Since its inception in 1960, the Raiders have created and maintained a historic legacy. While many notable players who donned the Silver and Black played on the offensive side of the ball, the “Raider” way was a culture more established by the defense. Hard hitters like Howie Long, Jack Tatum, and Lyle Alzado helped pioneer a mean, relentless ideology of what it means to be a Raider. Long after the precedent was set, the culture of the Raiders defense continued into the 2000s. Though it may seem the tradition has lost its way, some players show that is not the case.
Throughout the 2000s, the then Oakland Raiders saw both great success and massive failure, all in the span of a decade. A Super Bowl appearance and the last place season were just some of the events that the team saw in that span. Amongst the inconsistencies, great players always know the assignment. Below, we take a look at four players on the Raiders defense that made the biggest impact during the 2000s.
2000’s Raiders Defense: Providing An Impact
Charles Woodson, Cornerback (1998-2005)
The most recognizable of the Raiders making this list, Charles Woodson had an impact on the 2000’s defense immediately. The Raiders took Woodson fourth overall in the 1998 NFL draft. Playing primarily corner at Michigan, Woodson also returned punts and played receiver occasionally as well. His efforts in college saw him receive the Heisman Trophy in 1997, being the only primarily defensive player to ever land the honor.
In his rookie season, Woodson wasted no time putting the league on notice. In 1998, the Associated Press voted him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 64 tackles, five interceptions, and one forced fumble earned him a Pro Bowl invitation as well. 1999 saw similar production and another Pro Bowl appearance.
2000 saw more of the same high-caliber play from Woodson as he started his rise to elite status. Woodson earned All-Pro honors from Sports Illustrated, notching a career-high 79 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles. 2001 would prove to have even more to offer for Woodson. Starting all 16 games for his fourth straight year, Woodson logged two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and a blocked field goal. He also returned four punts for 47 yards en route to the Raiders making the postseason. During the playoffs, Woodson was part of the infamous Tuck-Rule play that has since seen rule change over the controversy. Despite a season-ending loss, Woodson was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.
2002 saw the largest injury of Woodson’s career to that point. In Week 2, Woodson hurt his shoulder, sidelining him for eight games on the season. After another injury would have him sit the last three games of the season, Woodson started every contest in the 2003 postseason. A Super Bowl XXXVII would see him start, but his lone interception wasn’t enough to secure a ring.
Coming off a loss in the big dance, 2003 saw Woodson start 15 games in his contract year. Both parties agreed going forward, and Woodson spent 2004 on the franchise tag. Missing the last three weeks with a leg injury, Woodson had arguably his best season as a Raider. His 2.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, and two forced fumbles wouldn’t help the Raiders much though, as they finished just 5-11. Agreeing once more to a one-year deal, Woodson returned in 2005. Starting only six games, a broken leg would limit Woodson to just 30 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble.
While bittersweet for Raiders fans, Woodson would leave after the 2005 season. A contract with the Green Bay Packers would see a career resurgence for the defender. 2009 saw Woodson earn Defensive Player of the Year honors, and the year after, the Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl. Woodson would finally become a champion, just in brighter, much less appealing colors.
Now aging, the 2012 season saw Woodson in a different role. Slower now, the corner would play in the safety spot, with more zone looks than man. This transition saw success, however, a broken collarbone would see an end to the season, and Woodson’s release thereafter. In 2013, Woodson would sign another one-year deal with the Raiders. His return came with production, being present on 1,067 snaps out of 1,074. Moving to strong safety in 2014, Woodson became one of few players to play every position in the secondary. His final season in 2015, saw the consistency he maintained when healthy, 74 tackles, five interceptions, and four fumble recoveries. On January 3, 2016, Charles Woodson would play his final game in the NFL.
