Quarterback- In Art Shell’s second stint as head coach with the Oakland Raiders, he gets an immediate upgrade in talent at quarterback from the 2005 Raiders team. Replacing Kerry Collins in the pocket will be former Saint Aaron Brooks, who has yet to live up to this potential in the NFL. However, Brooks is surrounded by tremendous talent with Randy Moss and Jerry Porter at receiver, a solid offensive line, and Lamont Jordan starting at running back. The competition for backup in 2006, however, should be interesting. Marques Tuiasosopo has been a solid backup the past few years, but has been unable to supplant the revolving door of starters the Raiders have had over his tenure with the team. Youngster Andrew Walter, however, may challenge Tuiasosopo for the backup spot. Walter has a good head and is technically sound at quarterback and by season’s end will take over as Aaron Brooks’ backup.
2006 NFL Grade- B
Running Back/Full Back- Zack Crockett is one of the more solid full backs in the NFL and should provide a steady presence as a blocker and receiver for Aaron Brooks. Running back Lamont Jordan is looking to improve on his 1,000 yard season in 2005 and his versatility will make Tom Walsh’s offense more dynamic in 2006. Backing up Jordan will be speedster Reshard Lee and reliable Justin Fargas. The running game will be solid, but not spectacular, if injuries don’t mount behind Brooks and the offensive line.
2006 NFL Grade- B-
Wide Receiver/Tight End- At wide receiver and tight end, the Raiders are stacked with excellent talent. Last year, Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry went out in the first weeks of the season but return this year to compliment Randy Moss and Doug Gabriel. If all four receivers can be out on the field for most of the 2006 NFL season, Aaron Brooks just needs to keep the ball down and watch the fireworks. At tight end, young Courtney Anderson should provide a steady target in the middle of the field for Brooks and will develop more as a blocker and receiver in the 2006 NFL season.
2006 NFL Grade- A+
Offensive Line- The offensive line for the Oakland Raiders, like most other teams in 2006, will define where the team goes during the season. If all five starters stick together for a good part of the season, this should be one of the better groups in the NFL. At center, look for third year veteran Jake Grove to supplant Adam Treu as the starting center by midseason. At the tackle positions, Robert Gallery and Barry Sims will give Brooks some time to create on offense and are athletic enough to get down field on runs and screens. The guard positions are probably the weakest part of the line, with Brad Badger and Cameron Spikes doing an adequate, workman job around Adam Treu but not surprising anyone with their talent.
2006 NFL Grade- B
Defensive Line- The defensive ends for the Raiders are a bit undersized for the position, but Derrick Burgess and Bobby Hamilton should be able to do a sufficient job in 2006. However, look for DE/OLB Tyler Brayton to be a pass rush and third down specialist for the Raiders and provide some solid effort from the outside. At defensive tackle, former Pro Bowler Warren Sapp is starting to show his age and the Raiders will use Sapp in conjunction with the younger Terdell Sands and Tommy Kelly to fill the middle of the defensive line.
2006 NFL Grade- B-
Linebacker- The Raiders have a good young line backing group, with dominating middle linebacker Danny Clark returning to lead the second level of the Raiders’ defense in 2006. On the outside, rookie Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison are athletic enough to move down the line while being able to fill gaps and take down their share of running backs. Look for Howard to develop into one of the better outside linebackers in the division and possibly the conference by the end of the 2006 NFL season.
2006 NFL Grade- B+
Defensive Back- The safety positions will be done by committee, with Derrick Gibson, Stuart Schweigert, and Jarrod Cooper playing almost equal amounts of time to keep opponents out of the end zone. At corner back, the Raiders may have gained a little by losing oft-injured Charles Woodson. With their first pick, the Raiders selected corner back Michael Huff from University of Texas and he is ready to roll as a start in 2006. Alongside Huff will be Fabian Washington, last year’s first round pick, and a combination of Stanford Routt and Chris Carr at the nickel back spot.
2006 NFL Grade- B
Kicker/Punter- The Raiders have possibly the best specialist combination in the NFL, with kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler near the top of their respective positions in key statistics over the last couple of years. Janikowski has a booming leg and has been improving his accuracy, with an opportunity in 2006 to push the Raiders over the top in close games. Lechler’s accuracy and hang time will help the Raiders pin teams deep in 2006 while their improved work ethic under Art Shell will allow them to use field position to stop teams from running up and down the field.
2006 NFL Grade- A
2006 NFL Projection: The Oakland Raiders will be one of 2006’s surprises in the NFL, going 10-6 or 11-5 and competing for the AFC West title. Art Shell will contend for coach of the year, making Raiders fans question why Al Davis got rid of Shell in the first place.