Watching the Oakland Raiders attempt to play pass defense in 2013 was a disaster; even worse than an abysmal 2012. They gave up 20 more passing yards per game and 300 more total passing yards than in 2012, while seemingly “upgrading” from 2012 starting defensive backs such as Pat Lee, Ron Bartell, Matt Giordano and Michael Huff. Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, Charles Woodson, and DJ Hayden were taunted as more talented options in the secondary.
But that upgrade led to just more of the same:
Jenkins started 15 games at left corner, Porter started 16 games at right corner, while Hayden started two at nickelback. Each under-performed severely, but none more than Hayden.
Hayden was selected 12th overall in the 2013 draft. After only playing 353 snaps in eight games, he underwent sports hernia surgery and was placed on injured reserve. In those 353 snaps, he earned a -6.6 grade from PFF, including a -7.7 grade in coverage. Although he will be back in 2014 with a full offseason to train, Oakland cannot be okay with that kind of production from a top-15 draft pick.
Both Porter and Jenkins are free agents and Oakland will likely resign whichever takes a cheaper deal. Backups Chimdi Chekwa and Phillip Adams are also free agents, although Chekwa has shown promise and is only a restricted free agent, allowing for a cheap tender deal.
At safety, Oakland is losing Woodson, his backup Usama Young, and Brandian Ross, who started 13 games at strong safety in place of the injured Tyvon Branch, albeit horribly. Young graded positively in 200 defensive snaps and should earn an opportunity to come back. Ross and Young, if re-signed are best relegated to special teams and minimal defensive snaps.
Woodson brought a spark to the team, infusing leadership into a young defense. Although age has caught up to him, he still played well, earning an average grade from Pro Football Focus. If he were to come back, Oakland might prefer a veteran minimum deal and have him compete with a younger player.
The best thing for 2014 is the return of Tyvon Branch, who broke his leg in week 2. In 2012, Branch was one of the lone bright spots in the dumpster fire the Raiders called a defense. He is one of the few players who has ever shut down Rob Gronkowski and excels vs the run when lined up near the line of scrimmage.
Infusing talent back into the secondary is one of the top priorities for Jason Tarver. Luckily he has two possible guaranteed starters in Branch and Hayden. General Manager Reggie McKenzie won’t have to break the bank to find suitable starters. Woodson, Jenkins, and Porter are cheap stop gap options that know the team. Stevie Brown and Corey Graham are mid-tier free agents that are talented enough but wont command a heavy market when free agency opens.
The best way to fix the Raider’s secondary is fix their scheming. Oakland gave up many big plays in 2013 and the tape shows it was due to a busted assignment or bad coverage. New secondary coach Joe Woods can hopefully help his group become more synced. In a division with Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers, Oakland must have their secondary be the best it can be.