- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today, the Raider Nation rejoices.
One of its beloved players is getting due respect. For the first time since our 100 top offensive and defensive players in the NFL project began Monday, there is an Oakland representative.
To commemorate his return to Oakland, venerable safety Charles Woodson checks in as the 68th-best defensive player in the league. Yes, Oakland gets the love its rabid fan base so hungers. Congratulations.
Don’t get used to it.
Hate to play the spoiler role, but Woodson is the first and only player to appear on either list. He is the only Oakland defensive player on the list, and there will not be any offensive players from Oakland on the top-100 list. Oft-injured running back Darren McFadden had some momentum, but he did not make the list.
One Oakland player in the top 200? Here’s a little perspective: The Raiders’ Bay Area rival, San Francisco, has three defensive players in the top 11. All four of Seattle’s defensive backs made the top 100.
Is this Raider hating? I’d doubt that’s the case. ESPN enlisted 63 voters, including former players and reporters (I was one of the voters). We graded more than 500 NFL players and the results were tabulated. I can assure you there was nothing sinister at work.
Woodson stands alone because a large group collectively thought he was the only Raider who was deserving.
It’s no shock Oakland doesn’t have much representation on this list. These have been hard times for the Pride and Poise. Oakland hasn’t had a winning record since 2002, and it is tied for the second-longest current playoff drought in the NFL.
Oakland is considered to have one of the weakest, thinnest rosters in the NFL heading into the 2013 season. General manager Reggie McKenzie, in his second season as the replacement to the late Al Davis, is basically starting over. It hasn’t been easy for McKenzie.
He inherited a terrible salary-cap situation and a dearth of draft picks because of poor decisions made in the Davis era. The result is a bare-bones team. And, yes, a roster not worthy of getting much top-100 recognition.
“It is as bad as it looks in Oakland,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. agrees. He was not shocked to see Oakland nearly get snubbed.
“I liken them to a Triple-A baseball team right now,” Horton said. “They lost so many players to free agency because of the cap restrictions and all they have replaced them with are bargain-basement free agents. It’s going to be rough there.”
Still, both Williamson and Horton believe McKenzie’s plan of starting over is the right thing to do, because he has no choice.
While the recent past has been bleak and the immediate future doesn’t show much promise, McKenzie’s plan could help infuse some more talent on the roster. The Raiders may have a surplus of $69 million in salary-cap room next year.
That doesn’t necessarily mean McKenzie will spend wildly and build an instant Pro Bowl roster. His front-office roots are in Green Bay, and he has said he will subscribe to the Packer way as he reconstructs Oakland’s roster. That means keeping his own players first. McKenzie has shown that philosophy this summer by locking up potential free agents kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long-snapper Jon Condo to long-term deals. Other players, such as injured left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and fullback Marcel Reece, could also be candidates to be re-signed before they hit free agency.
While the program is clearly in tough shape, it would be inaccurate to portray this roster as talentless. There are about 1,900 players in the league, and some of the good ones do don Silver and Black.
There is promise. In addition to the above-mentioned players, Oakland building blocks include center Stefen Wisniewski, young receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore, safety Tyvon Branch, cornerback D.J. Hayden, offensive tackle Menelik Watson and linebacker Sio Moore.
The cupboard is not bare. But the truth is there are few established stars currently playing in Oakland. McKenzie knows it is his job to develop them.
“When I first got to Green Bay, there wasn’t a bunch of studs there,” McKenzie said. “Then we got Brett Favre and then we got Reggie White. And things started to look a little better. Right now, we have to turn some of these guys into studs and keep building. That’s the only way this thing is going to work.”