Raiders fans are positively giddy this summer, thinking they might have a team that ends its NFL record string of consecutive seasons with double digit losses.
Why? Because they should have a decent offense.
It all starts with the quarterback, and the Raiders seem to have gotten a steal in Jason Campbell, yielding only a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft for a quarterback who was originally a first-round pick by the Washington Redskins.
Campbell’s time with the Redskins was not a happy one. He was operating behind an offensive line that was probably even worse than the Raiders’ line. In the past two years, he was sacked 81 times, 43 last year.
Despite that, Campbell still completed 61 percent of his passes for 55 touchdowns (38 interceptions) in his Redskins career.
His 82.3 QB rating puts him in the middle of NFL quarterbacks.
All of Campbell’s statistics are far better than those of the departed JaMarcus Russell, whose only distinction is his competition with Ryan Leaf for biggest draft bust ever.
When Russell was benched, replacements Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye played much better than Russell, and these were quarterbacks nobody else wanted. Campbell should be a significant step up.
He also has some good receivers, because the Raiders have picked up good ones like Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy in the lower rounds of the draft, seventh and fourth, respectively. Zach Miller, a second-round pick, is an outstanding receiver as a tight end.
Darrius Heyward-Bey? After a disappointing and injury-shortened rookie season, DHB has sparkled in spring practices. But there’s no hitting in those practices. I’ll wait until I see him do it in games before I change my opinion of him as a washout.
The Raiders need to make another important offensive change: Use Darren McFadden in a role in which he can be productive.
To some, McFadden has been almost as big a bust as Russell, only sporadically effective and often injured, but I see a player with considerable talent who has been misused.
McFadden is not a between the tackles type of runner. He needs to be put in a position where he can operate in the open field, either by pitching out to him or throwing to him, because he’s an excellent receiver.
He is not an every-down back. That should be Michael Bush, who can run between the tackles and has the speed to break away from tacklers, too.
McFadden should be the change of pace guy, similar to Reggie Bush, who was a disappointment with the New Orleans Saints when they tried to use him as an every-down back, but has value as a spot player and punt returner.
The fate of Campbell and McFadden, and ultimately, the Raiders, depends on improvement in the offensive line. That’s probably a year away. The Raiders drafted two offensive tackles, small-college star Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell, the workout king at the NFL combine, but only the most optimistic Raiders fans can expect them to make a big impact in 2010.
That’s the reason I doubt the Raiders will be in the playoffs, but their improved offense will at least make them watchable — and that’s a welcome change.