There has recently been something about being drafted by the Oakland Raiders and going into your third year with the organization. It might have even started with Hall Of Fame tight end Dave Casper, who caught 53 passes and 10 touchdowns in his third season with the Silver and Black.
Not everyone in the Silver and Black who has a stellar third season in the pros is bound for Canton. However, they do make noise around the league. In 2003, the Raiders drafted safety Nnamdi Asomugha from Cal and converted him into a Cornerback. Asomugha had a rough time adjusting, but he got it by his third year. His fourth season in the pros was his very best, but he took the training wheels off in his third. Despite not getting a single interception that year, he had 14 passes defensed, and was gaining recognition as a height-weight-speed specimen of Al Davis; along with being one of the more physical CB's in the NFL.
Recently in the Raiders draft history, the 2008 draft featured RB Darren McFadden, who was taken in the first round. McFadden has had a shaky professional start and was often injured and had eight fumbles in his first two years, but by his third season, he only missed three games and still managed to record over 1,200 rushing yards, averaging over five yards per carry. He is known as one of the best running backs in the NFL by several of his peers. That same year, the Raiders drafted CB Tyvon Branch from UConn. Davis immediately converted Branch to strong safety, as he was very physical during his collegiate days and ran a 4.33 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. Branch did not have a shaky start in the NFL. He just needed an opportunity to show what he is capable of. He got that his second season in the league, as he has recorded over 100 tackles in each season since then.
Last season, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Matt Shaughnessy are the notable players who were in their third season in the pros last year. Heyward-Bey had bust written all over him, but somehow emerged from the darkness last season and silenced several critics. He had 65 catches, and was just 25 yards shy of recording his first 1,000 yard season. Shaughnessy gained respect from his peers his second season, in which he started only eight games and managed to record seven sacks. Not bad for a guy who is acknowledged by teammate Richard Seymour as the “best run-stopping DE in the league.” NFL Networks’ Jason La Canfora had Shaughnessy as a breakout player for the 2011 season before he was heavily regarded around the league. Unfortunately, Shaughnessy suffered a broken shoulder in the third game of the season against the New York Jets and missed the remainder of the season. His presence was immediately missed, as the Raiders failed several times to get off the field; giving up long runs and big plays through the air. If Shaughnessy stays healthy, expect a good year from the Raiders defensive line.
As we are just a few weeks away from the start of the 2012 season, 2010 draft picks MLB Rolando McClain, WR Jacoby Ford, DL Lamarr Houston and LT Jared Veldheer are potentials for us to keep an eye on this season. They are all in their third season, so what should we expect from these key players?
Veldheer had an above average sophomore season in the league. He held his ground against pass rushers like Jared Allen (did not touch the quarterback once) and Tamba Hali. One person we saw him struggle against was Bears’ DE Julius Peppers. Peppers had 5 tackles and 2 sacks that game. He would have had three, but Carson Palmer through a ball up for grabs that was intercepted, rather than just taking the sack.
As for Houston and McClain, they have significant pressure on their shoulders.
Houston has to prove himself because the Raiders are now loaded on the defensive front. They acquired free agent DE Dave Tollefson, while also drafting DE Jack Crawford. Houston has to worry about losing playing time to those two, along with versatile DL Desmond Bryant who can play in all four spots on the defensive front.
For McClain, he has to worry about rookie Miles Burris, who can play either LB position, and his own off-the-field problems. McClain is still waiting to hear from Commissioner Roger Goodell and if he is going to come down hard on him for his arrest.
Offensively, speedster Ford is already in the Raiders history books, as he holds a franchise record for most kick returns in team history. But will he get more playing time at wide receiver is the question. He is penciled in as the No. 3 wide on the depth chart for now. He is great in the slot, and can do damage on the outside if he gets the chance, but the Raiders are loaded at wide. The projected starters are Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. But rookies Juron Criner (5th round selection, Arizona) and Rod Streater (undrafted free agent, Temple) are turning heads in camp and fighting for a position. No one on the Raiders roster is a better return specialist than Ford and he is a decent wide, but with the new zone-blocking scheme, Ford’s height (5-9) might be his biggest weakness by default. ZBS offenses often feature big wides, who do not have to have lightening speed, as the play action and quarterback boots create great opportunities for them. We will see what lies ahead for the third year wide.
Looking another year ahead to 2013, will the Raiders’ entire 2011 draft class shine? C Stefen Wisniewski, CB's DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, T Joseph Barksdale, WR Denarius Moore, TE's David Ausberry and Richard Gordon and RB Taiwan Jones were all featured in that draft class. All, with the exception of Jones and one of the tight end's could be starters this upcoming season, depending on how they do in Training Camp. Only time will tell what the future holds for the new regime of the Silver and Black.