Thursday, March 30, 2006

Raiders Six Ultra-Key Positions Analysis

I read an interesting article by NFL writer Rick Gosselin where he identifies the six ultra- key positions in the NFL; quarterback, running back, receiver, left tackle, pass rusher and cornerback. The teams with the best players at these positions usually win consistently.

This is the conventional wisdom around the NFL especially when you look at the salary structure of most teams, and the way those positions are coveted in the draft and free agency. Just for kicks, I decided to take a look at how the Raiders stack up in each of the six ultra-key positions.

QB Aaron Brooks is good enough to get the job done. On the plus side, Brooks has a cannon for an arm, can make every throw that's required of an NFL QB. He has prototypical size and excellent mobility and athletic talents.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Aaron Brooks;
"His mechanics are basically good. He gets back quickly and carries the ball high. He pushed off his back foot and he can get good velocity when the situation calls for it. He has good patience although at times he holds the ball too long and takes a hit as a result. He can buy time with his movement in the pocket and he has the ability to throw with very good accuracy when on the run. When he pulls the ball down he is a dangerous runner with his speed and elusiveness. He has good command of the offense and he has awareness for the protection breaking down. He has so much confidence in his ability that he occasionally takes chances with the ball and he will try to force the ball where it should not be thrown. He gets some balls batted down because he occasionally winds up to throw. He needs to do a better job of recognition in terms of seeing the blitz and recognition of coverages."

Keys for 2006: Learn a new offensive system in Oakland; getting comfortable with a new offensive line and developing a rapport with his receivers; maximizing his offensive weapons while minimizing his turnovers.

RB Lamont Jordan provides sufficient firepower at the RB position. Solid, every-down workhorse who can carry a heavy load.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Lamont Jordan;
"He has the quickness to turn the corner quickly, he shows a second gear in the open field, he can run over defensive backs in the open field and he is a threat to go the distance when he locates a seam. Jordan showed improved patience last year and he did a better job of reading his blocks. He has adequate change of direction skills and he flashes the ability to exploit cutback lanes. As a receiver out of the backfield Jordan shows good burst out of cuts, he has the wide frame to shield undersized linebackers and he rarely drops passes that he should catch. However, he doesn't have the elusiveness to make multiple defenders miss and he needs a sea to be truly effective. He lacks ideal awareness, he doesn't always gives great effort as a blocker and at times he fails to pick up the blitz when he's asked to help out in pass protection."

Keys for 2006: Jordan need to improve his pass catching skills and improve his blitz pick-up blocking technique. A committed, consistent power rushing game plan under new Head Coach Art Shell will be music to Jordan's ears. The offensive line will need to be upgraded through free agency and/or the draft, gel, and stay healthy in order for Jordan to put up 1500 yards.

WR Randy Moss is in the prime of his career and arguably the best and most talented receiver in the league. Moss, when used properly, is the most lethal weapon in the Raiders arsenal. #18 is a special player.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Randy Moss;
"Possesses good top-end speed, shows a second gear when tracking the ball downfield and is always a threat to make the big play in the vertical passing game. Times jumps well, has good leaping ability and is tall enough to regularly compete for jump balls. Has good body control and can adjust to passes thrown outside frame. Shows adequate awareness and does a nice job of keeping both feet in bounds along the sideline. Can adjust route at the line and almost always locates the soft spot when working against zone coverage. Has good bulk, uses frame to shield defenders from the ball and has the big hands to make the tough catch in traffic. Can catch the ball in-stride, and is dangerous after the catch. Moss is also smooth getting in and out of his cuts. Doesn't appear to give the same effort on every play and doesn't run great routes when isn't the primary receiver. He has some problems getting a clean release working against press coverage. He doesn't always sustain blocks once in position. Has had some off-the-field problems, has been a locker room distraction at times and character is an issue."

Keys for 2006: Moss and Brooks will need to develop a chemistry and connection on the field. Moss will need to improve his discipline on his route running and be a consistent playmaker/difference maker. Brooks' abilities to improvise and use his mobility will be the key to producing on broken plays. Moss must be used as the primary weapon in the red zone.

