QB Jason Campbell
It’s not often you get a second lease on your football career with the same team in the span of two years, but that is the case for Campbell. Despite joining the Raiders with the expectation that he would be the team’s starter, he was yanked out of the starting lineup by former head coach Tom Cable six quarters into the 2010 season. Enter new coach Hue Jackson. Jackson let Bruce Gradkowski go in free agency, and with little depth behind Campbell, the starting job is safely his. Once he was back in the starting lineup last season, he played reasonably well over the final five games, averaging 15.4 points per game while throwing for 1,065 yards with six touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. That’s decent QB2 production, and with a cast of young speedsters at wide receiver and a pair of solid running backs in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders possess some intriguing, young offensive talent. Unfortunately, tight end Zach Miller, the team’s most dependable receiver, left for Seattle and his replacement, former Giant Kevin Boss, is not nearly the same receiving threat. That hurts Campbell’s fantasy value and makes him a low-end backup for 2011.
RB Darren McFadden
After a pair of largely disappointing seasons, McFadden showed why he was the fourth pick in the 2008 draft with an outstanding 2010 campaign. Even though he missed three games with injuries, he rushed for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 507 yards and three more scores through the air, reaching career highs in every major offensive category despite playing in the Raiders’ popgun offense. He was also remarkably consistent, hitting double-digit fantasy points in ten of 13 games. Can he do it again? Why not? New coach Hue Jackson figures to open up the offense more than his predecessor Tom Cable did, and Run-DMC produced top-five running back numbers last season despite not playing a full slate of games. Given his injury history, you can almost certainly bank on his missing a game or two and hope it won’t be during the fantasy playoffs. Either way, that makes acquiring Michael Bush as his handcuff imperative. McFadden ranks just outside of the top five at running back for 2011, and he could be a bargain if others are wary of his injury history and the fact that he’s had only one solid season out of three.
RB Michael Bush
Considering Darren McFadden’s subpar first two seasons in the league, it appeared entering 2010 that Bush had a decent chance to unseat him as the Raiders’ starting running back. Bush held up his end of the bargain, rushing for 655 yards and eight touchdowns on just 155 carries while chipping in 194 receiving yards, proving he could put up good numbers with more work. However, we already knew that based on his performances in 2008 and 2009. The problem was that McFadden didn’t hold up his end of the deal, finally putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber season and gaining a stranglehold on the starting spot. Nonetheless, Bush was still a valuable commodity, finishing 2010 as the 27th-ranked running back. Expect more of the same in 2010, which makes Bush one of the better flex plays considering he can likely be had for a low-round pick.
WR Jacoby Ford
Ford was a pleasant surprise as a rookie in 2009, proving to be a multi-dimensional threat for a Raiders squad lacking in playmakers. He caught two touchdowns passes, scored twice on the ground, and ran back three kicks for scores. That’s nice if your league counts return touchdowns. However, most don’t, and that limits Ford’s upside, as does his size. Listed at 5’9”, 186 pounds, he’s not going to catch a ton of balls, but he is dynamic when he does, putting up 470 yards on just 25 receptions last year for a tidy 18.8 yards-per-catch average. All of Ford’s production came in the final ten weeks of the season (save for an eight-yard run), so he averaged a respectable 8.7 points per game over that stretch. That’s WR3 production. Ford is definitely a nice sleeper pick, but the Raiders have a number of speedsters on their roster and Ford hasn’t exactly established himself just yet. He’s definitely worth owning, but don’t reach too far for him.
WR Louis Murphy
On first glance, Murphy had a middling performance in 2010, catching 41 passes for 609 yards and two touchdowns over 14 games. However, the Raiders’ quarterback play was spotty at best, Murphy played banged up for most of the year, and he was still clearly the Raiders’ most consistent wide receiver when in the lineup. Did we mention he’s entering his third year in the league? Murphy doesn’t project as a breakout candidate for 2011, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he performed as a top-tier WR3 either. He has good size and enough speed to get deep, and that’s always a plus when playing for Al Davis’ Raiders. Murphy is definitely worth taking a flier on in 2011, but make sure to monitor the hamstring and groin injuries he has been dealing with in training camp.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Heyward-Bey enters his third season in the league, the point when wide receivers generally take a big step forward. The only problem is that a big step forward for Heyward-Bey would get him in the 600-yard, five-touchdown range. He needs a huge step forward to be a solid fantasy producer after a 2010 season in which he caught only 26 passes for 366 yards and a single touchdown. Of course, that production was a big step up from a rookie campaign where he looked completely lost, catching just nine passes for 124 yards and a score. You need playing time to produce, and there’s no guarantee Heyward-Bey is going to get a whole lot with Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy ahead of him on the depth chart—and rookie fifth-round pick Denarius Moore having a solid training camp. Did we mention that Chaz Schilens figures to operate as the Raiders’ possession receiver since they lost tight end Zach Miller? Heyward-Bey’s nothing more than a deep sleeper, worth owning only in larger leagues.
WR Chaz Schilens
There was a time when Schilens was considered a lower-tier breakout candidate for the Raiders. So much for that. He played in just eight games in 2009 and five games last season, as knee and foot injuries kept him out of the lineup. With several younger, talented wide receivers in the fold, Schilens doesn’t figure to earn much playing time other than as a backup possession receiver. And we all know that backup possession receivers aren’t going to carry you too far, especially when they play on a team with a suspect passing attack.
WR Denarius Moore
The Raiders apparently love Moore, their 2011 fifth-round pick. Of course, new head coach Hue Jackson is talking up every Raider wide receiver under the sun. We’re waiting for him to say Tim Brown has come back and he’s looking good. Joking aside, there are plenty of reports coming out of Oakland that Moore is lighting it up, but it’s one thing for a speedster to dominate against scrubs and another for a rookie wide receiver to consistently beat veteran defenders. Do I sound skeptical? That’s right. This guy’s waiver wire material and nothing more in redraft leagues. He is worth taking a shot on in dynasty formats, however.
TE Kevin Boss
Mea culpa. I drank the Boss juice a little too heavily in years past, figuring he would vulture some red zone touchdowns for the Giants and become a low-end TE1 or upper-tier backup. To be fair, 18 touchdowns through four years is decent production for a young tight end, but hardly enough to make up for low receiving yardage totals. Boss moves to the Raiders this season, leaving a gaping hole at tight end in the Giants’ offense. Or, more likely, there’s a reason the Giants let him go: he’s not that good. You’re dreaming if you think Boss is going to come to Oakland and replace Zach Miller’s production. Keep an eye on him on the waiver wire, however, since the Raiders don’t exactly have an abundance of solid possession receivers.