- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Final Power Ranking: 17
Preseason Power Ranking: 22
Biggest surprise: The Raiders’ young receivers emerged. The group is a bright spot of the team and will be a strong building block for the future. Quarterback Carson Palmer, 32, may have his flaws, but he still has a big arm and the Raiders can make some plays in the passing game. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in 2009, is one of the most improved players in the NFL. He had 64 catches for 975 yards this season. He had 35 catches in his first 26 NFL games. Add fabulous rookie Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, and this is one of the best young receiving crews in the league.
Biggest disappointment: Poor defensive play. The Raiders have one of the more perplexing defenses in the NFL. The unit has plenty of talent, but they didn’t play well together. Oakland gave up way too many big plays on defense. It ranked near the bottom of the league in several defensive statistics and faltered down the stretch, including Sunday in a home loss to San Diego in a game in which the Raiders could have clinched the division title. It will not be a shock if defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is sent packing. Oakland also could consider becoming a 3-4 defense.
Biggest need: There is a lot of talent on this team. There are areas where improvement is needed, including cornerback, linebacker and on the offensive line. I’d say a top cornerback would be the Raiders’ biggest need, although safety Michael Huff is reportedly moving to cornerback. They missed Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent. Stanford Routt is a nice player, but he’s not a top-flight No. 1 cornerback. If Huff does move, safety becomes a big need. The Raiders will likely have to address most of their needs through free agency, since they don’t have many draft picks.
Team MVP: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski. There were some nice performances by many Raiders this season, but Janikowski was dominant. He has the strongest leg in the league and he has become deadly accurate. He is a true weapon. Janikowski tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in Week 1. He made 31 of 35 field goal attempts and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 12-year career.
What will the future leadership look like?: Much of the offseason will be dedicated to regrouping the front office after the death of owner Al Davis. He died at the age of 82 on Oct. 8. Now that the season is over, Oakland can move on. There have been plenty of reports linking the Raiders to general manager candidates, including Reggie McKenzie and Eliot Wolf of Green Bay. Sunday, in an angry postgame press conference, Oakland coach Hue Jackson vowed to take a bigger role in the organization. That could turn off potential general managers. Jackson is expected to have his share of power, but some of the top front-office candidates may not be interested in sharing power with a young coach.