Keeping Tabs on the AFC West: The Oakland Raiders

USA TODAY Sports

Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride let us know what to expect from the Oakland Raiders in 2013

Keeping the change of pace going for out Keeping Tabs posts, today we'll take a look at the teams around the AFC West. A couple weeks ago we had a good discussion about the Kansas City Chiefs. Today, lead writer Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride let's us know what to expect from the Oakland Raiders for this upcoming season. I want to thank Levi for taking the time to do this, and would love to see the Raiders go 4-2 in the AFC West this year.

Quarterback. How confident are the Raiders in Matt Flynn? Will he remain the starter throughout the season? Talk a little about his competition.

Reggie McKenzie has said he is very confident in Flynn from their days together in Green Bay. For that reason, he will be given every opportunity to be the team's starter. That being said, they aren't heavily invested in him in the future so they are prepared for the possibility he isn't the answer long term. Terrelle Pryor is the number two guy right now but Dennis Allen speaks of Pryor's progress in much the same way as he did during last season which suggests they have little confidence in him as legitimate competition for the starting job. He will be a sub-package guy who can give opposing defenses one more thing to have to plan for. They have high hopes for Wilson but also are not counting on him to step up right away.

The Raiders get Jacoby Ford back. How well do you expect the wide receiver corps to be? Is Denarius Moore a legit #1 receiver in this league?

I don't have high expectations for the receiving corps. Yes, Ford is back...for now. He is very injury prone and they need him to be healthy for this new offense to succeed. Neither Denarius Moore or Rod Streater has shown they are legitimate number one receivers. Sure, they have some potential but that word has gotten a lot of coaches fired. Neither of them even dominated at the college level so there isn't even that to fall back on.

It seemed like defensive tackle was the biggest position of need but wasn't addressed until late in the draft, 6th round I believe. Will the DL be able to hold up against the run and create a pass rush? Who are the Raiders counting on to perform at a high level this year?

Defensive tackle is indeed a concern. It has been the one area I have harped on all off-season and yet, as you said, they didn't address it until the sixth round. They picked up free agents Vance Walker and Pat Sims but neither have ever been full time starters. That doesn't mean they can't surprise people but if the Raiders are hoping for pleasant surprises, they are on shaky ground. That being said, I actually expect the defensive line to be slightly better than last season. Only for the simple reason that Richard Seymour was injured all season and he brought down the whole group. Once he was put on the shelf, the unit played much better. But to say the Raiders defensive line will be slightly better isn't saying a whole lot. They were just about the worst in the NFL last season. It would be very difficult to be worse.

Speaking of the draft, Sio Moore & DJ Hayden could end up being really good players. How will they contribute this year? Are they locks to be starters?

I wouldn't say either are locks to start although they are looking like they are on that trajectory. Sio has looked very good thus far and the coaching staff has raved about his abilities and his versatility. Hayden is a first round pick so he has that going for him but due to the surgery he had recently, I wouldn't be surprised if he began training camp running second team behind Mike Jenkins. Whether Hayden starts will depend on how Jenkins plays. If Jenkins can hold it down, he may be given the opportunity to start come the regular season.

With the return of All-Pro Charles Woodson, it seems like the Raiders potentially could have a very good secondary that has flown under the radar a bit. Will they be good enough to win games or at least keep the team in games?

I absolutely think so. In a weak cornerback free agent class, the Raiders scored big time reeling in Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins. Their best cornerback late last season -- though he was hurt much of the time -- was Phillip Adams and he returns this season. Slot corner, Joselio Hanson, returns ass well. Suddenly the Raiders go from having an injury plagued, rag tag group of fill-ins and misfits to a surprisingly solid corps of corners. At safety, Tyvon Branch returns and they have enough talent overall that some tough decisions will have to be made. Usama Young will take a backseat to Charles Woodson with free agent pickup Reggie Smith and surprising standout from last season, Brandian Ross, competing as well. This is a great looking group.

Rotoworld deemed the Raiders to have the worst roster in the NFL. What are the realistic expectations for this upcoming year?

Well, it isn't expected to be the worst roster in the NFL. Evan Silva, like many others, looks at the Raiders roster and sees a lot of question marks. But question marks are not necessarily weak areas. Many of these new and unproven players have just as much of a shot at being good as not. A good example would be Philip Wheeler from last season. He was a very late free agent signing and people questioned his talent. He broke out with the Raiders and no one is questioning him now after he signed a big free agent deal with Miami. I have said in the past that I would rather have unproven players/coaches than proven losers. The last time I said that was last off-season when I compared Dennis Allen to Romeo Crennel. We see how that turned out.

Who is a breakout player on both sides of the ball that fans should be looking out for in 2013?

On offense, I would keep an eye on rookie running back Latavius Murray. I like what I see from him and if he gets his shot this season, he could have fans envisioning the Raiders' running back of the future.
On defense look for middle linebacker Nick Roach to break out. He has vast potential and is very intelligent. I fully expect him to lead the team in tackles and be a be the kind of force in run support and coverage Rolando McClain never was. Not to mention his character is completely night and day to McClain.

How will the Raiders be better than last year? What needs to happen?
Leadership on defense. They have it in spades this season where there was none to be found last season. Andre Carter, Charles Woodson, Lamarr Houston, Nick Roach, Tyvon Branch. They had no direction last season. Richard Seymour projected the image of leadership but he was really more about Richard Seymour than anything else. And Rolando McClain was the cancer that ate away at the cell walls of this team. Both have been replaced and former players are stepping up as well. As bad as the offense was last season, the defense was probably worse. Even when the offense would have a decent game, the defense would blow the lead or simply have the Raiders so far behind that they couldn't catch up. That has changed now and I can't foresee these guys allowing themselves to be embarrassed the way last year's team was.

I'd like to thank Levi again and the good job he does over at S&BP. The Raiders are a tough team to measure because they have so many new pieces that we have no idea what to expect from them. New General Manager Reggie Mckenzie seems to have them headed in the right direction. I'd say expect the unexpected when it comes to the Oakland Raiders.
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