When analyzing the Oakland Raiders top ten prospects, it’s obvious that over the last three years the team has put an emphasis on upgrading their offense. The Raiders have had the luxury of selecting high in the draft, because they’ve been a dismal franchise, but in those year’s they’ve acquired some intriguing talent. And there isn’t a more intriguing athlete in the organization than the Raiders top prospect, running back Darren McFadden.
A controversial prospect leading up to the 2008 draft, McFadden buried his questionable past with a stellar performance at the Scouting Combine and ultimately solidified himself as the fourth pick overall. An Al Davis special, McFadden possesses the size/speed element that Davis is known to become enamored with, and at 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, McFadden has a chance to develop into one of the most explosive backs in the league; McFadden’s build and skill set rivals Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson. As a rookie, McFadden played in 13 games [missed three games due to injury], starting in five, but was primarily a situational threat in a backfield that also starred Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. McFadden finished the season with 113 carries for 499 yards and four touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 285 yards. But it was in a Week 2 divisional showdown against heated rival the Kansas City Chiefs where McFadden showcased his brilliance by carrying the ball 21 times for 164 yards and a touchdown. That’s the type of performance McFadden turned in with regularity at Arkansas, and in time, as he grows into the lead role with the Raiders, he will be among the top five running backs in the league.
The second rated prospect in the organization is a player that the Raiders also have high hopes for, but it’s been a struggle for quarterback JaMarcus Russell from the moment he was drafted with the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. With high expectations surrounding him as a rookie, Russell went through a lengthy holdout that lasted throughout the duration of training camp and into the first couple of weeks of the ’07 season. Russell’s rookie season was more of a learning experience because of the holdout, and he had to work himself back into shape and digest a new playbook. As the season progressed, Russell received playing time towards the end of the year and made his first professional start against the San Diego Chargers during the final week of the season. He finished the year completing 54.5-percent of his passes for 373 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The growth he showed towards the end of his first year allowed him to continue as the team’s starter last year. And as physically talented as the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Russell is, there were plenty of ups and downs last year that he has to correct before he lives up to his enormous potential. Starting in 15 games in ’08, Russell did a good job of running the offense and was fortunate to have a tremendous ground attack to rely on when times were tough. When it was time to air it out, Russell completed 53.8-percent of his passes for 2,423 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s had weight problems since his days at LSU, and for him to be the best quarterback possible, he has to stay in shape. The Raiders have an intriguing team this year, and the offense has a chance to be dynamic. But it all starts with Russell, and entering his third year in the league, second as a starter, it’s important for him to take a positive step in his development and become a leader. If he’s unable to command the offense and show maturity, it doesn’t matter how much talent the Raiders offense has surrounding Russell; he has to take control.
One of those weapons surrounding Russell this year is 2009 first round draft pick, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. He is selection that I was personally critical of, and I still have a hard time understanding why he was selected with the seventh pick, because he would have been available much later in the draft. But, with that said, I do realize that he has a lot of upside, and he’s without question one of the premier prospects in the organization – that’s why he breaks in the top-five at No. 3. Just like McFadden, Heyward-Bey fits the prototypical “Al Davis type of player” with his 4.3 speed and 6-foot-2, 210 pound frame, not to mention his explosive playmaking ability that can change the momentum of a game on any play. Heyward-Bey gets a quick release off the line and uses his game breaking speed to get down field. He’s doesn’t shy away from going over the middle and makes tough receptions in traffic. He has to improve his route running and must develop more as a receiver, and over time he could become a true No. 1 receiver. He has good hands, but tends to lose concentration and drops easy passes. He’s a very gifted player, but his production in college didn’t equal his talent. Another reason why I have a problem with the Heyward-Bey pick is because Louis Murphy, who checks in the top 10 at No. 10, is the same exact player. If the Raiders selected Michael Crabtree in the first round and then drafted Murphy, they would have had a nice tandem to build their team around. But instead, they have two players (Heyward-Bey and Murphy) that struggle running crisp routes, possess inconsistent hands and will frustrate you rather than excite you. To expect Heyward-Bey to have an immediate impact in ’09 is unrealistic, but he will have every opportunity to be a big contributor – I just question if he’s up to the task in year one.
A player that was up to task to contribute immediately and be a fixture in the offense for many years is third year tight end Zach Miller. Miller, the fourth rated prospect in the organization, is a tremendous blocker and has demonstrated receiving skills similar to another great Arizona State tight end, the Baltimore Ravens’ Todd Heap. In his first year in the league, Miller started all 16 games and proved to be a reliable offensive threat catching 44 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns. He followed up his rookie campaign with an even more impressive second year in ’08, starting 15 of 16 games and hauling in 56 passes for 778 yards and one touchdown. Entering his third year as a starter and being one of the league’s most complete tight ends, Miller looks to become a more prominent offensive weapon and a redzone threat. In a tough AFC conference for tight ends, Miller could challenge for a Pro Bowl berth in ’09.
Entering the 2007 draft, nothing was guaranteed to Louisville star running back Michael Bush, as he suffered a devastating season-ending leg injury during the first game of his senior year, and in turn it cost him his first year in the NFL. If it wasn’t for the injury, Bush would have been a top 20 draft pick, but instead he fell to the fourth round and the Raiders were willing to take a chance on the 6-foot-1, 245-pound bulldozer. It was a wait and see approach for the Raiders, but they knew that the fifth rated prospect in the organization had the talent to be special. But after two years of not playing in a real game, there wasn’t much expected of Bush; just don’t tell him that. Playing in 15 games last year, Bush thrived in the Raiders version of a three-headed monster and had 95 carries for 421 yards and three touchdowns. Bush also proved to be a capable receiver out of the backfield as he hauled in 19 receptions for 162 yards. But it was in the season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Bush emerged and willed the Raiders to a victory, as he totaled 27 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders have three outstanding backs that they can give the ball to, but it appears that Fargas once again has the upper hand in being the featured back. But the production that Bush and McFadden can provide gives Head Coach Tom Cable plenty of options.Rounding out the top 10 are defensive end Trevor Scott at No. 6, wide receiver Chaz Schilens at No. 7, wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins at No. 8, offensive tackle Mario Henderson at No. 9 and wide receiver Louis Murphy at No. 10. Just missing the cut were center Samson Satele and safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Mitchell.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.