Woodson is a legend to Raider fans across the nation. Whether he was bruising ball-carriers in the backfield or locking down the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Woodson brought the whole package to the Raiders defense. His impact in a collective 11 season span as a Raider is a legacy comparable to the legends of years past. Joining the company of Willie Brown and George Atkinson, Charles Woodson is undoubtedly an all-time great Raider defensive back.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback (2003-2010)
Born to Nigerian parents, Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the most interesting characters to ever wear the Raiders’ colors. Growing up in Los Angeles, Asomugha soon found himself at the University of California. After a solid college campaign, the Golden Bear corner joined the 2000’s Raiders defense. At 6’3”, 213 pounds, Asomugha wowed at the combine with a 4.45 40 yard dash time. Al Davis loved speed, and couldn’t wait to pair the big corner with the aforementioned Charles Woodson.
Being used sparingly in his first two years, Asomugha made the most of his time on the field and took to learning. Come 2006, Asomugha was ready to break out. His eight interceptions ranked second among all corners that year. His effort earned Pro Bowl honors as an alternate, but he didn’t attend due to late notice. Asomugha also received the “Commitment to Excellence” award.
Selected as a team captain, the 2007 season saw less production on the stat sheet, but Asomugha was still feared by opposing quarterbacks. Being targeted 31 times in ‘07, Asomugha allowed ten receptions. He would head into the 2008 season as a free agent. After a franchise tag was agreed upon, Asomugha returned to peak form in 2008. Being targeted just 27 times, the Raider corner allowed just eight completions. Even more impressive is the fact that only Randy Moss and Tony Gonzalez caught multiple passes against Asomugha, none resulting in scores. Another “Commitment to Excellence” award would go on Nnamdi’s shelf as he entered the 2009 season.
A complex contract saw Asomugha remain a Raider up until 2010. His 2009 season was more of the same shutdown result he’d posted the past two years. Only targeted 27 times in ‘09, the lockdown defender allowed just 13 catches. In his last year as a Raider, Asomugha continued to shadow the opposing team’s best wideout. Maintaining a consistent effort, he wouldn’t allow a single touchdown all year. Asomugha was named to the NFL All-Decade team by USA Today, putting the league on notice.
After four All-Pro selections, arguably the league’s best corner would sign with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. A zone scheme change would see Asomugha struggle to be the same player. After little success with the Eagles and a short stint in San Francisco, Asomugha would sign a one-day contract with the Raiders and retire.
Now an actor and mentor, Raider fans remember Asomugha for stifling the best wideout on opposing teams. His man coverage ability made the Raiders secondary at least a little intimidating during the 2000s, even when the team saw its darkest times at 2-14. Cornerbacks have thrived in the Silver and Black, and Asomugha may be the most unsung Raider defender in their history.
Kirk Morrison, Linebacker (2005-2009)
The late 2000s were a less than stellar time for the Raiders. This didn’t seem to matter to Oakland native, Kirk Morrison. Staying in-state for college, Morrison attended San Diego State University. During an outstanding college career, Morrison took home two Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year trophies. His effort there saw him drafted in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.
While not a household name, Morrison is certainly known by Raider fans. In his rookie season, the former Aztec played in all 16 games, logging 116 tackles and two pass deflections. More established in Year 2, Morrison filled the stat sheet. His 128 tackles led the team, while he added a sack, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown. While the Raiders may have struggled as a whole in 2007, Morrison did not. His 120 tackles again led the team, along with a sack and ten passes defensed. Two more highly productive seasons would see Morrison tally 135 tackles in 2008 and 133 in 2009, ranking fifth and sixth respectively. Hindered by a dislocated elbow in 2009, the injury didn’t skew his stats at all.
After five straight seasons with 100 or more tackles, Morrison was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fifth-round selection for a fourth-rounder in the same draft. That selection ended up being speedy Raider returner, Jacoby Ford. In his first game with the Jaguars, he suited up against his former Raiders, Jacksonville eventually emerging victorious, 38-31.
One of the few bright spots during the Raiders’ most abysmal times, Morrison is remembered fondly in the hearts of true fans. His level-headed demeanor and production at the Mike linebacker position were key to the Raiders 2000’s defense. Since leaving the NFL in 2012, Morrison has dabbled in the booth. From 2013 to 2017, Morrison returned to his alma mater to work as a color analyst on Aztec football games. In 2014, he also joined a rotating team of analysts joining Dick Stockton on NFL on Fox. Since 2016 though, he has been part of ESPN Los Angeles, broadcasting Los Angeles Rams games. Though he strayed from Oakland after his time with “The Worlds Team,” Morrison is a prime example of the phrase “Once a Raider, Always a Raider.”
Derrick Burgess, Defensive End (2005-2008)
Not every player that had an impact on the 2000’s Raiders defense was drafted. Derrick Burgess is a prime example of such. Born in Maryland, Burgess played both football and basketball in high school. Though he originally played linebacker, he would convert later in his career. Attending the University of Mississippi, Burgess would log nine and a half sacks in his senior season.
A third-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2001, Burgess saw the field in all 16 games his rookie season, reaching the quarterback six times that year. His next two years would be huge setbacks. A foot injury in Week 1 had Burgess sidelined the remainder of the year in 2002. In 2003, it was even more severe, a torn Achilles tendon. After rehabilitation, Burgess came back healthy, playing 12 games and producing just two and a half sacks. The Eagles had success that year, and in the playoffs, Burgess played his best ball. He notched three sacks during the postseason, but the Eagles would ultimately fall to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Raiders would snag Burgess in free agency before the 2005 season. Intended to be a depth piece, the former Eagle turned heads as a pass rusher. Burgess would eventually start and have 16 sacks in his first season as a Raider during the season. 2006 would see Burgess continue to bring down signal callers, logging 11 more sacks and earning a second Pro Bowl nod. Hampered slightly by injury in 2007, Burgess still managed eight sacks and 40 tackles. He was also part of an altercation with Warren Sapp when a miscommunication saw a penalty declined, not accepted. The altercation resulted in fines for both Sapp and Burgess.
Where there’s a steep rise, a steep decline is almost sure to follow. Burgess would only start 10 games in 2008, only recording three and a half sacks. Coming into the last year of his contract as a Raider, Burgess failed to report to the team. He was traded to the New England Patriots in August of 2009. He played one full season with the Patriots before again not reporting to camps. After his release in 2010, he saw brief time with his former Eagles, but nothing transpired of it.
While his time with the Raiders was short, Burgess left an impression on the team and fans. His attitude was essential to the Raider way. In his prime, Burgess was a scary pass rusher who could total sacks quickly. The Raiders got perhaps the most out of Burgess on their defense in the 2000s. In just four years, he put himself on a list of Raider defenders that were intimidating to line up against.
The Ramble’s Closing Take
Not every player who puts on a jersey is elite, and not every player produces top-tier stats. However, every player can be celebrated for their accomplishments. Generational players like Charles Woodson only fall to you once in a blue moon. Raider Nation cherishes the former Michigan star and all the love is mutual. Woodson now has a line of whiskey and wine and seems to be living his best life.
Players developed at home thrive too, and not just on the field. Nnamdi Asomugha went from All-Pro corner as a Raider to being an actor and producer. He even works with scholars and orphans, giving both groups new opportunities with his platform. Players often stay within the sport as well. Along with becoming an analyst in the NFL, Kirk Morrison continues to do collegiate sports as well. He even has his own broadcast, LA Gridiron weekly. Lastly, not every successful NFL player stays in the public eye. Derrick Burgess has returned to Mississippi, Oxford to be exact. While he owns housing properties, he mostly spends time with his three children, Xalin, Xhiir, and Derrick Jr. Xhiir and Derrick Jr. are athletes. Their father supports them in the stands, and their genetics.
This list is a microcosm of the paths an NFL career can take. From Hall of Fame-caliber players to the players who just joined the Raiders defense in the 2000s for their prime, the standard remains the same. Many things in this world have changed since 1960, but one mantra remains unwavering, unforgettable, and unchanged; Just Win Baby!
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*Top Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images