What's buzzing:

NFL Draft preview: Raiders a much different team

The SportsXchange

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- With so many roster spots to fill and the most salary-cap space in the league, the Oakland Raiders figured to be one of the NFL's most active participants in free agency.

General manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen didn't disappoint, concentrating their efforts on veteran players from age 29 to 32 with reputations for professionalism and being on winning teams.

As the NFL draft approaches, the Raiders are a much different team than the one that has staggered to an 8-24 record over the past two seasons.

McKenzie and Allen figure to need a more competitive team that can approach a .500 record and at least appear to be in the playoff chase late in the season to keep owner Mark Davis happy enough to keep both men around to continue the rebuilding project.

On paper, the Raiders look better. But much will depend on whether their new veteran core still has some top caliber football remaining or if it has begun an end-of-career slide. Allen is confident he and McKenzie picked some winners.

"We really looked for veteran players that had leadership qualities that were part of winning programs," Allen said last month. "That's something we wanted to bring to the building. And guys that could still play the game. We weren't looking for mascots or hood ornaments. We were looking for guys that could come in and still play."

For the second consecutive season, almost every area of the team underwent an overhaul -- only this time McKenzie had some $60 million in cap space to work with. As the draft approaches, $12.6 million in space remains.

On the offensive line, the Raiders added left tackle Donald Penn (Bucs), guard/tackle Austin Howard (Jets) and center/guard Kevin Boothe (Giants) to go along with incumbent center Stefen Wisniewski. Veteran Khalif Barnes will compete at guard, and the Raiders are hopeful second-year tackle Menelik Watson can seize the starting spot on the right side.

Defensive linemen added to the mix include ends Justin Tuck (Giants) and LaMarr Woodley (Steelers), tackles Antonio Smith (Texans) and C.J. Wilson (Packers). They will join holdover defensive tackle Pat Sims and second-year tackle Stacy McGee.

Woodley, who will be a 4-3 end, has played 3-4 linebacker and Smith and Tuck can both play inside and outside, giving coordinator Jason Tarver the kind of position flexibility he likes to remain multiple.

Adding "big people" on both sides of the ball was important to McKenzie as he hopes to have a more physical team than the one that appeared worn out and fatigued down the stretch in 2013.

On offense, wide receiver James Jones (Packers) joins a wide receiving corps along with third-year player Rod Streater, Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes.

Quarterback Matt Schaub, coming off a horrendous 2013 season in Houston, hopes to rejuvenate his career as a Raiders starter after being acquired by trade, with last year's roster surprise Matt McGloin and Trent Edwards in the mix to be the backup.

At running back, Darren McFadden's return was a mild surprise on a one-year deal, and he will be joined by Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), with the hope that the two backs can somehow muster up enough healthy games and production to equal a single, younger and more durable runner.

Fullback Marcel Reece, a runner/receiver, is a key player in the Raiders' plans.

The Raiders will no doubt look at other runners, and are in need of an every-down tight end to go along with receiving tight end Mychal Rivera.

Defensively, Charles Woodson will be the only starter returning in the secondary at free safety, and he will be joined by Tyvon Branch, who missed almost all of last season following a broken ankle.

Also departing were starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, with former 49ers starters Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers joining the team and the Raiders hoping that 2013 first-round pick DJ Hayden steps up and claims a starting role.
Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (80)