Raiders key matchup No. 2: Huff vs. Manning

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Raiders key matchup No. 2: Huff vs. Manning

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m. (CBS) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Part No. 1: Dennis Allen vs. John Fox

Raiders CBS Michael Huff vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning
Tale of the tape
Huff: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, seventh season, Texas
Manning: 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, 15th season, TennesseeSo how would Michael Huff assess his play last week as a starting cornerback?"Got thrown in the fire," he said. "Kind of learned a lot last week. Had my growing pains on a few plays, obviously should have played better, got to hold up better on the outside. But luckily we got the 'W' and that week's over so I can learn from that film and get better this week."Sounds fair enough, right? Against Pittsburgh, Huff's "burn rate" was 55.6 percent in giving up five receptions on nine targets for 89 yards and a touchdown.Now Huff, who last played corner on a regular basis as a sophomore in college, finds a new challenge in Peyton Manning. Talk about your learning-on-the-job training."It's like a cat and mouse (game) because you know every snap he's reading," Huff said. "He reads everybody. Linemen, he reads whether your right foot's up, your left foot's up, things like that. So every snap you've got to be on point and ready for him."Manning, who has made a cottage industry of the no-huddle offense and changing calls at the line of scrimmage, is off to a pedestrian start, at least by his standards, with five touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 85.6."I'm not falling into that trap," said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "Hes Peyton Manning. Hes a Hall of Fame quarterback. Theres no way that were going to, in any way, say that hes not the same quarterback that hes been. Ive watched the tape. Hes still an outstanding quarterback. Hes operating that offense and I dont really see much of a drop off of where hes been before. I think hes still an outstanding quarterback."RELATED: Notes from Dennis Allen's Friday briefing
Which might bode poorly for not only Huff, but also fellow cornerbacks Pat Lee and Joselio Hanson. As a trio, the three have a combined burn rate of 81.8 percent, allowing 27 receptions on 36 targets for 358 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 115.3.Not that Manning is licking his chops. At least, not publicly."Were still, you know, kind of forming our identity a little bit here," Manning said. "I really havent gotten into any comparisons to playing in Indianapolis here. Its a new team, weve got new players, a new system and were trying to get things going in the right direction here. So I still think it comes down to execution. Whether you huddle or you dont huddle, you still have to be able to execute. Thats really the key to moving the ball, I think."The key for Huff, meanwhile, will be beyond just covering his man. It will be mental, as in building his confidence."Definitely, because it's been so long since I was out there (at corner)," he said. "I looked back (at the tape) and I lined up sometimes 10, 12 yards off, when I really wasn't probably paying attention to it. But this week I'll be more focused on my depth on certain things."And that switch from safety to corner, just how different are the positions?"You can't really simulate what it's going to be like until you're out there," he said. "So I think just being out there that week, just learning splits and my depth on certain coverages and things like that definitely helped. I got that week out the way so this week should be better."

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

Lynch outcome should determine whether Raiders draft a running back

It’s officially NFL draft week. Marshawn Lynch still isn’t a Raider.

A contract impasse remained as of Sunday morning, a few days before general manager Reggie McKenzie’s desire for a by-Thursday resolution.

Deadlines, even soft ones, prompt deals. But Marshawn is unique, adding a level of uncertainty to procedings. 

The Raiders would prefer Lynch agree to terms on a new contract so they can acquire his rights from Seattle -- that’s the easier part – and know where they stand heading into the NFL Draft.

McKenzie left several doors cracked during a Friday pre-draft presser, saying Lynch’s presence wouldn’t stop him from drafting a rusher, not having the Oakland native wouldn’t guarantee it, and that there’s always a chance Lynch could come later no matter what happens during amateur selection.

Those things could be true. Or, you know, not. McKenzie prefers mystery this time of year.

Bottom line: The Raiders need a bigger back to pair with smaller, yet elusive runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.

