The 2006 Raiders finished 2-14, and they were even more difficult to watch, if that's possible. Especially for a (gulp!) Raiders fan like myself. It's true, I'm a Raiders fan. Like many of my Silver-and-Black backers, I fell in love with the team in the '70s and early '80s, loved Bo Jackson, worshipped Marcus Allen, suffered through some lean years, then Jon Gruden came along and Jerry Rice ... and now? Ugh. It hasn't been since, well, about the start of Super Bowl XXXVII (against Tampa Bay) that I've openly advertised I'm a Raiders fan.
The NFL in the modern day is set up for bad teams to become better, and the Raiders will be better in 2007, thanks in no small part to the top overall draft pick, JaMarcus Russell, as well as the signings of Dominic Rhodes and Donovin Darius and the general maturation of their young, talented defensive players. But if you think this team will challenge in the competitive AFC West, you probably have spent too much time with Cheech and Chong.
The weakness last season, and it was obvious to everyone, was at the quarterback position. Sure, the line was bad, and it wasn't helped by Aaron Brooks' jitters and Andrew Walter's lack of a "throw the pass!" clock. The loss of LaMont Jordan hurt the team, and Randy Moss poisoned the team (or at least drank some of it). But quarterback was the problem -- and it won't improve this season. Russell needs a year to catch on, Walter will never be even an adequate NFL quarterback and Josh McCown is what we in the biz call a "journeyman."
The team under new coach Lane Kiffin will be better, but that ain't saying much. As much as it pains me to say this, when it comes to fantasy options, owners will have to "look away." They're hideous.
Projected draft round Player Round JaMarcus Russell, QB DND LaMont Jordan, RB 5 Dominic Rhodes, RB 10-11 Jerry Porter, WR 9 Ronald Curry, WR 11 Zach Miller, TE 17 Sebastian Janikowski, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Derrick Burgess, DE. This pass-rush specialist tied for 11th in the league with 11 sacks last year, and he had 16 the year before. There's no reason he can't do it again.
LaMont Jordan, RB. Jordan was overworked and under-appreciated before blowing out his knee in Week 11. We don't worry about his return from knee surgery; Jordan is a hard worker, and he'll probably come into camp in great shape. But we do worry about Dominic Rhodes' role when he returns from his four-game suspension. Rhodes will definitely steal some touches. At the least, he'll take away some of Jordan's receptions, which is the one thing that differentiates him from other backs. Consider Jordan a third fantasy RB.
Jerry Porter, WR. With Randy Moss gone, Porter is "considered" the team's No. 1 starter. Porter certainly has the skills to be a No. 1, but he never has shown the consistency to be a fantasy No. 1. In fact, the man who made all of one catch last season should be considered a fantasy No. 3, at best. Causes for concern: The Raiders' passing game leaves a lot to be desired; Porter, who turns 29 soon, has never had a 1,000-yard season; and Ronald Curry lurks as a guy who could overtake him as a No. 1. If he falls to you, fine. But don't reach. Key additions: S Donovin Darius, FB Justin Griffith, QB Josh McCown, C Jeremy Newberry, RB Dominic Rhodes, TE Tony Stewart, WR Mike Williams.
Key losses: OL Brad Badger, QB Aaron Brooks, DT Lance Johnstone, WR Randy Moss, CB Tyrone Poole, QB Marques Tuiasosopo, OT Langston Walker.
Ronald Curry, WR. I'm convinced that if he hadn't blown his Achilles' about 287 times by now, Curry would have had a 1,000-yard season and become a Pro Bowl candidate. Now that he's actually entering a season fairly healthy -- he played 16 games last season for the first time in his career and didn't have offseason surgery -- this could be the year he takes off. And the situation is there for him to do it. Draft him as a bench option, but he could be much more.
Zach Miller, TE. The next in a new breed of talented young, pass-catching tight ends, Miller could start for the Raiders right out of the gate. And the 6-5, 259-pound Arizona State kid could become an immediate factor for fantasy owners, too. He's worth having as a backup if you have the bench spots for it, but don't expect the world. I see him posting numbers similar to another Miller over in Pittsburgh (Heath), maybe 400 yards and 3-4 TDs.
Kirk Morrison, LB. A rock in the middle, Morrison is steadily turning into a Pro Bowl tackler and playmaker on an improving unit.
