Oakland Raiders  

 

With QB Campbell, Raiders might improve greatly, surprise many

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There were many teams that did many things during the draft to earn rave reviews, but few moves were more deft than the Raiders swapping a 2012 fourth-round pick to Washington in exchange for quarterback Jason Campbell.

In one fell swoop -- for a departing asset still two years away -- the Raiders found long-sought stability at the most important position on the field, and put themselves in position to wave goodbye to a player who has been an albatross through three seasons since being taken first overall. Campbell's arrival should signal the departure of JaMarcus Russell (it hasn't yet), providing a fresh start for both the Oakland franchise and an individual who never received the necessary continuity and infrastructure to succeed in Washington after being selected 25th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Raiders fans should rejoice. Campbell is no savior, and he has his flaws (a looping delivery, occasionally locking in on a primary or secondary receiver, absorbing too many sacks), but his vices are paltry transgressions compared to what Raider Nation has endured since the glory years of Rich Gannon.

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While he may not be a superstar, Jason Campbell has notably outperformed JaMarcus Russell throughout his career. Take a look at their stats:
Campbell > Russell
 
Starts
Rating
Yards
TD/INT
52
82.3
10,860
55/38
JaMarcus Russell
25
65.2
4,083
18/23

Campbell is the anti-Russell: An over-working, über-diligent individual, who is dedicated to football 24/7/365. Campbell is the first to arrive and the last to leave, who considers bowling with the neighborhood kids a big night out and who's constant accompaniment is a DVD of the next opponent.

Full disclosure: I am a Jason Campbell guy. I know this kid well, covered him for five years and have a very firm understanding of what makes him tick and the kind of person he is. I visited his hometown, Taylorsville, Miss., a week after the Redskins drafted him out of Auburn, meeting his family, friends, high school principal and teachers. He comes from a family of educators, who have a strong ethical and religious core.

He respects elders, eagerly absorbs coaching and conducts himself with class in all circumstances. He's no saint, but trust me, he is exactly the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home. You will not find a better individual in an NFL locker room. He gets it and he burns to win and always wants to get better.

Campbell was doomed by organizational instability, a dreadful offensive line and limited weapons in Washington. The staff and the system was always changing, with some trying to make him into something he never would be. He was always miscast in the West Coast-style offense the Redskins adopted in 2007, before they even had a head coach in place.

Campbell was drafted by Joe Gibbs to be a modern-day Doug Williams, married to the five- and seven-step drops, with a big arm that would play off a power running game with play-action fakes. He's a strapping, vertical passer and game-manager.

All of those attributes fit the Al Davis MO. He fits the role perfectly. He doesn't have quite the rocket arm that Russell possesses, but it's close enough and without all the other warts and deficiencies. And, on top of all of that, Campbell has produced. Yes, it's been spotty, but despite all that he lacked in Washington, Campbell has shined at times in a way no other quarterback on Oakland's roster has.

For the first half of the 2008 season, he was efficient as anyone in the NFL. During those eight games Campbell was 6-2, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,754 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He ranked seventh in the NFL in yards, eighth in completion percentage, first in interception percentage, fourth in passes of 25 yards or more and fifth in passer rating (100.5). The offense imploded amid a shortage of weapons, horrid protection and a waning running game in the second half, but Campbell flashed plenty.

Washington was dismal for much of the 2009 season as well, but consider what Campbell did in the second half of last year. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,941 yards, with 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 86.3 rating.

I know football isn't played this way, but if you combined Campbell's first eight games from 2008 and final eight games from last season, you come up with a stellar "season." In those 16 games Campbell completed 328 of 509 passes (64 percent) for 3,695 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That, folks, is good for a 92.74 rating, which would put him among the league leaders in any real season.

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Contrast that to Russell, who has thrown for just 18 touchdowns in his career, while tossing 23 interceptions and accounting for 36 career turnovers. Add that to all the stories of Russell being fined for being overweight or lacking fire or composure in the huddle. It's a significant step up.

The Raiders, though 5-11, were not that far from being a competitive team last season. They had plenty of big wins and could have easily won some others despite shaky quarterback play. They lost two close games to the Chargers, another to Kansas City and gave the Ravens a good fight in Week 17, while beating Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

When you think about just how brutal Russell was last season -- in his seven losses as a starter in 2009 (he was 2-7 as a starter), Russell completed 47 percent of his passes for just 731 yards with one touchdown, seven interceptions, five lost fumbles, 24 sacks and an abysmal passer rating -- it's amazing the Raiders accomplished what they did. If Campbell produces at close to his 2009 rate, I see the the Raiders being a .500 team or better, finishing second in the division and surprising plenty of people.

Oakland's draft was smart and patient. It plays in a division that may be the weakest in the NFL. The improvement that Campbell's presence instantly provides is a major boost. If nothing else, his ability to protect the football -- of all quarterbacks with at least 1000 attempts from 2007-2009, his 2.2 interception percentage ranks fifth overall -- is huge.

With Campbell there, the Raiders have the opportunity to stop paying for one of the biggest mistakes in recent NFL history. I would have parted way with Russell yesterday, and no way do I let the situation linger into minicamp Friday.

Draft a raging success

Not sure about you guys, but I loved the draft format. And I can't see much changing with it.

Thursday night was pulsating. Radio City Music Hall was throbbing, with the vibe like a rock concert. The picks and trades were fast and furious. It was wild. You can't really improve on that. It was an event, and felt like an event.

The energy plummeted some on Friday for sure. I had the chance to chit chat with Commissioner Roger Goodell quite a bit from my perch near the stage as he waited for picks to come in, and as thrilled as he was with Thursday, I got the distinct impression that, as much as a perfectionist as he is, the second day will be tweaked.

Saturday was a great rebound. There was plenty of news, trades and lots of bells and whistles to keep people occupied, and the more intimate crowd setting worked well. If I had to make a guess, I'd say the three-day format is here to stay, with some cities other than New York entering the mix for Day 2, and perhaps Friday becoming just the second round (which could start at 7:30, which is better for the West Coast and makes the second round seem like even more of a big deal), with rounds 3-7 coming on Day 3.

Observations

» The Denver Broncos got incredibly lucky when Ryan Clady suffered only a 50-percent tear of his patellar tendon shooting hoops. I don't know that I buy him starting Week 1, despite a three-to-four month recovery time, and he could well open the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. But had he torn that puppy completely, the Broncos would be looking at a full season without one of the true cogs they have to build around. ...

» I found myself a big supporter of so much of what I saw during the draft. Seattle (draft picks and trades), San Francisco, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Oakland and New England (already have two first-round picks for 2011, and two second-round selections as well) were standouts. I found the Bills particularly lacking, however, failing to address quarterback and left tackle -- massive holes right now -- and missing a chance to turn Marshawn Lynch into some sort of draft pick. ...

» I still expect a fair amount of trades to come down in the next few weeks and months. Several executives remain convinced the Saints will deal tackle Jammal Brown. His health has scared off some teams I have been in contact with, but I expect them to find a suitor at some point. ...

» The Saints continue to talk to the agent for star guard Jahri Evans about a long-term deal. At some point that contract will get completed and the progress remains steady. ...

» The Rams are looking to plan face-to-face meetings with the agent for safety O.J. Atogwe in May. Atogwe can walk as a free agent in June without compensation, and the Rams are going to make an attempt to retain him before that point. Not sure they can pull it off, but it's certainly worth a shot.

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