QB Carson Palmer
With Jason Campbell out and the Raiders desperate to hang on in the tight AFC West, they swapped 1st and 2nd round draft choices with Cincinnati in order to acquire Carson Palmer. Palmer’s acquisition failed to spark an Oakland playoff berth but his performance in 2011 suggests the team has the quarterback position stabilized for the next several years. While his statistics from last season (2,753 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 16 interceptions in ten games) were a notch above ugly, he clearly had a number of factors working against him. He was given precious little time to learn the team’s playbook and starting running back Darren McFadden was lost for the season in Palmer’s first game with the team, forcing Palmer to lean heavily on Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. A closer look reveals that Palmer threw six of his interceptions in his first two games and four more in a blowout loss to the Packers, meaning he threw six picks in his other seven games. In addition, he threw for 299 or more yards in five of his nine starts. With an improved offensive line, hopefully 16 games with McFadden in the lineup and a healthy, more established group of wide receivers, look for Palmer to have a more impressive 2012 season. Consider him a solid QB2 with upside.
RB Darren McFadden
It’s fair to say that the light came on for McFadden in 2011. With 761 total yards and five touchdowns over the first six games, the 2008 1st round pick appeared on the verge of establishing himself as one of the premier running backs in the league. However, a severely sprained foot in Week 7 caused him to miss the remainder of the season and his fantasy owners were mystified that the Raiders failed to fully disclose the extent of the injury until late in the year. That was a huge blow as McFadden had the potential to be the top fantasy producer at running back despite having to share time with Michael Bush. In 2012, Bush has left for Chicago providing McFadden with an opportunity to be a workhorse back but his injury history suggests that is unlikely to happen. In his four seasons in the league, he has failed to produce a 16 game season and has missed 19 games due to injury. In McFadden, you are getting an extremely talented player who will likely average 20 touches a game but he also is a major injury risk. The injury risk was negated in prior years because fantasy owners knew they could grab Michael Bush and expect him to produce with McFadden out. That isn’t the case this season. Consider McFadden a low-end fantasy starter with major upside but grabbing him likely means using a high mid-round pick on your RB3.
RB Taiwan Jones
The Raiders basically got nothing out of Jones last season and that was to be expected. Undersized at 6’0” and 195 pounds but possessing blazing speed, Jones had just 18 touches in 2011 and missed five games due to a hamstring injury. A raw prospect coming out of Eastern Washington, Jones will have an opportunity to carve out a much bigger role in his second season due to the departure of Michael Bush to the Bears. Of course, that is dependent on his ability to beat out former Panther Mike Goodson for the role and for the Raiders to be sufficiently impressed that they don’t bring in a veteran such as former Bengal Cedric Benson. Jones’ fantasy value is purely dependent on his ability to win the backup role to Darren McFadden but we have no way of knowing whether he would actually produce if given that opportunity. Hopefully the preseason will provide some evidence on his 2012 fantasy prospects.
RB Mike Goodson
With a major void at the backup running back position behind Darren McFadden, the Raiders acquired Goodson from the Panthers in the offseason. Goodson was barely used in 2011 after playing surprisingly well in extensive playing time in 2010. With injuries in the Panthers backfield, Goodson started three games, posting two 100-yard rushing games and topping 100 total yards in all three. In 2012, Goodson will battle second year player Taiwan Jones to backup McFadden and the winner of that battle should be considered a high-upside handcuff given McFadden’s lengthy injury history. Even if Goodson loses that battle, he could be a solid flex play in larger leagues in the event McFadden goes down given Jones’ diminutive stature and Goodson’s superior skills as a short yardage runner.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
After a pair of disappointing seasons, the Raiders 2009 1st round pick looked like a solid bet to become another in a long line of busts for the Oakland franchise. However, after a pair of middling performances to open the season, DHB put together a solid four-game stretch where he caught 22 passes for 385 yards and a touchdown. Just when it seemed like he had turned the corner, former head coach Hue Jackson took him out of the game plan with a one target game and then no targets the following week. After three more duds, DHB caught 26 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns over his final four games. In 2012, he will compete for targets with Denarius More and Jacoby Ford but Heyward-Bey is the odds on favorite to remain the team’s leading receiver. With Carson Palmer having a full off-season and no receiving threat at tight end, DHB should be in line for plenty of targets in 2012. Consider him a mid-tier WR3 with upside and a solid dynasty league prospect.
WR Denarius Moore
The Raiders 2011 5th round pick generated quite a fantasy buzz prior to the 2011 season due to his outstanding speed and the lack of established receivers on Oakland’s roster. When the lights came on, Moore showed plenty of ability, finishing the year with 33 receptions for 618 yards and five touchdowns despite missing three games with a foot injury. His 18.7 average yards per reception were indicative of his big play ability and Moore will enter the 2012 season in the starting lineup opposite Darrius Heyward-Bey. DHB’s solid 2011 season puts a bit of a damper on Moore’s fantasy prospects but he has breakout potential provided he can polish his route running on short and intermediate routes and his run blocking. Moore’s completion to targets percentage was an ugly 43.4% but that can at least partially be attributed to his lack of experience and frequent use in the deep passing game as well as the team’s struggles at quarterback. Consider Moore a WR3 capable of a breakout year in 2012. In dynasty leagues, he is a solid prospect.
WR Jacoby Ford
A lot of pundits pegged Ford to emerge as the Raiders leading threat at wide receiver in his second year in the league but a hamstring injury and a sprained foot effectively derailed his season. After catching 25 passes for 470 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a rookie, the 5’9”, 185-pound former Clemson product, had just 19 receptions for 279 yards and a single score in 2011. With Darrius Heyward-Bey having established himself as the team’s leading wide receiver last season and the Raiders high on Denarius Moore’s prospects, look for Ford, who possesses outstanding speed, to get the majority of his playing time out of the slot in 2012. With no receiving threat at tight end, Ford could end up getting a fair number of targets in the short passing game provided he has improved on his route running ability. Ford is worth taking a flyer on in larger leagues.
WR Louis Murphy
A couple of years ago, Murphy was getting some love as a potential breakout candidate due to his solid rookie season in 2009. Of course, the one major disclaimer from that season was that he caught just 35.4% of his targets and that proved to be the most telling statistic from his rookie campaign. After three years in the league, the 2009 4th round pick now seems buried on the Oakland depth behind Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and possibly Juron Criner. It’s hard to put up fantasy points when you’re not on the field and Murphy is unlikely to get much playing time unless an injury strikes a player further up the depth chart. He is waiver wire fodder in 2012.
TE Brandon Myers
Wow. From Zach Miller to Kevin Boss to Brandon Myers. As gramma used to say, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Myers’ biggest contribution during his first three years in the league has been mashing opponents in the running game as the former 2009 sixth-round pick brings little to the offense in terms of receiving ability, posting career highs of 16 receptions for 151 yards in 2011. He has yet to find the end zone. There are backups from other teams that have more fantasy appeal than Myers.