Raiders defense/special teams. Talk about a turnaround. The Raiders have dumped a bunch of money and effort into their defense, and it showed last season. After finishing 27th in total defense in 2005, the Raiduhs finished third in total D last year. So why aren't they ranked higher? Well, mostly because of the team's poor offense, the Raiders still finished 18th in points allowed. And because they're not the gambling type, they finished 27th in takeaways. The special teams are nothing to write home about, either. The upside is there, but those three issues must be addressed before they produce.
Josh McCown, QB. McCown can run a little bit, and he has had his moments. But if he were a sure thing, he wouldn't be joining his third team in as many years. Plus, there's the questions of whether he'll even start and how long he can hold off JaMarcus Russell. At best, McCown is a bye-week fill-in (from the waiver wire) when the matchup is right.
JaMarcus Russell, QB. There's little doubt Russell has the physical tools to be a successful NFL quarterback, but it's asking too much of him to put the two together right now. Even the great Peyton Manning threw 28 INTs in his first season. Tom Brady played in just one game. Johnny U. had a 74.0 passer rating. If starting, Russell will be worth owning as a backup for when the matchup is right, but don't plan to use him -- the Raiders have the league's fifth-toughest fantasy schedule.
Dominic Rhodes, RB. That four-game suspension isn't catastrophic (unless it turns into a bigger problem) because Rhodes likely would have needed a few weeks to work his way into coach Lane Kiffin's offense. But it definitely puts another tally on the "reasons not to expect much from Rhodes" list. Consider him a lower-middle-round pick for RB depth.
Sebastian Janikowski, K. For years, Janikowski was one of the league's most accurate and powerful kickers, but he lacked opportunities. He's still one of the most powerful, but the opportunities will be few and far between, and the 17 field-goal attempts he has missed the last two years are just one less than he missed the four years prior to that. No thanks.
Andrew Walter, QB. You can tolerate poor play from a first-year starting quarterback if that young QB is talented and shows aptitude for adjustments. Then there's Andrew Walter.
Justin Fargas, Zach Crockett, Justin Griffith, RBs. Other than a few goal-line carries (from which one?), they won't dent fantasy scoring columns much.
Alvis Whitted, Doug Gabrel, WRs. Here's a prediction: One of these two guys will have a big Week 1 or 2. They'll be all the rage on the waiver wire -- and they'll never be heard from again. Don't be the guy who falls for that.
TO KNOW LIST Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: We advise you stay away from Raiders players initially in our Ultimate salary cap game. The team had so many problems last year offensively that you simply can't count on production from anyone on that side of the ball. The Raiders' defense may be start-worthy in Weeks 3 and 4 against the Browns and Dolphins, but do realize that the team has its bye in Week 5. We suggest using as few trades on possible for defense, as the production there can be a crapshoot.
Coaching: Wonderboy, Take 2? The team had success with a young, fiery leader named Jon Gruden at the helm. Now it turns to a similarly young, fiery leader in Lane Kiffin. The son of famed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who works for Gruden in Tampa Bay, has the innovative mind and creativity to be a successful head coach, but he and his new staff have some cleaning up to do. Innovation only works when you have the right players and total motivation. I have no doubt Kiffin will be a success in this league, but it'll take him at least a year to find his stride.
Offensive line: This unit isn't as bad as the rap it got last year. Sure, there were plenty of missed assignments and false starts, but the unit probably got tired of protecting and then watching Aaron Brooks short-hop his receivers or Andrew Walter scramble right into the arms of a pass rusher. Barry Sims is a solid left tackle, Jake Grove is fine at center, and Robert Gallery finally is where he belongs at right tackle. Jeremy Newberry also signed with the team this offseason. There's quality in that group. It might not win the team any games, but it won't lose any either.
Schedule analysis: Well, when you play San Diego and Denver twice a year, you're already starting with a limp. The team does have that last-place schedule, so there are a few cupcakes such as Detroit, Cleveland, Tennessee and Houston in there. But there are many more tough matchups, including at Jacksonville and at Miami, than easy ones. The only spot to take advantage is Weeks 7-9 (vs. Kansas City, at Tennessee, vs. Houston). Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 5th toughest (28th easiest).