The Oakland Raiders are in the opening stages of a rebuild, as they attempt to retool the roster and restore the winning culture from the franchise’s history.
Reggie McKenzie has spent the last two offseasons trying to repair the mistakes made by the previous regime. He has been clearing out the roster from poor and under-performing contracts, while finally getting the Raiders out from under the crunch of their salary problems.
McKenzie has the franchise on the right path to become a top team in the near future. The question is how long will it take the Raiders to return into an annual playoff contender? A lot of it has come down to the Raiders personnel management, such how they draft and how they handle free agency.
He has had two strong drafts, despite being left with a depleted amount of draft picks. McKenzie has added several players that have stepped in right away to provide impact, and has added a few players that have the potential to become stars in the NFL.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Raiders did not have a selection until the 95th overall pick at the end of the third round. With that pick, the Raiders took offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom from the Utah Utes. Bergstrom looks to be in line to take over the starting the left guard position this season.
Their next selection came in the fourth round, which was linebacker Miles Burris out of San Diego State. Burris broke through last season, eventually replacing Rolando McClain in the team’s nickel and dime packages. Burris looks to hold on to the starting spot at the outside linebacker position this year.
Three of the remaining four picks in the 2012 draft look to be major players in their respective position groups. Fifth round picks defensive end Jack Crawford and wide receiver Juron Criner look to be key players, as they should step up their roles in the player rotation. Sixth round pick Christo Bilukidi will be in the mix at defensive tackle with the loss of Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and Desmond Bryant. So a total of five of their six draft picks look to play major roles in on the team this season.
The 2013 draft class looks to be even more impressive than the previous year’s. It all starts with first round draft pick D.J. Hayden out of Houston. Hayden looks to have an opportunity to open as one of the two starting corner backs on opening day.
They followed that up with the talented but raw offensive tackle Menelik Watson from Florida State. Watson flashes impressive athletic ability, but his technique needs to be refined. Watson is most likely going to be used as a reserve and situational tackle. They added another potential impact player in linebacker Sio Moore. Moore was a pass rushing terror in college and the Raiders are hoping he can inject life into their anemic pass rush.
Their fourth round pick was quarterback Tyler Wilson out of Arkansas. Wilson is a participant for the three-way battle for the starting quarterback position. Wilson has the potential to take over as the starter at some point during the season. He was a highly respected quarterback in the SEC during his collegiate career and he has a lot of tools that will serve him well in the NFL. Wilson could end up being the key piece in the Raiders’ rebuild, as he would give the Raiders a solid starting quarterback for the first time in a decade.
The rest of the draft is filled with rotational depth players with one or two that could potential become starters. Those two players are tight ends Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa. Rivera has the potential to be a versatile weapon that Raiders move all over the formation to utilize his athleticism and receiving abilities. Kasa looks to be more of an inline tight end that can block and use his straight line speed to work in the seam. Both players have the potential to give the Raiders a top of the line tight end tandem.
The other players look to be role and reserve players for the near future. They have potential to provide impact down the road, but they will provide the Raiders with much needed depth. So in his first two drafts, McKenzie has found at least seven player with potential to become front-line starters and several players that will provide depth and impact off of the bench.
Free agency is going to play a major role in how quickly the Raiders turn their fortunes around. The Raiders have over $60 million in cap space next offseason, but the free agency class is not overly strong in star talent. They should focus on resigning their own key free agent, such as Lamarr Houston and Jared Veldheer.
They should look to add a couple key pieces the next off season, particularly along the defensive line. Geno Atkins and Anthony Spencer should be high on the Raider’s wish list, as they could come in right away and provide the Raiders with an immediate improvement for their pass rush. They should not look to break the bank in the free agent period.
In the 2015 offseason, free agency will be key for the Raiders. They have to make decisions on the contracts of Stefen Wisniewski and Denarius Moore. Also, the free agent pool is much deeper and the Raiders could use it to supplement their draft to fill in any remaining holes in the depth chart.
The Raiders are in a much better place than they have been in the previous 10 years. They have young talent that they are developing to be starters for the next five to 10 years. Their salary cap situation is the healthiest it has been in team history. This will allow them to hold on their young talent as it develops and to be players in free agency to fill in holes along the depth chart.
The time frame for the rebuild is reliant on these factors. If handled correctly, the Raiders could be the team atop the AFC West in two to four seasons. It is dependent on the development on the younger players, as it can speed up or slow the process. As it stands, the Raiders are just a few years from reclaiming their spot amongst the AFC’s elite.