The Raiders want Lynch to fill the void. Ditto for Raider Nation, especially the Oakland state. A few free-agent options remain, including LaGarrette Blount. Or the Raiders could draft a back, something the Raiders have done well in later rounds.

They got Latavius Murray in the sixth round four years back, and he provided quality before changing uniforms this offseason. They got Washington in the fifth last time and pulled Richard from undrafted free agency. They could mine talent again this year. Waiting seems more likely if Lynch is around. 

Quality abounds in this draft class, with several worthy of early selections and talent easily found late. Let’s inspect McKenzie’s draft options at running back, should he need one:

Good fits: It’s hard to see the Raiders looking at a rusher in the first round, considering the draft’s depth at the position and major defensive needs. A first-round talent might be considered in the second. If controversial former Oklahoma rusher Joe Mixon is available following a free fall due to off-field issues described in detail here, a running back might come early.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara could be another Day 2 option, an explosive talent who analysts say has wiggle and power to create coveted yards after contact. He could be a three-down back thanks to quality as a receiver.

Odds are, however, the Raiders will look deeper into the draft. Wyoming’s Brian Hill was an excellent college producer who runs strong and might fit well into the Raiders rotation. Round projections vary, but he should be available on Day 3.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner offers great power at 233 pounds. He could run through tacklers and wear down defenses for the Raiders’ shift backs. He's also well known for drive and work ethic. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick.

Brigham Young’s Jamaal Williams might offer value and power rushing later in the draft. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman has tackle-breaking ability, but analysts say he isn’t a strong pass protector.

 

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

Healthy Edwards, NFL Draft could help Raiders improve interior pass rush

The Raiders had an NFL-worst 25 sacks last season, and that’s with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in their employ. That duo had 18 sacks (and 11 forced fumbles) between them. That left only seven for everyone else. Stacy McGee and Denico Autry had 2.5 each, and McGee isn’t here anymore.

Mario Edwards Jr. was certainly missed last season, when he missed 14 games with a preseason hip injury. The versatile defensive lineman is a solid edge run defender and internal pass rusher in the sub package.

If he’s healthy, Edwards Jr. could pose a real threat rushing the passer next to Irvin or Mack.

“Having Mario healthy will make us a better defense, and that’s not just as a pass rusher,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said in March. “He’s a solid run player. We’ve just got to have him healthy.

“But we’ll continue to add there, too.”

McKenzie subtracted one Tuesday, releasing Dan Williams to free salary cap space. He hasn’t yet added a defensive tackle in free agency, but could certainly do so in next week’s NFL draft.

There’s some quality interior pass rushers in this class. Let’s take a look at some options the Raiders could select and when:

Good fits: The Raiders select 24th overall in this draft, far lower than years past. Some quality defensive tackles might be a proper fit there, especially with depth at positions of need.

They could use some versatility, players like Edwards Jr. who can play multiple techniques. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell is an strong, athletic freak who analysts believe needs to improve his effort and technique. McDowell could develop into a top talent and be viewed as a steal at No. 24, or not realize full potential.

Michigan’s Chris Wormley is a versatile player in the Edwards Jr. mold, a player who seems to fit Raiders needs. Analysts says inconsistency is troubling but has the leadership quality and character the Raiders love. He can be a base end and move inside when required. He also has the size at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and could develop well at the NFL level while making an immediate impact.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley is also an intriguing prospect adept at reaching the offensive backfield. Analysts say he’s a powerful player with quickness and an ability to work through blocks despite being slightly undersized. Brantley is potential to be a quality NFL pass rusher, and is confident in his ability. He didn’t play a high snap count at Florida, but the Raiders might use him in sub packages as a rookie and fill an important role right away. He’s viewed as a second round pick, and the Silver and Black might cross fingers he’s available at No. 56.

Auburn’s Montravius Adams could help if the Raiders are looking for more of a run stuffer. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins could also play multiple spots and could be available later in the middle rounds. Old Dominion’s Rashaad Coward also fits that mold and would be available in later rounds, though he hasn’t had much pass-rush production.