Surprisingly Promising Draft Gives Raiders Chance to Improve

As far as punch lines are concerned, the Raiders have done a hilarious job of making themselves easy targets with embarrassing draft classes, curious trades and poor free-agent signings. Will the trend continue? Let’s take a closer look at Oakland on the 18th stop of NESN.com’s 32-day journey through the NFL.

2009 Record: 5-11 (missed playoffs)

2010 Schedule Difficulty: Their opponents went a combined 128-128 (.500 winning percentage) in 2009, which is tied for the 16th most difficult schedule in the NFL.

Key Additions: Quarterback Jason Campbell, linebacker Rolando McClain (draft), defensive tackle Lamarr Houston (draft), offensive lineman Bruce Campbell (draft), wide receiver Jacoby Ford (draft), defensive lineman John Henderson, defensive end/outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley

Key Losses: Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, inside linebacker Kirk Morrison, running back Justin Fargas, defensive end Greg Ellis, defensive lineman Gerard Warren

Burning Question: What is Al Davis’ excuse for that fine performance at the NFL Draft? Seriously, where does Oakland get off by landing Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston, Bruce Campbell and Jacoby Ford? If the Raiders aren’t careful, all four of those players might actually be good, and that could even lead them to a winning season for the first time since 2002. No Purple Drank jokes here. The Raiders’ solid draft class was a major surprise.

2010 Outlook: The Raiders haven’t won more than five games in seven consecutive seasons, so don’t expect them to do anything too crazy this year, but things don’t seem to be moving backward anymore. The defense plays hard, although it will have to move forward without tackling machine Kirk Morrison, and head coach Tom Cable has his players scared straight. Jason Campbell will add some stability to the quarterback position for the first time in a half decade, but he still has to prove he is a viable player at the position.

The AFC West isn’t much of a gauntlet, which could make it possible for the Raiders to win six or seven games. If that’s the case, the Patriots could be drafting somewhere between eighth and 14th in the 2011 first round, which they received in the Richard Seymour trade.

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