Midseason Rookie Grades

With the Raiders in the midst of a revival, much of that success goes to a very productive crop of rookies. The pundits said the Raiders did well in the draft and the first half of the season is proof of that. From their first pick to the very last, S&BI hands out midseason grades to the youngsters.

Rolando McClain

Pick: 1st Round, 8th Overall

Grade: B-

When the Raiders drafted Rolando McClain, the coaching staff raved about his intelligence, instincts and leadership on the field. So far, the reviews have been mixed.

McClain has yet to really turn the corner this season. You see and hear about the intelligence and leadership in the locker room. For a rookie, McClain has taken a load of responsibilities as the starting middle linebacker for Oakland's retooled defense. However, he has yet to consistently show the instincts that made him such a special player at Alabama.

The general consensus is that McClain might be doing too much thinking on the field instead of simply playing his game. It's obvious from his hesitant play from time to time, although, to his credit, his natural talent has carried him above water to this point in the season.

Coming out of Alabama, some of the criticisms against McClain's game were that he was better in small space than in the open field, and that he had some work to do in pass coverage. However, he's done a pretty good job in both areas; he moves well laterally to the action and has done a good job playing in coverage as well.

McClain is third on the team in tackles with 42. Save for coming out early in the last game, he's been a durable player. For McClain to take the next step in his development, he's got to take a page out of Tyvon Branch's book and make sure that he's in on the majority of plays.

Of course, one of the highlights of the season was McClain's body slam of Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola in a Week 2 victory.

Lamarr Houston

Pick: 2nd Round, 44th Overall

Grade: B

Lamarr Houston, like McClain, has yet to make a real impact at the professional level. This is not to say he has been a let down. You have to remind yourself that he is still just a rookie, and with that he's done a solid, admirable job.

Many thought that the Raiders drafted a tackle with Houston, but the staff elected to put him at strongside end to improve their ability to contain, particularly against the run, on the edge. While the Raiders still have a ways to go before becoming a truly dominant defense, the run defense has stepped up in 2010 and Houston is a big part of that.

Houston has shown that he has a great motor. When things are going well, he is often putting great pressure in the backfield. Even when he over-pursues, he keeps his eye on the ball carrier and shows the ability to recover.

Attitude has never been a problem for Houston. In order to take the next step in his development, a lot like McClain, he has got to make a greater impact on the game. It's one thing to be a key piece of the defensive machine, but Houston needs to make himself a weapon. This is most evident in his low sack numbers (2).

Jared Veldheer

Pick: 3rd Round, 69th Overall

Grade: B

Some might argue that this grade is a shade too high. But keep in mind, Veldheer is a third round pick out of a small, Division II program. No other rookie on the roster has been thrown into the fire quite like Veldheer. Although McClain and Houston were starters from day one, Veldheer has been arguably the most important member of the Raiders offensive line. He has started at both center and left guard, easily the two toughest positions along the line. He has now supplanted Mario Henderson at left tackle, and it looks like the coaching staff is willing to give him the full responsibility of protecting Jason Campbell's blindside.

With that said, a "B" grade doesn't seem that high, does it?

Veldheer will be the first to tell you that he has a long way to go. Of course, his biggest issue this season has been the penalties. But then again, that's easily been the entire team's biggest issue this season. We're not willing to give him a free pass on those penalties, but they're understandable: rookie left tackle going up against NFL-caliber pass rushers in loud environments that make whatever crowds Veldheer played in front of in college seem that much smaller.

It's too early to say that the Raiders have found their left tackle of the future. However, the second half of the season will go a long way in determining how the Raiders will move forward in the 2011 offseason. If Veldheer can gain Tom Cable's confidence and assert himself as the definite anchor of the offensive line, then that is one (huge) problem the Raiders will have addressed moving forward.

Bruce Campbell

Pick: 4th Round, 106th Overall

Grade: N/A

Bruce Campbell, the player some draft pundits thought Oakland would take in the first round, has played too little to earn any grade. That being said, the fact that he hasn't played much goes to show much raw he was coming out of Maryland. The move from tackle to guard is also a factor, and as physically impressive Campbell is, he still has plenty of frame to add some more bulk.

