Amidst all the ups and downs of the 2011 season for the Oakland Raiders, the sad death of longtime owner Al Davis is what most will remember about this past fall in the Bay area. Davis was the Raiders for so long. And while the team has struggled under his watch recently, there is no questioning his impact on this franchise and the game of football. He will be missed.
On the field, the Raiders appear to be somewhat close to making a run at the playoffs. Their success will hinge on recently acquired quarterback Carson Palmer. This season, the former Bengal did not display the same ability he once had in Cincinnati. That being said, injuries on offense limited Oakland's production.
Meanwhile, new head coach Dennis Allen is undecided on whether or not he will switch the defense to a 3-4 scheme, so defensive needs are tough to gauge at this point. Raiders fans hope the change in coaching staff can help this team break free from the mediocrity that has overcome it in the past decade.
Offensive Line: The Raiders have a lot of uncertainty surrounding their offensive line. Right tackle Khalif Barnes and center Samson Setele are both free agent this offseason. Barnes has been pretty mediocre during his stay in Oakland, but the team will likely make an effort to retain Setele. If Setele gets away, multiple interior linemen and a right tackle will need to be brought in.
Running Back: Darren McFadden is one of the most talented tailbacks in the entire NFL, but he has really struggled to stay on the field in his NFL career. Meanwhile, Michael Bush is a free agent. The Raiders will need to add aother running back this offseason.
Disclaimer: I listed both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive needs. It's unknown which scheme Oakland will run at this point. I made the diagram a 3-4 arbitrarily.
Nose Tackle: The Raiders are potentially switching to the 3-4 defense, and one of the main components of that scheme is a plug in the middle. If they decide to make a switch, this will be a priority.
Rush Linebacker: Kamerion Wimbley will make a smooth transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, but there is not another player on the roster that fits the scheme well.
Cornerback: After losing Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency a year ago and cutting Stanford Routt earlier this month, the Raiders are left with scraps at cornerback. Multiple upgrades are needed in this secondary.
Strong Safety: Tyvon Branch is a free agent this offseason. The Raiders should bring him back.
Inside Linebacker: Regardless of the defensive scheme, some depth at inside linebacker would be beneficial. Rolando McClain and Aaron Curry will make fine 3-4 inside linebackers, but there is no talent behind them on the depth chart.