Friday, March 09, 2007

Running Men

The Raiders had a very busy, productive 24 hours in free agency. After Lane Kiffin assembled his new coaching staff over the past few weeks, the obvious focus this off-season has shifted to evaluating the current offensive personnel. With the signing of RB Dominic Rhodes (2 yrs/$7.5M) last night plus TE Tony Stewart (undisclosed contract) and FB Justin Griffith (3 yrs/$3.8M) today, the Raiders are well on their way to improving the offense in general and rushing attack in particular.

What I like about these 3 signing plus C/OG Jeremy Newberry (1 yr/$1.5M) earlier in the week, is that these free agents fill a need, seem to fit well with our current personnel, and were relatively low cost. Instead of over paying for marginal 2nd tier free agents, the Raiders patiently waited to find more cap friendly role players. Rhodes, Griffith, and Stewart are in the prime time of their careers.

Dominic Rhodes should be an excellent complimentary back. He can be used as a feature back, in 2 back sets, and rotated with Lamont Jordan. In Indianapolis, Rhodes split most of his carries with Joseph Addai. Head Coach Dungy had the flexibility on any given Sunday to feed the "hot" back the bulk of the carries depending on the opponent, down & distance, or game circumstances. In 2006 Rhodes saved his best work when it really counted...the playoff and Super Bowl. Rhodes compiled 306 rushing yards on 62 attempts for a robust 4.9 average.

Here is the profile and scouting report on Dominic Rhodes:

Full Name: Dominic Dondrell Rhodes
Born: January 17, 1979
Waco, TX
Height: 5-9
Weight: 203 lbs.
Age: 28
Pos: RB
Experience: 6 years
College: Midwestern State

"Rhodes was the Colts starting running back in 2006 but essentially split time with rookie Joseph Addai for much of the year. Rhodes was outstanding in the playoffs and Super Bowl and took advantage of that big stage. On the other hand, he made headlines by getting arrested for driving under the influence shortly after the Super Bowl. He rushed for 641 yards in 2006, but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He also caught 36 passes and showed some abilities as a short yardage runner. He is short and doesn't have great bulk to be an every-down runner, but he runs with aggression, will press the hole and can inflict a blow. He doesn't have a lot of open-field wiggle, but is a north-south runner who is quick to get his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage. He also has very good straight-line speed and can break long runs and run away from defenders in the open field. While he has been productive, his style isn't particularly conducive to Indianapolis' stretch running game. He is productive as a pass catcher out of the backfield and is a weapon in the passing game, but he really isn't a natural hand-catcher. He has only played in every game once in his career (2006) and isn't built to continually take a pounding. He has returned kicks in the past and can contribute in this area if need be. Rhodes can be a fumbler and probably is not an every-down back, but as a part-time runner, he has a fine niche in the league and is peaking after a strong postseason."

One position that doesn't receive a lot of fanfare but has a huge impact on the success of an offense is the full back...lunch pail and hard hat required. Justin Griffith should upgrade both our run blocking and pass protection. One of the more glaring weaknesses of the Raiders in 06 was the lack of a solid lead blocker to help clear a hole for our running back. Although Zach Crockett is a warrior and great team leader, he isn't a true, every down type blocking FB. I would expect Crockett to be cut pre-camp.
Here is the profile and scouting report on Justin Griffith:

Full Name: Justin Montrel Griffith
Born: July 21, 1980l Magee, MS
Height: 5-11
Weight: 232 lbs.
Age: 26
Pos: FB/RB
Experience: 4 years
College: Mississippi State
Drafted: Year:2003 Round:4 Pick:24, Falcons

"Griffith is an experience player with good positional versatility. He plays in both regular and sub-offensive personnel groupings. He is a good athlete for the fullback position. He has good quickness and body control. He is a tough player but is not a great finisher as a lead blocker. As a run blocker, he is used primarily as a lead blocker in the Falcons zone-blocking schemes. He has good quickness, awareness and ability to adjust as a blocker. Griffith has some agility to change direction on the move and get up in the crease. He can dip, lift and drive but is not a big finisher on contact. He is a road grater type but gets enough contact and movement to allow the running back to get through the hole and onto the second level. He has above-average run instincts but lacks lateral agility to avoid and is not real elusive or sudden as a runner. In the passing game, he has good quickness to get open and separate in his routes. He has good hands and above-average ability as a runner after the catch for a fullback. Overall, Griffith is a young developing player that would fit in well as a starter in a West Coast offense for some teams."

In order to improve our run blocking and pass protection, the Raiders desperately needed to find a veteran TE to compete with Courtney Anderson. Tony Stewart rates as one of the best blocking TE in the NFL. This is the type of prudent signing that will pay immediate dividends. With a premium being placed on protecting our QB and establishing a consistent rush attack, I would definitely give the nod to Stewart over Anderson.
Here is the profile and scouting report on Tony Stewart:

Full Name: Tony Alexander Stewart
Born: August 9, 1979; Lohne, Germany
Height: 6-5
Weight: 260 lbs.
Age: 27
Pos: TE
Experience: 6 years
College: Penn State
Drafted: Year:2001 Round:5 Pick:16, Eagles

"Stewart has excellent measusables. He has good height and weight for the position and above average athletic ability. He is listed as No.3 TE and he is used mostly on running downs but he is a player that has shown he can be productive on any down. He is a better run blocker than a pass receiver. He is a motion TE who does a good job of sealing off on backside plays and as a lead blocker on inside run plays. He is an effort player who has good body control, balance and change of direction skills. He has good initial quickness off the ball, he has quick feet and he does an adequate job of getting to the second level. He has good hands and his size make him an excellent target in the passing game. He is a decent route runner, he can find the open area in the zone and he uses his body to shield off defenders. He is a decent short to intermediate receiver. However, Stewart lacks overall strength and speed. He is not an in-line blocking, knock you off the ball point of attack TE. He has a narrow base, he will lose blocks at contact and he lacks lower body strength, power and explosion to anchor the POA. He does not a have the vertical speed to stretch to secondary. He can not separate and he is not a threat after the catch. Overall, Stewart is a player who does a lot of things well but not anything great. He has improved his play overall. He is a good No.3 TE who has some upside to him. He has started some games, he is consistent and dependable and he is a good special team player."