For the second-straight year the Oakland Raiders will have several new faces on defense. The amount of turnover explains why the franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade and it speaks to the failure in player acquisition, whether it be in free agency or the draft. When the team only has two of its last 10 first-round picks on the roster, it paints a picture of a failed philosophy in team building.
The defense will have at least four new starters and possibly as many as seven. The free agent haul of league veterans should help the team in the interim, but the forthcoming draft represents an opportunity to build for the future. Getting a couple of starters on defense through the draft would be massive for the Silver and Black going forward.
I’ll start by listing players from last season who project as starters and fill in the holes with free agent and possible draft selections.
SS Tyvon Branch: Branch missed all but one full game last season, but should make a smooth transition back into his role as the starter. Branch will help the defense immensely in run support and cover in obvious passing downs. The modern day safety needs the ability to do both and Branch can do both.
FS Charles Woodson: Woodson will be back for his 17th season and should win a spot as the starter unless a draft pick beats him in camp. The former Heisman Trophy winner still has enough in the tank to play at a high level.
SLB Sio Moore: Moore has to be the best pick in the Reggie McKenzie era as of yet. As a third round pick in last year’s draft, Moore won the starting gig in Training Camp and never relinquished his role as a playmaker in his rookie season.
MLB Nick Roach: Roach was a solid addition in free agency last offseason and should resume his role as the signal caller on defense.
WLB Khalil Mack: Mack is considered by many, including NFL.com’s Mike Mayock, as the best player in this draft. There are many factors that could make this pick impossible, but Mack would give the defense the legitimacy it needs to strike fear in opposing offenses. To make this pick possible, I forecast the Raiders holding steady at the fifth pick for Mack and drafting LSU’s wide receiver Odell Beckham in the second round. Both those players could be gone by the time Oakland picks in either round, but thats what makes the draft so much fun.
CB D.J. Hayden: Many fans and analysts have already declared Hayden a bust, but I’m really high on the second-year cover guy. His tackling skills alone merit a wait-and-see approach–but his hands, physical, and mental abilities command a second look. I firmly believe Hayden will be a future star. His unfortunate rookie campaign is just that–unfortunate. Look for him to bounce back in his second year.
CB Tarell Brown: The former 49er made the jump across the bay and figures to be another solid addition on defense. He is a lockdown corner and was a huge part of the physical Niner secondary. I’m really excited about Brown and the only thing I would change about him is his one-year contract.
LDE Justin Tuck: Tuck is also a good pickup regardless of his age. He is a proven winner in the league and is an upgrade over Jason Hunter, who provided very little pass rush on the left side. Tuck should provide enough rush to warrant opposing offenses keep extra blockers in the back field.
NT Pat Sims: Sims played well last year, but was surprisingly overlooked in free agency and re-signed a one-year deal with Oakland. Getting Sims, a powerful tackle with the ability to provide push up the gut, was a plus for the Raiders this off-season.
DT Stacy McGee: McGee was a late round pick in last year’s draft and played well in certain spots in his rookie season. It’s too early to call him a steal in the draft, but I believe McGee will be an impact player for the Silver and Black. The addition of veteran Antonio Smith from the Houston Texans could provide McGee with much needed competition at the position, but I think Smith translates better as an end even on a 4-3 defense.
RDE LaMarr Woodley: Woodley played outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but is better suited to the end position after losing a little of his speed through niggling injuries. Woodley may be older than the now departed Lamarr Houston, but he is equal in ability and better in experience and pedigree.
I must admit that would be a good looking team and playing under defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will give them the attitude needed to stop modern day offenses. This defense will definitely have more depth than last year’s and that alone should help keep the defense fresh towards the end of the season. Given the Raiders’ brutal schedule, that would be a huge boost to a team trying to turn the corner.