This year's season was a big step in the right direction for the Oakland Raiders. They finally got rid of some dead weight (Javon Walker and JaMarcus Russell), had a smart draft and just made solid moves in the offseason. Before the season started, Raiders fans had a lot to be hopeful about, and now that the season is over, we have a lot to be excited about.
Let's start with the differences between last year and this year. The most noticeable was the loss of 300 pounds of dead weight: JaMarcus Russell was finally ousted from Oakland. Many Raider fans were ecstatic about the thought of Bruce "Almighty" Gradkowski being the full-time quarterback, and it just got better when, for once, the Raiders made a trade that made sense. At the end of the 2010 draft, the Oakland Raiders made possibly the biggest move for them by trading for former Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.
All of the Raider fans knew that they needed a new quarterback, and we got one finally. We also needed former first round picks to come alive and prove their worth. We all started to hear the word "bust" associated with the No. four overall pick in the 2008 draft, Darren McFadden. Things got worse when he sat out the preseason and everybody thought he might have been on his way out of Oakland.
Boy, were we wrong. I have liked McFadden, and I thought if he were healthy he would surprise people (maybe that's why I drafted him on my fantasy team instead of Michael Bush). McFadden came alive this season, and broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. Also, although he missed multiple games, he still led the league in yards from scrimmage for most of the season. Not only did he have his best season as a player, but he also made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Now, let's talk about our tremendous rookies. I will start with our first round pick, linebacker Rolondo McClain. Everybody had their eye on McClain coming out of Alabama. He was the top-rated linebacker, and everybody thought he was going to go to the New York Giants (if you don't believe me, go watch the video when the Raiders drafted him; you hear a lot of boos in Radio City Music Hall). McClain was expected to help revive the Oakland Raiders' defense and help their run defense. McClain didn't have a spectacular season, but he did what a rookie linebacker is expected to do.
After McClain, the Raiders drafted Lamarr Houston in the second round. There are just so many things that can be said about him. He came alive this season and helped the Raiders rack up their sack total. The Raiders' defensive line was one of the best in the league this season, and Houston was one of the reasons. He only had 30 solo tackles and nine assists, but he had five sacks and a forced fumble.
Two rookies on the offensive side both came in the third and fourth round. The Raiders might have found their left tackle for the next 10 years in rookie Jared Veldheer. He came into the NFL out of a Division II school.
Many people expected him to have to wait a while before he had to play left tackle. Tom Cable tried him out at center, but we soon realized Veldheer was primed for tackle. Veldheer was moved there and we never looked back. He was put up against some of the best in the league and held his own. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said he has done a "decent" job, and that was more than I personally expected.
The most explosive player the Raiders have was a typical Raiders pick. He was the fastest and flashiest guy in the draft, and if he had come out last year, he most likely would have been the second round pick of the Raiders. If you still don't know who I am talking about, it's wide receiver Jacoby Ford.
From the day he ran a 4.28 in the combine, I knew he was going to be an Oakland Raider—the only question was where would we take him. The Raiders traded away Kirk Morrison (I admit, I do miss seeing him in black and silver) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth round pick, which they turned into Jacoby Ford. The biggest day for Ford was the Kansas City Chiefs game on November 7th. Ford had a kickoff return for a touchdown and 148 yards.
The veteran leaders showed how much they really mean to this team. Richard Seymour, who the Raiders got for this year's first round pick (17th overall), proved what he is worth. He helped lead the Raiders' defensive line to a total of 47 sacks this season. The Raiders have three players that were nominated to the Pro Bowl: Seymour, Nnamdi Asomougha and Shane Lechler. They also have four alternates: McFadden, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Janikowski and Zach Miller.
Raider fans for once have something to look forward to next season, and for once it is realistic. 2011 may see the Oakland Raiders winning the AFC West and having a 10-6 season. But, of course, that all depends on what the Raiders do this offseason, starting with the new rumors Adam Schefter broke about Head Coach Tom Cable not returning next season. Looks like it's going to be an interesting offseason, but one thing is for sure: Raider Nation is back.