Cooper Carlisle has held strong to his starting role at right guard, although if the Raiders had a better option, they would surely take it. Right now, Campbell is not that option. Moving forward, should Campbell stay at guard, you would like to see him take the top spot by next year. It hasn't been ruled out that Campbell will move back to tackle where his athleticism and size would be a great asset, but the onus is on him to work on his fundamentals and get pass the label of being "raw."

Jacoby Ford

Pick: 4th Round, 108th Overall

Grade: A

Ford exploded onto the NFL scene against the Chiefs in Week 9. Making his second consecutive start in place of another fourth round wide receiver, Louis Murphy, Ford caught six passes for 148 yards. He also returned four kickoffs for 158 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown scamper that changed the momentum of the game to start the second half. Needless to say, Ford has been the most pleasant surprise of this rookie class.

Despite standing only 5-foot-10, Ford's speed and ability to make big plays has endeared him to Raider Nation. He made an impressive grab over a defender in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter against the Chiefs to set Sebastian Janikowski up for a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Ford made another great diving grab to set Janikowski up for the game-winning field goal. Sure, that's only one game, but in the previous weeks, Ford was building up to such a performance. As we wrote plenty of times in our game previews and recaps, it was only a matter of time before Ford found the endzone.

With Louis Murphy back from injury and Chaz Schilens' return imminent, it will be interesting to see how much playing time Ford will get at receiver. That being said, Ford has outplayed Darrius Heyward-Bey and he still remains the Raiders' primary weapon in the return game.

Walter McFadden

Pick: 5th Round, 138th Overall

Grade: C+

The Raiders have gotten the most out of all their draft picks, and Walter McFadden is no different. With Nnamdi Asomugha, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson ahead of him, McFadden hasn't gotten that much playing time, but when he's been in there, he's done a solid job, especially for a fifth round pick.

Of course, cornerback depth was an issue to address in the draft, and while that still looks like the case next offseason, McFadden has surely inspired the staff's confidence. He's always been better in man-to-man coverage, but he's also been stout against the run. He'll need to add some more weight—which was an issue for him at Auburn—but McFadden can be a plus option as a fourth cornerback.

Travis Goethel

Pick: 6th Round, 190th Overall

Grade: N/A

Travis Goethel has been sidelined by a back injury for most of the season. He made his debut in Week 9 so it's impossible to grade him right now. When he was drafted, we here at S&BI proclaimed that he would become a fan favorite as a special teams wizard. But the staff has bigger plans for Goethel. If it weren't for his back injury, some around the organization felt Goethel had the inside track for the starting weakside linebacker spot. Right now, he is Quentin Groves' backup and Groves has played well enough to secure that role. Goethel has to stay healthy in the second half of the season to make any sort of impact.

Jeremy Ware

Pick: 7th Round, 215th Overall

Grade: B

While Jeremy Ware is stuck on the bottom of the depth chart, the Raiders have shown confidence in their young corner by playing him in some pivotal games. He's proven that decision to be wise as he's accounted for three pass deflections and an important interception in the endzone against the Chiefs in Week 9.

The Raiders have two solid young corners in Ware and McFadden. While neither is really starting material, both have strengthened the back end of the cornerback rotation.

Stevie Brown

Pick: 7th Round, 251st Overall

Grade: B+

Stevie Brown did not make the opening day roster, but once a spot opened up, he was the first off the practice roster. Again, it's amazing to see how much mileage the Raiders have gotten out of their draft picks, from first to seventh round. In Brown's case, that's especially true since he was the fifth to last pick in the draft.

Despite joining the roster late, Brown is second among Raider rookies with 14 tackles. Playing as a hybrid outside linebacker/safety, Brown has been a solid option for John Marshall's defense when either Michael Huff or Quentin Groves need a break. Brown has also been solid as a member of the special teams unit. He's shown a knack for getting to the ball carrier. It's unlikely he'll ever be a star, but the Raiders have a solid depth-guy in Brown.

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