LT Robert Gallery was the #2 pick in the 2004 draft. I am projecting Gallery to move from RT to LT in the 2006 season. It is imperative for Gallery to make a seamless transition to his new position. With Art Shell (HOF LT) as his head coach, I anticipate Gallery will turn the corner in his overall performance.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Robert Gallery;
"He is a solid competitor - plays hard. He is an aggressive run blocker. Comes off the ball low and hard and gets into the defender quickly. He takes solid angles in the run game. He is very good and getting to the backside cut-off block. He takes solid 2nd level angles and is an effective blocker in space - plays under control. He has solid upper body strength to grab and control the defender. He will run his feet on contact and work to finish. He gets good depth in his pass sets. He has long arms to ride the defender wide around the QB. However, he did struggle at times this season with double moves. At times he got caught guessing and would reach and lunge. While he does have very good upper body strength, his lower body strength needs a lot of work."

Keys for 2006: Have a solid training camp under the tutelage of Jackie Slater, Irv Eatman, and of course, Art Shell. Gallery needs to bring back the nasty attitude he demonstrated at Iowa University.

DE/Pass Rusher Derrick Burgess was the NFL Pass Rusher of the Year in 2006 and was voted All-Pro honors. He set the all-time Raiders record for most sacks by registering 16 sacks; demonstrated a remarkable level of consistency and durability.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Derrick Burgess;
"He is not an explosive edge rusher that can beat tackles with pure speed, but he does have a quick first step and is so tenacious that he is tough to keep blocked. He does a nice job with his hands, plays with good leverage and is at his best on the move when he is involved with line stunts and penetrating inside. You just wish that this guy was bigger. He can hang in there at the point of attack vs. the run against most teams, but gets engulfed by the elite power running teams and tackles in this game. He is active, but not overly physical and if he gets locked up and you run right at him, his quickness and athleticism can be neutralized."

Keys to 2006: Burgess will need to improve his rush defense and continue to wreak havoc on the opposing QBs. The Raiders will need to find a book-end DE complement to limit the double teams placed on Burgess.

CB Fabian Washington & Nnamdi Asomugha

Fabian Washington had a solid rookie campaign in 2005. Drafted with the 23rd pick in the 1st round, Washington is noted for his blazing speed and solid coverage skills.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Fabian Washington;
"An athletic cover corner with explosive speed. He was the fastest prospect in the 2005 NFL draft class. Isn't overly physical in coverage. Gets pushed around by bigger receivers and allows receivers to dictate their own routes too often. Will have limitations in coverage versus bigger NFL WR's. Is willing versus the run but not overly effective. Hands are inconsistent. Made a lot of plays in college but also dropped a lot of potential interceptions."

Keys for 2006: In order to take the next step in his career progression, Washington will need to get his mitts on 3-5+ interceptions.

Nnamdi Asomugha plays particularly well vs. the bigger receivers in the league. Asomugha has made slow but steady progress since being drafted in 2003 out of Cal.

Here is the NFL scouting analysis on Nnamdi Asomugha;
"He shows very good stop/start quickness and body control. Can run with receivers downfield. Good hips in coverage. Can re-route receivers in zone coverage. Can cover vertical routes. Can make good run reads. He has solid strength and olds up well vs. push-offs. He is a raw player that needs to stay at one position and gain more experience. He needs to improve his run/pass recognition as a FS. Needs work in terms of reading routes at both DC and FS. He is a Gunner on the punt team - wiry, works to split doubles - good red zone presence and ability to keep the ball from the end zone. He will go full speed into the return man."

Keys for 2006: Asomugha needs to take a more calculated, aggressive approach to playing CB. More press coverage and less soft zone-type coverage will utilize his skill set more effectively. Asomugha tends to give up too big of a cushion to the WR lined up across from him. He needs to create more turnovers.

So of these six positions, the Raiders have competence in all, and special players in a few. Lamont Jordan, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Fabian Washington are solid. Aaron Brooks and Robert Gallery are question marks this year. Brooks is coming to a new team and system while Gallery will more than likely be changing to a new position. Randy Moss and Derrick Burgess are special talents and should lead the Raiders for years to come.

