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.


Anonymous insider said...

Why is left tackle more important than right tackle? Is it different if the QB is left-handed?

10:22 AM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

'Insider' - The LT protects the QB's blindside in pass protection. If the QB is left- handed then the RT would be considered more important for the same reasons.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Stick'Em said...

Traditionally, the four most important positions on a team are field-general QB, pass-pro LT, shutdown CB, and pass-rush DE.

Al Davis seems to put the most emphasis on CBs, while John Madden put more on the O-line. This is but a minor issue of priorities, as both people would agree both positions are very key.

A coverage CB has lost its value (to everyone, it seems except Al Davis), while pass rusher reciprocally has gained value since the enforcement of the chuck rule.

Anyway, it is not coincidence all four of these positions also are arguably the four most difficult spots to fill with Pro-Bowl caliber players.

However, IMO it is not clear that RB and WR fall into this "ultra-key" category. There are a laundry list of Pro-Bowl caliber RBs right now in the NFL (e.g., LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, Tiki Barber, etc.) and WRs (e.g., Randy Moss, Tory Holt, Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward, Steve Smith, etc.) and finding one for your team really isn't hard.

How many Derrick Burgesses are there? How many Orlando Paces? How many Peyton Mannings? I don't even see a shutdown CB in the league right now... but perhaps that is the result of the 5-yard chuck rule.

Designating 4 offensive positions and only 2 defensive positions as "ultra-key" is an unbalanced view, as we can make a good case that defense wins championships.

I submit that filling the leadership position on defense with a safety like Rod Woodson or a LB like Ray Lewis is at least as "ultra-key" as having a good RB or a good WR, and probably more so. If you have a field general in your QB for the "O", it follows you need one for your "D" as well.

Though S and LB are typically called "non-skill" positions, this seems to be from where the leaders most often come.

Kirk Morrison and Danny Clark have the requisite leadership ability at LB, but their talent level really isn’t in the Pro Bowl category. The safeties, well…let’s just say there are no Eric Turners on this roster.

Therefore, the two players I would most like to see the Raiders draft are two with immense athletic ability and very proven leadership ability--A.J. Hawk and Michael Huff.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

Stick'em: You make an excellent point about how the CB position has evolved with the relatively new rule negating contact past 5 yards. Although there really isn't a true "shutdown" corner in the league anymore, I would submit that it is still a key position to fill. As far as the RB and WR position, it is true it is easier to fill this position. One could also make the argument that you can effectively make an impact in both positions with a committee approach of good but not great backs and receivers. I do think it is a distinct competitive advantage to to have an elite receiver so that the D has to pay extra attention to this player which in turn frees up the other receivers/TE with single coverage.

I would also agree with you about having a leader or field general on the defensive side of the ball. In most cases this is filled by a MLB. I like Danny Clark's leadership abilities.

The Raiders would really benefit by adding a playmaking OLB and athletic SS. I would love to see the Raiders trade down a few places in the draft and pick up Ernie Sims and go after Darnell Bing in the 2nd round. Unfortunately I don't see AJ Hawk being available in the #7 slot.

My post was using conventional wisdom. After reading your post, I would like you to consider the "Big 4" in order of priority and in terms of impact on a team's wins & losses:

1 - HC
2 - QB
3 - DE
4 - LT

6:30 PM  

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