Heading into the NFL draft, it appeared the largest need for the Raiders was help on defense. In 2011, they finished 29th in yards allowed, 29th in points allowed, and they have lost key players such as OLB Kamerion Wimbley, CB Stanford Routt and DT John Henderson since the regular season ended. With former Raiders LB Reggie McKenzie the new general manager and a former defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, now the head coach, all the signs pointed to the Silver and Black addressing their “D” when their first draft choice — No. 95 overall — came up.
Didn’t happen. Instead, McKenzie plucked Utah OG Tony Bergstrom with the pick, providing depth on an offensive line that has seen a major overhaul in recent years. Bergstrom is likely to be a reserve at the start of his rookie year, playing behind veteran Cooper Carlisle and free-agent pickup Mike Brisiel. In a year or maybe even sooner, expect Bergstorm to replace Carlisle, giving the team a young line across the board, anchored by C Stefen Wisniewski.
With good size and the talent to be an effective pulling guard, Bergstrom seems to be the perfect fit for Greg Knapp’s West Coast offense. The Raiders want to be a zone-running team, a reason they paid so much for the mobile Brisiel ($20 million) in the offseason. With Wisniewski, the team’s top pick last season, moving to center, the offensive line is already changing. The addition of a hardworking rookie only adds to that, and his strength up front should also be helpful in protecting QB Carson Palmer.
Oakland has invested heavily in blockers in recent years, taking linemen with two of their first three picks in 2011 and two of their first four in ’10. Now, with their first pick under McKenzie in ’12, another one is added to the fold, to go along with an expensive pickup in free agency.
Given what they’ve invested in the position, the Raiders should have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. However, will it matter if the defense still can’t stop anybody?