Many times the most important fantasy football players of the year don’t come from one of the highlighted teams on the national scene. Getting sleepers from under-appreciated teams can be the key to winning your championship. The Raiders are team that most people don’t expect to go far this year, but there will be fantasy value to be had.
To get the inside scoop on the Raiders, we’re privileged to be joined today by Chris Shellcroft from Just Blog Baby the Raiders-focused site on the FanSided network.
Zach Thompson, FantasyCPR: Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time to let us in on what’s going on in Al Davis’s former organization… First question, do you think they’re headed the right direction?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: It’s hard to evaluate this new era of Raider football without having seen the product on the field. I like what Reggie McKenzie has done thus far. He’s made some tough decisions but much of it was necessary and long overdue. This team has all kinds of salary cap issues that needed to be addressed as there were far too many scholarship players held over from the Al Davis regime. So far so good but the proof will be on the field.
Z: Darren McFadden has been a fantasy football beast when he’s healthy. Is he expected to be all ready to roll for camp and how can he stay on the field this year?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: According to everyone who saw McFadden during OTAs he looks as healthy as ever. He couldn’t even jog at the end of last season and at the first OTA he was making cuts at full speed. Now can he stay healthy? That’s the question. The good news is McFadden hasn’t suffered anything serious so his long-term health is not a major concern. However he’s got that snake-bitten quality of having freakish incidents that take him off the field for prolonged periods of time. I’ll say this much. With a healthy McFadden this team would have taken the AFC West last season so if we can get a full 16 games out of him in 2012 I wouldn’t be surprised to see the silver and black back in the postseason.
Z: With Michael Bush out the door, will any other RB get part of the load with run DMc on the field? What about if he goes down due to injury?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: Losing Bush was a tough pill to swallow. He’s been so reliable, durable and productive that you almost didn’t even think twice when McFadden was out. There really isn’t a clear cut #2 behind Run DMC so the camp battle at running back is going to be fierce. Taiwan Jones has a certain Chris Johnson quality to his game but he’s nowhere near ready for a Michael Bush type of workload. They trade for Mike Goodson who’s had some nice moments but never established himself in Carolina. There’s just no way any of the Raiders backs behind McFadden can produce at a Bush level so that is really going to be a weakness should we endure another McFadden- less stretch. There has been some talk of going after Cedric Benson but there isn’t much money available at the moment so time will tell on that front.
Z: Do you see Carson Palmer ever regaining his pervious form and becoming a fantasy-relevant QB?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: Palmer is a real conundrum. He still flashes the kind of ability that puts him among the best throwers in the game. Then he turns around and makes some decisions that remind you why he was sitting on his couch when last season began. With all the weapons around CP3 there is no reason why he can’t be a productive fantasy QB. The problem for fantasy players will be his turnovers and the new run intensive West Coast offense being installed by Greg Knapp. Palmer makes Bernie Kosar look like Randall Cunningham and Knapp’s offense call for a lot of rollouts. That means Palmer is going to have to be able to through on the run from time to time which could mean more opportunities for bad throws. If you’re in a deep league Palmer is a solid option for a mid-round draft choice. However if you’ve got options I’d have him as a backup that you can swap in and out of your lineup when the matchups are more favorable.
Z: Your receiving corps was decimated by injuries last year, but there were flashes of usability from several of your receivers if they get consistent targets. Who do you think will be the receiver(s) to emerge this year as tops on the team and will they have fantasy value?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: Hard to overlook what Denarius Moore did last season. He was very inconsistent but his games against Buffalo, the Jets and San Diego were eye opening. Another year of development and we could looking at a poor man’s Mike Wallace. However the guy that really upped his production was Darrius Heyward-Bey. He flashed some real talent that you’d expect from a #1 receiver. He’s finally putting it all together and just missed a 1,000-yard season in 2011. Then there’s the X-factor, Jacoby Ford. When healthy he’s Oakland’s most dynamic offensive weapon not named McFadden. Ford’s ball skills are much better than anticipated. However his fantasy value is very hit or miss. None of the Raider receivers are top tier fantasy players but you’d better believe they’re the type that can turn a close fantasy contest into a rout if you build the right roster.
Z: I know you didn’t have a draft pick in the top two rounds, but what was your reaction to the draft picks that were made?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: It’s hard to say since the NFL draft is such a crap shoot. As a fan of college football I liked some of the picks because you get the feeling McKenzie is looking to add hungry, humble and hard working talent. Guys like Juron Criner, Miles Burris and Tony Bergstrom could all be solid pros for a long time. Perhaps not All-Pros but you need men that are going to give it all they’ve got every week in order build a winner. From that standpoint I liked the Raiders very minimal draft. But only production on the field will justify any of these picks. Sometimes the guys that worked the hardest in practice are the ones that are most invisible on Sundays. When that curtain goes up it’s a much different world. Some thrive while others die. We’ll soon wee which is which among this new crop.
Z: Last one, give me your realistic expectation for the Raiders this season. In a stacked AFC West what’s the best this team could do?
Chris Shellcroft, Just Blog Baby: I’ve got to be honest about predicting the Raiders and the AFC West as a whole – it’s damn near impossible. Anybody thinking the Broncos will walk away with the division because of Manning’s arrival is fooling themselves. The last time he was healthy it’s not like the Colts were among the NFL elite and we have no idea how he’s going to handle full contact. The Chiefs are a rollercoaster ride with more highs and lows than junkie on skid row. The Chargers are still coached by Norv Turner – nuff said. As of Oakland, I do feel like they could easily be in the mix to win the West. It’s going to take a healthy McFadden, an improved run defense and consistent play from the young receivers. To me it’s looking like a 7-9 or 9-7 kind of year with one or two key moments in certain games being the difference.
If you enjoyed this interview here’s the links to our previous fantasy previews: Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, and Tennessee Titans. Come back tomorrow as we preview the Buffalo Bills.