Overall, Oakland is doing well in the key positions. However there are questions about consistency (Brooks, Jordan) and potential (Gallery & Washington). The performance of the players holding these six ultra-key positions will have a major impact on the success of the 2006 Raiders.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Tin Man Era is Over

The black cloud hanging over the head of the Raider Nation has officially been lifted with the signing of Aaron Brooks. The Tin Man Collins Era is over and not a minute too soon! The chance of Collins being re-signed has felt like a splinter in my brain.

Aaron Brooks veteran presence will allow for Andrew Walter to be groomed to be our future franchise QB. Brooks has all of the physical tools to get our offense humming again.

Do I think Brooks is capable of turning things around? Absolutely. From an athletic standpoint, he is one of the most gifted QBs in the league. His combination of size (6'4", 220 lbs), arm strength, and mobility is an excellent match for our vertical offense. His feet and legs will buy additional time to find Moss, Porter, and Gabriel on secondary routes and broken plays. These improvisational plays would be similar to the success Culpepper and Moss shared in Minnesota. When the pocket crumbles, Brooks will be able to hit Moss & company on a busted pattern or pull it down and run for a 1st down. No longer do we have a frozen corpse in the pocket.

Brooks inconsistency at New Orleans can be partly attributed to being on a bad team without the weapons he now has in Oakland. After last year's poor performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it will be important for Art Shell to rebuild Brooks' confidence and install a game plan that will minimize his mistakes.

The TEAM's success will depend on the following six-pack;

1) Another key free agent signing (ie. Larry Allen, OG) plus a bountiful 2006 draft
2) Brooks maximizing his talents and taking full advantage of his new arsenal of offensive weapons.
3) A revamped and improved O-line courtesy of Jackie Slater and Art Shell's expertise.
4) An improved and committed power rushing attack that sets up play action pass
5) Better use of Moss as one of the premier players in the league or in shorthand, Brooks + Moss = difference maker
6) An improved and attacking D that creates more turnovers

With the book on #5 closed it is time to turn the page Raider Nation. "Deuces are Wild!" View a career summary and player profile on Aaron Brooks here.

Silver & Black Forever,

Calico Jack

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Is Walter The Man?

Let's face it. The QB market for 2006 is very limited. No matter which direction the Raider organization turns there is going to be a risk involved. Drew Brees inked a lucrative deal with New Orleans today. Miami traded a 2nd round pick for Daunte Culpepper. Kitna officially signed with Detroit today. There are no team visits planned yet for McCown, Ramsey, or Griese. It is difficult to get a sense of what are the best options for the Silver and Black.

Here is a breakdown of some of the viable choices and possible paths to consider;

Josh McCown - I like McCown's energy and moxie. He is physically gifted, can make all the throws and most importantly, McCown plays with passion and desire. McCown acquitted himself fairly well in Arizona when given the opportunity to start. McCown is definitely at the top of my list. I'm just wondering why he hasn't been scheduled to meet with Al Davis and Art Shell.

Patrick Ramsey - Young and unproven QB who visited the NY Jets. Ramsey is a tough QB who has a cannon for an arm but a limited number of starts. In my view, if Ramsey is signed by the Raiders then he should compete with Walter in training camp and let the best man win.

Aaron Brooks - Brooks should be cut by New Orleans within the next 24 hours now that Brees is on board. Brooks is an athletic QB; mobile, good arm strength but questionable decision making skills. Brooks might be the type of QB who really benefits from a change of scenery and a fresh start in Oakland.

Brian Griese - Tampa Bay might re-sign Griese while the Chicago Bears consider signing Griese to compete with Rex Grossman.

Gus Frerotte - Journeyman, game manager who could be a stop gap measure until Walter is ready to take the helm.

Steve McNair - Tough, mobile leader with possibly 2 good years left in the tank. If Tennessee decides to move up in the draft to snatch Leinart, the Titans would probably cut bait with McNair and allow Billy Volek to become a temporary starter until Leinart is ready for the #1 spot.

Bret Favre - Very unlikely that Favre will join any other team but the Packers. Long shot, fantasy at best.

