The Oakland Raiders have had a rather tumultuous off season. There was an overhaul of the entire football side of operations with the hiring of new general manager Reggie McKenzie. There is an almost entirely new coaching staff complete with a head coach that is relatively unknown. On top of the changes to the front office and coaching staff, the Raiders also saw a large turnover on the roster due to salary cap issues.
However, despite all of the off season turmoil, the Raider Nation remains optimistic for the 2012 season. One of the big reasons Raider fans remain excited is due to the age of many on the roster. The Raiders have one of the younger rosters in the NFL and boast a large number of players who show a ton of potential. Not all of those players will break out in 2012, and some will never reach their full potential. With that being said, here is a look at a few of the young Raiders that I expect to have a breakout season.
David Ausberry, TE
One of the more surprising moves by the Raiders this off season was the decision to cut former starting tight end Kevin Boss. Perhaps even more surprising was the decision not to sign or draft another tight end to help make up for the loss of Boss. These decisions did not surprise me, but rather, got me excited. The reason is that the Raiders have a young tight end by the name of David Ausberry who could wind up being a big time impact player. Ausberry is a college wide receiver who was converted to tight end in the NFL. He has good speed, good hands and is the type of tight end who can create mismatches and be a solid target for Carson Palmer.
Marcel Reece, FB
Many in the Raider Nation are likely confused by this because they believe that Reece has already broken out. Many outside of the Raider Nation are likely confused by the idea that a FB can have a break out season. Let me address both with one observation: we have not yet seen how impactful Reece can be. He too is a former college wide receiver who was converted to another position when he reached the NFL. Reece is a match up nightmare for defenses. He has a ton of speed and a big body that makes it near impossible to find a linebacker who can cover him well. Despite his obvious talent and big play ability, the Raiders have yet to take full advantage of his skill set, something I expect to change this season. This guy may wind up completely changing the way fullback position is thought of in the NFL.
Denarius Moore, WR
Moore had a great rookie season, but once again, he only showed a fraction of what he is capable of. Part of that was due to injuries and a lack of playing time early in the season. The lack of playing time will certainly not be an issue this season as he could very well beat out Jacoby Ford and the rest of the Raiders receiving corps for a starting position. His dynamic play making ability along with great hands and route running skills akin to a seasoned veteran, make Moore a serious threat to have a pro bowl caliber season.
Juron Criner, WR
Criner was the Raiders fifth round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Some may call me crazy to say that a fifth round pick will have a break out season as a rookie, and to those naysayers, I simply ask that they look at Denarius Moore. Despite Criner's lack of speed and big play capability, he will likely surprise everyone in the NFL this year. This guy is a very polished receiver who only went to late because of the NFL's bias against receivers who are perceived to be slow. I say perceived because this is almost always based on 40 times. Just take a look at Criner's game tape and you will not be concerned with his speed. No, he is not a burner, but he has enough speed, and his polished route running skills allow him to create separation. Without any other big bodied receivers, Criner will likely become a Carson Palmer favorite early in his rookie season, and could wind up with more impressive numbers than Denarius Moore put up in his rookie season.
Chimdi Chekwa, CB
This pick may confuse more people than the Criner pick did. Chekwa did not have a very impactful season as a rookie in 2011. However, I contend that was in large part due to injuries sidelining him much of the year. When Chekwa was on the field early in the season, he showed the ability to be a very good corner in the NFL. He has a good combination of size and speed, but those are not his best attributes. As a rookie, Chekwa showed a pension for doing something that many seasoned corner backs (think Stanford Routt) have not yet learned to do. Chekwa almost always got his head around to look for the ball in time to try and make a play on it, and often did. If Chekwa continues to hone his skills, I would not be surprised if he was one of the Raiders starting corner backs by the end of the 2012 season.
There are obviously a lot of other young players on the Raiders roster who could have a break out season in 2012, but these are the guys who I believe have the chance not only to break out, but could be big time players for the Raiders this season.