There’s no question the Oakland Raiders have been a train wreck since their Super Bowl blowout loss in 2002. The Raiders have seen a revolving door at the Head Coach position under the late Al Davis, and have had no stability as an NFL franchise. While Raider nation will forever stay true to the black and silver, many often question what direction the team is going in.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie was hired away from the Green Bay Packers to answer that very concern. McKenzie played a key role in building the Packers into the Super Bowl Champions they became under the leadership of Head Coach Mike McCarthy, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as well as a sound defense.
McKenzie’s first major move as the GM of the Raiders was hiring Head Coach Dennis Allen away from their divisional rivals, the Denver Broncos.
After a successful five year stint with the New Orleans Saints, Allen decided to take a promotion with the Denver Broncos, and become their defensive coordinator. Allen’s job in Denver was to develop top draft pick Von Miller into an elite player in the NFL. Allen did that, as Miller became the defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, and both Allen and Miller helped lead Denver to a division title and a playoff appearance. Allen’s defense helped put a stop to a hot Pittsburgh Steelers team at home, en route to a show down in New England with the Patriots. The Broncos were blown out of New England, 45-10, yet Allen headed into the off season as one of the most highly regarded Head Coaching candidates in the entire league.
In his first season at the helm in Oakland, Allen struggled to make progress, as the Raiders finished 4-12, and earned themselves the third overall selection in April’s NFL Draft. The Raiders have suffered in the Draft in recent years, having given up top draft picks for quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer hasn’t been the same top tier quarterback he was in Cincinnati, and seems to be well past his prime. Terrelle Pryor, a compensatory pick in 2011, has seen extremely limited action during his time with the Raiders, but could compete for a starting job due to his mobility that could lead to success with the red hot Read Option offense.
The Raiders have holes all of the offense and defensive side of the ball, and have aging players and bad contracts in all of the wrong places. Carson Palmer is on the downside of his career, and is owed a good chunk of money heading into the 2013 season. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are both paid extremely high, and do not have the numbers on the field to match their numbers on their checks. The loss of Nnamdi Ashomuga in 2011, really set the Raiders’ secondary back a few years. Darren McFadden has a serious problem staying healthy, and could wind up being cut before the draft.
If the Raiders want to begin the process of crawling out of the NFL’s cellar, they need to bring a player through the draft that will provide a stable sense of direction for the franchsie moving forward. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith very well could be that player. Smith could start in Oakland from day one, and provide a spark offensively that could lift the Raiders into competition in the AFC West within a year or two. Geno Smith will have a good, young core of receivers to throw to, and if McFadden can stay healthy, he will have a lethal threat out of the back field to pair with Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reese.
Geno Smith is the top quarterback availabl in this year’s NFL Draft and could start immediately and bring a new flavor to the fan base that Carson Palmer or Terrelle Pryor simply couldn’t or wouldn’t bring. While the jury is still out on Pryor due to his lack of experience, Smith is easily an upgrade to him without even having taken a snap in the NFL. Smith has great pocket presence, he doesn’t turn the ball over and while he’s not a “threat” to run the ball, he is adequate enough to make plays outside of the pocket to drive the offense down the field.
If Oakland misses out on the opportunity to draft Smith, they can certainly look to fill holes all over their defense. They could start by drafting Richard Seymour’s eventual replacement in Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Star is the top rated defensive tackle in the draft, and under the right coaching, could end up being as much of force inside as Ndamukong Suh is in Detroit. If they choose to pass on Star, look for Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner to be in serious consideration for the Raiders at third overall.