Matt Leinart - The most polished and game ready QB in the draft. Excellent decision-maker, accurate passer, and proven winner. Has the poise and leadership abilities to be a top QB in the league for many years to come. Look for the Jets and Titans to battle it out to swap picks with the Saints. Give the inside edge to the Jets to make a splash on draft day unless Titans' offensive coordinator Norm Chow has a say in the matter. Has Al Davis been playing possum in respects to his interest in Leinart? Does he see Leinart as the second coming of Kenny Stabler? I wouldn't put it past Davis to consider working a behind the scenes trade for the #2 pick.

Jay Cutler - Cutler would seem to be a natural fit for Tennessee if the Titans lose out in the Leinart sweepstakes. Cutler could also fall into the Raiders lap with the 7th pick. Would it make sense to have Cutler and Walter battle in camp for the right to lead the team? I say no. If you are going to go for a QB in the draft, he needs to be head and shoulders above Walter to make such a decision.

Vince Young - A real wild-card. Young was interviewed by the Raiders at the combine. Will the loser of the Leinart sweepstakes (NY or Tennessee) take Young or Cutler? In the case of Tennessee, you could make an argument that all of the QBs in the 1st round are viable options. Leinart has the connection to Norm Chow from their days together at USC. Cutler had a very impressive combine performance plus he played his college ball for Vanderbilt in the state of Tennessee. Young already has a personal and mentoring relationship with Steve McNair and could be viewed as his logical successor.

Kerry Collins - "Don't ask, don't tell" This is the QB option that the entire dues paying members of the Raider Nation are dreading. Collins being re-signed would be a PR disaster of epic proportions. The Raiders would have a very difficult time spinning the reasons for bringing him back especially when you take into account his record, unpopularity, and the fact that this is the 1st year the Raiders organization is responsible for selling tickets.
(I say a prayer each night that Baltimore signs KFC)

Marques Tuiosopo - Was given a 1 game tryout last year vs. the Jets and failed miserably. Tui is not a viable option. He doesn't have the skill set that Al Davis desires. For Tui's sake, he should be given his release to hook on with another team that runs the west coast offense. Reuniting with Gruden in Tampa Bay makes the most sense.

Andrew Walter - Is Walter going to be given the opportunity to compete to be the man? Would he be ready to lead the team and when? It seems unlikely unless he truly sparkles in training camp and distances himself over a journeyman QB like Frerotte or a drafted QB like Young.

Having sifted through all the rubble, I have pared down my top choices to the following;

Plan A: Sign McCown
Plan B: Aggressively pursue a draft trade to ink Leinart
Plan C: Take a flyer on Brooks with a short-term, incentive laden contract to buy Walter an extra year
Plan D: Bring in Ramsey but have an open competition in camp with Walter
Plan X: Draft Young. Young's talents are quite remarkable. His skill set is similar to Michael Vick. The big question is whether his style of play and physical skills will translate and produce wins at the pro level. If nothing else, it will create excitement and sell tickets.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Football Musical Chairs and the Domino Effect

The agreement between the owners and players association on the extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set into motion a number of key personnel decisions facing the Raider organization. In many respects, some of the decisions made this week by the Raiders and the other 31 NFL teams will have a domino effect on final rosters. With the CBA extended through 2012, free agency went into effect this morning at 12:01 AM. The 2006 salary cap has been set at $102M or a $7.5M increase of the projected $94.5M cap number without a CBA agreement.

Say Goodnight, Kerry
With the release of Kerry Collins yesterday, the Raiders are currently $10.9M under the $102M cap figure.

The Nightmare of Epic Proportions
One scenario that the Raider Nation hopefully won’t face is the event that Collins is re-signed if the QB watering hole dries up.

QB Musical Chairs
Teams in the market for a QB;

Oakland – With the release of KFC, the Raiders are in the market for a #1 signal caller. Is the Culpepper trade dead in the water? Are either McCown, Kitna, Griese, or Ramsey the best alternative? Will Al shock the Nation by drafting Vince Young with the 7th pick?

