I thought about doing a comprehensive draft preview for the Raiders just like I did for the 49ers, but when I really sat down and thought about it, I realized there was no point. Sure the Raiders have the #3 pick in the draft and are finally embracing the post-Al Davis rebuilding process, but with only six total picks – three of which are in the sixth and seventh rounds – and a roster pared down to the bone, it’s highly unlikely the Raiders can draft enough quality players to have even a mediocre season in 2013.
Seriously, take a minute to examine the state of the Raiders, I’ll even wait a minute while you look at their offense here and their defense here. That defense? A wasteland where potentially nine of eleven starting spots will change from 2012. That offense? Slightly better, but the skill positions feature an unproven sixth year quarterback – Matt Flynn – who couldn’t beat out a third round pick in 2012 despite just signing a three year free agent deal worth nearly $20 million, a talented running back – Darren McFadden – who can’t stay healthy, two enigmatic wide receivers – Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore – who also have injury issues, and a pair of tight ends with a grand total of twelve career receptions between them. Let’s do the math: if I’m generous and ignore their sub-par offensive line, admit that I like fullback Marcel Reece, and count kicker Sebastian Janikowski as a starter, that still leaves question marks at fourteen out of twenty-four starting positions (if I give credit for Seabass, I have to count the punter too)…and we haven’t even discussed the backups yet!
Simply put: the Oakland Raiders will suck in 2013. And you know what Raiders fans? That’s actually a good thing. When you suck and fully embrace it, you give yourself the opportunity to start anew. Ever since they lost the 2002 Super Bowl, the Raiders have been on a long road to nowhere as Al Davis made costly free agent signings and awful draft picks. When Reggie McKenzie took over as GM last offseason, he probably suspected there were termites in the walls and a crack in the foundation, but discovering the main support beam held together with duct tape and the family of rabid skunks living behind the water heater was a big surprise. His first response – purging the roster this offseason – was the correct one. The next step is to rebuild, but that will take a bit longer given the paucity of talent on the roster and the minimal number of draft picks this year – it’s a simple case of too many holes and not enough spackle. This gap will keep the Raiders at the bottom of the standings in the upcoming season.
2014 is when things should begin to turn around. First and foremost, Oakland will finally be out of salary cap hell with a whopping $69 million of cap space to sign free agents. They will have to spend some of that money to get to the league’s mandatory salary floor, but McKenzie presumably will not sign free agents just for the sake of it – he’ll hopefully extend productive players already on the team and find reasonably priced but solid free agents who can contribute immediately. Secondly, the Raiders will have all of their draft picks, save for the 5th rounder traded for Flynn, plus at least a couple of compensatory selections for all the free agents they lost this year. And finally, with another bad season staring them in the face, Oakland will likely get another crack at a top five pick, only this time there will be several blue chip prospects from which to choose. Perhaps they take massively disruptive defensive end Jadevon Clowney, or maybe they trade down and stockpile picks, or they draft one of the many top quarterbacks who will be available like Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Heisman winner Johnny “Football” Manziel, David Fales from just down the road at San Jose State, or Tajh Boyd out of Clemson (see this 2014 mock draft to get a sense of who will be available). With most of their picks and money for free agency, the team should finally start building towards the success that has eluded them for a decade.
So Raiders fans, take heart: your team has hit bottom and there’s nowhere to go but up. Enjoy your #3 pick and watch closely to see just how good he is, then get excited for the 2014 offseason when the real fireworks begin in Oakland.