An early overlook of the competition throughout the Oakland Raiders roster, with predictions for who will make the final 53-man roster.
Free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft are in the books, and while the fans are still gathering information on all of the new faces on the roster, the coaching staff is gathering information on the entire roster — old and new. But by and large, the roster of the Oakland Raiders as it currently stands is the likely group that will compete for the 53 available roster spots.
Let’s take a look at each position group and organize players by “locks” and “competing for a spot”.
Lock: Derek Carr
Competing for a spot: EJ Manuel, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg
Predicted group: Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook
There is no doubt about who the starter is — this is Derek Carr’s team. There is a little bit of intrigue behind him, however.
EJ played well when pressed into duty last year and I’d expect him to win out as the backup as he is head and shoulders better than the other two backup QBs on the roster. Josh Johnson was in the mix at one point, but he has since been released. In his place competing for a backup spot is Christian Hackenberg, who the Raiders traded a conditional seventh-round selection to acquire. Manuel and Cook should comfortably beat him out for the second and third spots.
Lock: Marshawn Lynch
Competing for a spot: Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Chris Warren, Henry Poggi
Predicted group: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard
Marshawn is going to be the lead back this year and I am expecting him to get more of the workload than he did last season. Gruden was quite critical of how much the Raiders used Marshawn and I think he has big plans for him.
I expect Gruden to keep Doug Martin as the no. 2 back, and by all accounts, Martin looks great in OTAs. I think Jalen Richard will round out the unit because of his ability as a pass catcher.
I don’t think the Raiders are going to keep four running backs, which means DeAndre Washington is the odd man out. Yes, DeAndre is a former fourth-round pick, but Gruden has no allegiance to him and I think he will prefer veteran Doug Martin over him.
Lock: Keith Smith
Kieth Smith was hand picked by Jon Gruden and special teams coach Rich Basaccia to come over and be their lead blocker. Gruden loves using fullbacks and I would expect Keith to be a main ingredient in Gruden’s personnel packages. I also expect Smith to be a core member of the team’s special teams units.
Locks: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant
Competing for spots: Ryan Switzer, Dwayne Harris, Seth Roberts, Marcell Ateman, Johnny Holton, Griff Whalen, Isaac Whitney, Saeed Blacknall, Keon Hatcher
Predicted group: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Ryan Switzer, Dwayne Harris, Marcell Ateman
This group got a lot more interesting over draft weekend. The Raiders flipped a third-round pick for a big-time playmaker in Martavis Bryant. Gruden has a history of getting the most out of his wide receivers so I would expect this to be a very productive and scary unit.
Behind the big three, I expect Ryan Switzer to make it as a backup slot, playmaker and return man. I think Dwayne Harris will make it as a special teams ace and I believe Marcell Ateman will make it as a developmental WR who could see some time as a red zone target. Seth Roberts, the third receiver from the last two years. appears to be the odd man out given the rumors that the Raiders were trying to shop him during the draft.
Locks: Jared Cook, Lee Smith
Competing for spots: Derek Carrier, Pharaoh Brown, Marcus Baugh, Paul Butler
Predicted Group: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Derek Carrier
Jared Cook will be the feature pass catching option from this group. Lee Smith was re-signed to be Gruden’s coveted blocking tight end and Derek Carrier is a super athletic, tough, but often injured third option that is a good blocker for heavy formations.
Pharaoh Brown and Marcus Baugh are both good young options that will compete with Carrier for the final spot, but both are expected to come up short. However, either could end up on the practice squad — likely Brown once again.
Locks: Kolton Miller, Brandon Parker
Competing for spots: Donald Penn, David Sharpe, Jylan Ware, Breno Giacomini
Predicted Group: Donald Penn, Kolton Miller, Brandon Parker, David Sharpe
This is a young and raw group, aside from Donald Penn and Breno Giacomini. Donald would have been a lock before the report of a possible domestic violence issue — not to mention his recovery from injury. At this point, he should be safe, but things change quickly in the NFL so he isn’t a 100% certainty.
Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker are now in Tom Cable’s unsteady hands and are sure to make the team. I like David Sharpe to make it out and compete for the left or right tackle spot. I think Brandon Parker getting drafted made it very unlikely that Jylan Ware makes the team and I am praying Breno is a camp body because he has been one of the worst tackles in the league for a while now.
Interior Ofensive Line
Locks: Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Jon Feliciano
Competing for spots: Vadal Alexander, Denver Kirkland, Cameron Hunt, Jordan Simmons
Predicted Group: Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Jon Feliciano, Denver Kirkland
The three starters are as good as it gets inside and Jon Feliciano would start for over half of the teams in the NFL. Those guys are locked in.
I think the Raiders will carry nine offensive lineman because of the overall youth outside and both Vadal and Denver have the versatility of being able to play inside and out. These two will be competing for the last offensive lineman spot along with Jylan Ware. The recent four-game suspension that has been placed on Vadal Alexander opens the door for Denver Kirkland to make the club.
Interior Defenive Line
Locks: Justin Ellis, Mario Edwards Jr, Maurice Hurst, PJ Hall
Competing for spot: Treyvon Hester
Injured Reserve: Eddie Vanderdoes
Predicted Group: Justin Ellis, Mario Edwards Jr, Maurice Hurst Jr, PJ Hall, Treyvon Hester
The Raiders needed to get more athletic and better as a pass rushing unit inside. They did just that with the selections of Maurice Hurst and PJ Hall.
Justin Ellis was re-signed this offseason and will start in the Raiders base package. I am not sure if MEJ will start as an Edge or IDL in base, but I am sure he will bump inside on obvious pass downs. Treyvon Hester is likely to make the team especially with Eddie Vanderdoes recovery from a torn ACL.
Locks: Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Arden Key, Tank Carradine
Predicted Group: Shilique Calhoun, James Cowser, Fadol Brown, Shakir Soto
I think this group is the most obvious group of the bunch. Mack will get the big contract at some point this offseason and Guenther has big plans for Bruce as a pass rusher. Arden Key is a high upside draft selection that was once a top 15 pick. He is rumored to be back in the best shape of his career and with that motivation could push for a starting spot opposite side of Mack.
Carradine is a valuable backup piece that can set the edge in base and rush from anywhere along the defensive line in sub packages. This group got much deeper in 2018. No, I don’t think Shilique Calhoun and James Cowser have a chance to make the team if the above four stay healthy.
Locks: Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson
Competing for spots: Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow, Kyle Wilber, Emmanuel Lamur, Azeem Victor, Jason Cabinda, Brady Sheldon
Predicted group: Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson, Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow, Kyle Wilber, Emmanuel Lamur
The Raiders went with a familiar strategy when updating the linebacker unit this year by signing two veteran linebackers in Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson and drafting a day three flyer in Azeem Victor.
Whitehead and Johnson are likely locks to make the roster and will be featured at two of the three linebacker positions in base with Johnson likely getting the call on sub packages as well given his ability in pass coverage.
The third linebacker spot in base will be a competition between Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow, while Morrow will likely be a featured linebacker in sub packages. Wilber and Lamur were brought in to be core special teams players. I like Jason Cabinda more than Azeem Victor, who was one of my least favorite draft picks. I don’t think either will make the team.
Locks: Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin, Nick Nelson
Competing for spots: Daryl Worley, Leon Hall, Shareece Wright, Dexter McDonald, Shaq Richardson, Antonio Hamilton, Tevin Mitchel
Predicted group: Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin, Nick Nelson, Daryl Worley, Leon Hall
This will be another uber competitive group over the summer. Conley and Melvin are cemented as the started and Nelson and Worley will compete for the nickel position assuming a clean bill of health and Worley’s pending off field punishment.
After that it could be a number of folks. I am giving the edge to veteran Leon Hall who has a ton of experience in Guenther’s system and he can play both corner and safety. Shareece Wright might make the team if he can provide value on special teams and Dexter should flashes last year but has yet to be a key special teams contributor due to his aversion to contact.
Antonio Hamilton is a good special teams player but does not have a future at cornerback. The darkhorse in all of this is Shaq Richardson, a former Steelers fifth-round pick who has not yet made an NFL roster.
Locks: Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Marcus Gilchrist
Competing for a spot: Shalom Luani, Erik Harris, Reggie Nelson, Dallin Leavitt
Predicted group: Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Marcus Gilchrist, Shalom Luani, Erik Harris
This is a very unclear group. The hope is that Karl moves to his more natural position of Free Safety and Obi Melifonwu is your starting safety, but it’s conceivable that the Raiders might see Obi as a corner. Nonetheless, Obi has a lot to prove this year and he should find his way into some sort of key role on the Raider’s defense.
Marcus Gilchrist is an average veteran who has position flexibility which should lead to a locked roster spot. Shalom Luani should be a lock but because he was not drafted by Gruden I moved him to the competing group. He is a good backup with starter upside that also is a very a good special teams player. Erik Harris rounds out the group as one of the best special teams players on the roster. Reggie Nelson is a training camp coach.
Locks: Johnny Townsend, Andrew DePaola
Competing for spot: Giorgio Tavecchio, Eddy Piniero
Predicted group: Johnny Townsend, Andrew DePaola, Eddy Piniero
It will be a Gator battery on the special teams unit. Johnny Townsend got drafted in the fifth round as a punter so unless his right leg falls of he is a lock to make the team. DePaola is an experienced long snapper who I also have as a lock. I like Eddy Piniero’s strength and accuracy numbers from Florida and I think he will beat out Tavecchio who was a nice story last year that faded off towards the end of the year.
Practice Squad Predictions
- RB, Chris Warren
- WR, Isaac Whitney
- TE, Pharaoh Brown
- TE, Marcus Baugh
- IOL, Jordan Simmons
- IDL/EDGE, Fadol Brown
- LB, Azeem Victor
- LB, Jason Cabinda
- DB, Shaq Richardson
- DB, Tevin Mitchel