New Orleans – Released Aaron Brooks; Persuing Brees; might draft Leinart

Miami – Suitor to Brees; potential trading partner for Culpepper

NY Jets – Need insurance policy for Pennington; Patrick Ramsey on radar; could draft Leinart depending on the result of the Brees sweepstakes

Baltimore – Need veteran QB to compete with Kyle Boller; Kerry Collins reunited with Jim Fassell; long-shot trading partner the Vikings for Culpepper

Detroit – Need a veteran QB to compete with Joey Harrington; Brees or Culpepper

Arizona – Considering trading for Culpepper; Denny Green has a good relationship with Culpepper and plenty of cap room to make it work

St. Louis – One of the teams rumored to be in the hunt for Culpepper; straight trade of QB Marc Bulger for Culpepper

QB’s in the market
Drew Brees
Daunte Culpepper
Josh McCown
Jon Kittna
Aaron Brooks
Brian Griese
Patrick Ramsey
Kerry Collins (PLEASE SIGN HIM Baltimore!)
Plus 1st Round of draft: Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Jay Cutler

Projections and Rumors
New Orleans wins the Drew Brees sweepstakes primarily by being able to guarantee the most $ while the other suitors (Miami, Detroit) lose out by offering incentive laden contracts. Look for the Saints to exchange their #2 pick for the Jets #4 pick and a later round pick. The Jets use this pick to take Matt Leinart with the Saints drafting D’Brickshaw Ferguson with the 4th pick. This is how I see the 1st 7 picks in the draft shaking out;

1. Houston Texans – Reggie Bush (RB, USC)
2. NY Jets – Matt Leinart (QB, USC)
3. Tennessee Titans – Vince Young (QB, Texas)
4. New Orleans Saints – D’Brickshaw Ferguson (OT, Virginia)
5. Green Bay Packers – A.J. Hawk (OLB, Ohio St)
6. S.F. 49ers – Mario Williams (DE, NC St.)
7. Oakland Raiders – *Michael Huff (S, Texas)

If both AJ Hawk and Mario Williams are off the board when it is time for the Raiders to use the 7th pick, one option to be seriously considered would be to trade down in the 1st round to a later slot in the 1st round in order to pick up an extra 3rd round pick. Players like Haloti Ngata (DT, Oregon), Broderick Bunkley (DT, FSU), Ernie Sims (OLB, FSU), and Gabe Watson (DT, Michigan) would fill a need and allow for the Raiders to use the additional pick to add depth.

Free Agent Targets
Besides targeting a QB in free agency, my best guess is that the Raiders will wait for the market to settle down before jumping in due limited cap space. Potential positions with a key free agent or two added would be SS, LB, DT, OG, RB. It will be important to concentrate on the younger free agents who are relatively inexpensive in comparison to a 1st tier, "superstar" type free agents.

SS – Tank Williams (Tenn); Adam Archuleta (St. Louis)

LB – Nick Greisen (NY Giants); David Thornton (Indy)

DT – Ron Edwards (Buff); James Reed (NY Jets)

OG – Stephen Neal (New England)

RB – Michael Bennett (Minnesota); Najeh Davenport (Green Bay)

Draft Contingency Plans

LB (AJ Hawk, OSU, 7th pick; Ernie Sims, FSU, mid to late 1st round; Demeco Ryan, Alabama, 2nd round, D’Qwell Jackson, Maryland, 2nd round)

OG (Max Jean-Gilles, Georgia, 2nd round; Darvin Joseph, 2nd round; Deuce Lutui, USC, 2nd round, Fred Matua, USC, 3rd/4th round)

DE (Mario Williams, DE, NC St., 7th pick)

DT (Haloti Ngata, Oregon, mid 1st round; Broderick Bunkley, FSU, mid 1st round; Gabe Watson, Michigan, late 1st round; Orien Harris, Miami, 3rd round)

SS (Michael Huff, Texas, 7th pick; Darnell Bing, USC, 2nd round; Donte Whitner, OSU, 2nd round; Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska, 2nd round)

RB (Joseph Addai, LSU, 2nd/3rd round; Maurice Drew, UCLA, 2nd/3rd round)

The 2006 season might be 6 months away but the next 6+ weeks' personnel evaluations are critical. The free agent signing period and 2006 draft will need to set the course for the upcoming season. Al Davis, Mike Lombardi, and Art Shell have a tall order in front of them but will be up to the task.

I bleed Silver and Black,

Calico Jack