For the Oakland Raiders, training camp doesn’t open until July 25th, but that hasn’t stopped Raider fans from speculating on the players who are sure to turn heads this season.
For 10 long years, fans have suffered from ridicule and bad jokes, but there is a renewed sense of optimism flowing through Raider Nation. An optimism unlike those from previous years, when wash-outs and has-beens were brought in to fill the stadium. Now there is a feeling that we have a group of guys that will play hard and give their all on the field.
With training camp three weeks away, it is difficult to gauge the rising stars on the team, but we’ll give it a shot:
1. Tracy Porter, Defensive Back
Porter has the potential to be the Raiders’ best pickup in free agency. He is a very intelligent defensive back with great ball skills. He is agile enough to cover in man coverage and also has the intelligence to thrive in zone coverage.
This, I believe, will help in defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s system, which relies on multiple coverages meant to maximize on the defender’s ability to confuse the offense.
McKenzie has done a great job in free agency and the draft, bringing in players who are ballhawks to counter the recent NFL trend of heavily pass-oriented offenses.
Porter saw little action last season playing for the Denver Broncos due to injuries, but he was featured heavily in New Orleans, where he picked off a pass on the way to winning a Super Bowl.
I see Porter pairing up with rookie D.J. Hayden to form a special group in the secondary.
2. Menelik Watson, Right Tackle
Watson is a very raw talent but represents the future for the Oakland offensive line on the right side. He has only been a football player since college, which could be a deterrent to his progress due to his limited football knowledge. The last raw talent Oakland drafted was Bruce Campbell, who ended up being traded to Carolina.
Watson, however, is different.
For an offensive lineman, Watson has elite athleticism as evidenced from his participation in various sports including soccer and basketball. At Florida State, he started 12 out of 13 games in 2012, allowing only one sack. At 6-6, Watson has great size for a right tackle. His first step of the snap is very quick, and he excels in the second level in run blocking.
The good news for the Raiders is that they have one of the better offensive line coaches in Tony Sparano. Having Sparano will give Watson the knowledge that he needs to thrive in the NFL.
Playing in a division that has the likes of Von Miller, it helps to have two very agile tackles on the edge in Jared Veldheer and Watson.
3. Juron Criner, Wide Receiver
The second-year product out of Arizona has the potential for a very good year under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Criner has great length and size at 6’3″ and 220 pounds.
Looking at his college production, he has the ability to develop into a very good possession receiver.
Oakland lost Darius Heyward-Bey in free agency and needs some of the young group of receivers to step up. While the Raiders have Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, they need production from Criner to keep defenses honest.
One thing working in Criner’s favor is that Olson has designed the offense to fit the strengths of the players on the squad. He went back to the power running to suit McFadden but has kept the West Coast offense.
A receiver like Criner, who doesn’t have great speed, is very conducive to the more intricate system of route design employed by the West Coast offense.
While there isn’t a whole lot of hype in the national media about the Raiders, fans have a genuine reason to be optimistic. The defense has a chance to be special if everything falls into place but the offense does have a lot of questions.
Raider fans are itching for the season to be upon us, to see if McKenzie’s plan is working, and to see if the Silver and Black will be relevant again.