A football team can be collectively terrible and have breakout players.
Case in point: In 2008 the Detroit Lions were winless, but Kevin Smith (career-high 976 rushing yards and eight touchdowns), Calvin Johnson (first 1,000 yard and double-digit touchdown receiving year) and Dewayne White (career-high-tying 6.5 sacks in 12 games) led the losers with banner campaigns.
The 2013 Oakland Raiders are projected to achieve a similar level of success as the Lions five years ago, and there will inevitably be standout performers. Here are the most likely candidates:
Matt Flynn – QB
Flynn’s most notable flaw (aside from the lack of NFL playing experience) is his middling arm strength, but 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon says it’s an overemphasized attribute to being a successful pro quarterback.
Flynn can quickly run down his reads and accurately place the ball on his receiver on close and intermediate routes, which should translate into big plays after-the-catch when using the play-action effectively. The signal caller has a tendency to settle for conservative throws, but Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece are ideal weapons to dump off to. If McFadden returns to dominate rushing form and draws help into the box, he’ll allow Flynn to expose over committing defenses and help fans forget about Carson Palmer.
Jared Veldheer – LT
Veldheer made headlines in March for his enormous build as a result of dedicating himself to the weight room, but added strength is only one of the reasons the 69th pick in 2010 should be recognized this season.
Veldheer has already been pass blocking at a Pro Bowl level, but the Raiders’ atrociousness has limited his national exposure. Over the past two years he’s contained Jared Allen, Tamba Hali and Charles Johnson among others, while keeping fouls at a minimum. If sophomore Tony Bergstrom can hold his own next to Veldheer at left guard, and the tackle continues to polish his technique, the 6’8” benemoth will keep Flynn’s jersey clean for four quarters.
Denarius Moore – WR
Moore is a straight-line sprinter (reported 4.43 40 time) with shakes and unafraid to cross the middle, which are qualities you’d expect in a number-one wide receiver. If the hamstring issues from 2012 are behind him, the 2011 6th round selection should be the recipient of throws short, long and in-between as his pass-catching peers simply look to establish themselves.
Lamarr Houston – DE
Houston has the size (6’3”, 300 lb), talent and will to become an elite defensive lineman, but the Bay Area native hasn’t been able to fuse the ingredients together. The 44th pick in 2010 has steadily improved his defense against the run but has struggled to generate sacks, which has been a major problem for Oakland’s front four in general. Even if Houston can’t reach the passer more often in 2013, his ability to draw double-teams should free up Jason Hunter and Andre Carter at right end to make plays in the backfield.
Pat Sims – DT
A gap-clogging defensive tackle may not be the most glamorous job in football, but it’s one of the most vital. Without a stout body in the middle, blockers can reach the second level and neutralize linebackers, which equates into long gains. Sims has been an injury-prone role player in his five year career with the Cincinnati Bengals, but when healthy he warranted first and second down snaps for his ability to disrupt blocking assignments. Now a starter, the 2008 third rounder should remind some as a Sam Adams-light (pun intended).
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire