Where Do We Go From Here: Revamped
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A few weeks ago, after the Raiders beat the Steelers to reach 3-4, I asked where the Raiders would go from there.
Well, with the Raiders’ loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the team having now dropped to 4-8, and the possibility of playoffs has been all but eliminated, that question seems to be relevant once again. In modern sports, it seems as if the immediate response of the media, when a team is no longer in contention for the postseason, is to tank away, and get the best draft pick possible. With this logic, the Raiders would try to get to 4-12, and hope some of the bottom teams won a few games here and there, and then build around a top-5 draft pick.
Personally, I’m not sold. The Raiders have done a great job this season building a winning mentality around this team, and to suddenly change their mindset would be detrimental to the feel this team has. Also, a top-5 draft pick is far from a guarantee. There are countless top draft picks every year that flame out, and often having more draft picks can be better strategy than having higher draft picks (just look at how the Patriots have built their current roster).
The best players often come from the second and third rounds, which means there is far more importance to scouting, and drafting players for your system, than just tanking and getting a high draft slot. Raiders’ fans can certainly attest to this, as a quick glance at their last five first-round draft picks is the best way to get Raiders’ fans irrationally angry (not counting Hayden yet, the previous five are: Rolando McClain, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, and Michael Huff).
So if the Raiders can no longer make the playoffs, and they aren’t trying to lose to improve their draft pick, what can come from these last four weeks? Quite a lot, actually.
The biggest part of the last four weeks may be the auditions for 2014. With the Raiders in full rebuild mode, there were very few players guaranteed to be around for the long haul at the beginning of this season (probably only Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, and Marcel Reece). Several players have played themselves into the Raiders’ plans for the next several seasons with their play this season (notably Lamarr Houston, Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach, Sio Moore, Taiwan Jones, and possibly Tyvon Branch because his absence has been so noticeable), but there are many players that will spend the final four weeks battling for spots on this team next year.
The most intriguing position is, undoubtedly, the most important position in modern football: quarterback. In McGloin and Pryor the Raiders have two plus signal callers, but the question remains whether either is a true franchise quarterback. Pryor certainly looked the part for several weeks, but by the time he was replaced by McGloin, he looked like a shell of the Pryor from just a few weeks ago. McGloin has looked strong in his place, and hopefully the competitive edge, which these two men clearly both have in spades, will only push them to get better and better. The future is bright at the quarterback position for Oakland, and these final four weeks may have a big say in what direction the Raiders decide to go.
Without the pressure of competing for the playoffs, the Raiders can also start to save players a bit to improve their health. The health of the offensive line has been a shit show this year, and Tony Sparano deserves plaudits for his work with this entire unit. If the Raiders can get healthy on the offensive line, I actually think the line can be a strength of the club in the next few seasons, especially if Menelik Watson can reach his potential, while staying healthy.
On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven has been awesome all year, and seem relatively set for the future. The secondary, however, has suffered health-wise, and in terms of production. Players such as Tracy Porter, Usama Young, and Brandian Ross will certainly be under the microscope these final few weeks as each has shown the potential to be in the Raiders’ future, but has lacked consistency.
Despite the fact that the playoffs are a mere fantasy at this point (let’s be honest though, no fan gives up on the playoffs until that little “x” shows up next to his/her team), the Raiders will still be worth watching each Sunday.