for critics, as they paid huge money for WR Javon Walker (most recently with Denver) and their own DT Tommy Kelly – two players with significant injury history. But they did add three prominent starters in Walker, CB DeAngelo Hall and S Gibril Wilson, along with veterans on the offensive and defensive lines. Their most significant losses are the retired Warren Sapp and disgruntled WR Jerry Porter, who signed with Jacksonville.
Strength: Secondary. Oakland's defense was good against the pass last year, as evidenced by its No. 12 ranking Defensive Passer Rating and as one of just five teams with more INTs (18) than TD passes allowed (17). Now its added two front-line starters in Hall and Wilson. On paper, the Raiders DBs are a top-5 unit. And stopping the pass is the most important building block for defensive success in today's NFL – good news for Oakland, since its run defense can't be much worse than it was in 2007, when it allowed 4.8 YPA, dead last in the NFL.
Weakness: Passing game. The offensive line has had its struggles in Oakland during their five-year freefall, but the Raiders have at least run the ball well. The passing attack has been totally ineffective for five years running, with passer ratings of 65.0, 76.1, 76.0, 56.2 and 70.9. The Raiders averaged just 5.35 Passing Yards Per Attempt in 2007 (25th). But at least that was a vast improvement over 2006, when they averaged a historically inept 4.36 Passing Yards Per Attempt.
Most underrated player: DT/DE Tommy Kelly. He's got to be underrated, since no one had ever taken much notice of him before he signed a mammoth multiyear deal to stay in Oakland this March. Did Al Davis overpay? Yes, but Kelly's also good. As a DT in 2006, he chalked up 54 tackles on a defense that allowed 20.8 PPG (18th). Warren Sapp, who had done nothing for three seasons, registered 10.5 sacks as Kelly emerged next to him in the middle. And in 2007, the Raiders allowed 21.8 PPG in the seven games he played, 27.2 in the nine he didn't. Kelly, who was moved to DE last year, will go back inside this fall.
Unit on the rise: Quarterbacks. No team has more potential to improve their passing game than Oakland. While other bad teams from 2007 are plugging in retreads or young hopefuls, the Raiders are sitting on JaMarcus Russell. Since 1970, 16 QBs have gone No. 1 overall. And for every Tim Couch or Jeff George, there's a Troy Aikman or Terry Bradshaw. It's 50 percent boom, 50 percent bust – and that's at least a sign of hope for a franchise that's been in freefall. Clearly, Russell gives them a better chance than the twin caretakers of 2007 (Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown, collective 29th in passer rating). Even if he ends up struggling, it's a step toward building his career. And, as noted above, the Oakland passing game, as poor as it was last year, had shown great signs of improvement over its performance in 2006.
2007 Draft grade: C. The Raiders might some day look back on the Class of 2007 with great fondness, but with seven picks in the top 110 they didn't get a whole lot from the group. TE Zach Miller started all 16 games, and fifth-rounder Jay Henderson filled in for Kelly at DE. Johnnie Lee Higgins was the primary punt returner. Other than that, it was project city. If Russell matures into a star, the Raiders get an A here. If not? Ugly.
2008 Draft power: 1 (4), 4 (104), 6 (168), 7 (213).
General Draft strategy: Davis and the Raiders are big dealmakers, and would certainly not shy away from trading the No. 4 pick in the 2008 Draft. The Raiders made a bunch of deals and wound up with 11 draft picks in 2007, and they've rarely stood pat with the picks they've been given. (One Oakland oddity is that in each of the last six drafts they've picked guys on same side of the ball with their first two picks.) They've been good at getting late-round steals over the past decade, but their No. 1 picks have been more miss than hit.
Youth/experience: Oakland is very well-balanced, with the majority of its key players in the 25-28 age range. But they're very green at quarterback, with 25-year-old Andrew Walter the reigning veteran and 22-year-old Russell ready to start.
Coaching: Head coach Lane Kiffin has some tools to work with, and clearly there will be no patience for another bad season. He's in a bit of a no-lose situation, with his pedigree (son of Monte Kiffin), youth, and the sympathy that comes with the Al Davis Factor. Although he went 4-12 in his first year, the Raiders went from laughing stock to just regular bad despite a possible dip in overall talent. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took a hit to a good reputation with a subpar effort from his defense last year, and is also on the chopping block. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp was a welcome change after the Art Shell/Tom Walsh disaster of 2006; Knapp's offenses in San Francisco and Atlanta were in the top half of the league in scoring in each of his five seasons calling the shots.
Overview: Looking at Oakland's proud history, it's truly shocking to see the team play so poorly for so long. The Raiders have lost as many games in the last five years (61) as they did in 15 seasons between 1967-1981. Al Davis takes a lot of the blame, having made some pretty inexplicable moves of late. But looking deeper at the big dollars spent this offseason the Raiders could have an excellent roster if things come together as planned.
Davis might not have spent wisely, but at least he's spending all of the money he can while other teams in the league sit thriftily under the cap. There's a lot of potential talent in silver and black, in all phases of the game. So, it's simple: the Raiders will be as good as Jamarcus Russell's passer rating. The offensive line won't give Russell great protection, but Russell is fresh and mobile. He has adequate weapons, above-average assuming Javon Walker is 100 percent. In Walker's two healthy seasons (2004 and 2006), with two different franchises (Green Bay and Denver), he caught 158 passes for 2,466 yards, 20 TDs and a 15.6 yards per catch. If the No. 4 pick overall is spent on offense, that could also be a nice asset. Can it all add up to Russell with a passer rating of 80+ in his first real season as a starter? If so, the Raiders are poised to be the great sleeper of 2008.
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