Which Raiders players need to step up or step out

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every NFL team has players that are in a position to lose their job. While there are a variety of reasons including age and consistency for this, there will always be players in jeopardy of their spot. Here is the list of Raiders players who need to step up, or will be forced to step out.

WR Juron Criner

After three productive seasons at Arizona, Criner was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. After an extremely impressive training camp, he was viewed as a potential starter. He carried the hype into the third preseason game of 2012 against the Detroit Lions where he caught two touchdowns for 115 yards.

But since then, the talented receiver has disappeared both on the field and in the box score. He finished the 2012 season with 16 receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown. But compared to his 2013 season, those stats make him look like a Pro Bowler.

Last year, Criner only caught three passes for 32 yards and zero touchdowns. If he wants to be employed in 2015, he better improve on those numbers.

Although the Raiders did not draft a wide receiver, they still added six in free agency. Three of them are threats to take Juron Criner's job. James Jones will be a day one starter as he has very consistent hands. Mike Davis and Greg Little have a lot of talent, but they need to develop their hands and reliability.

Last year, the Raiders had five wide receivers on their 53 man roster. Barring a trade, Rod Streater, James Jones, Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes are all locks to make the team. That leaves Criner battling it out for the final spot with the likes of Brice Butler, Mike Davis, Greg Little, and Greg Jenkins.

RB Darren McFadden

The usual slogan with Darren McFadden is that when healthy, he is one of the best runningbacks in the NFL. While that slogan was true in 2010 and 2011 when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry, the statement is laughable now. In the 22 games he played in over the past two seasons, D-Mac has a combined 1,086 yards with a meager 3.3 yards per carry.

Out of 80 running backs and quarterbacks in 2013, McFadden's yards per carry ranked 75th. To put in perspective of how bad he was, six quarterbacks ran for more yards last year. D-Mac beat out Andrew Luck by two yards, and Geno Smith by 13 yards.

McFadden is signed to a one-year, $4 million contract, although $2.25 million are incentives unlikely to be earned. While this is significantly cheaper than the $7 million per year he was making in his rookie contract, it is still a lot to pay a running back averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

D-Mac will not be concerned about a roster spot this season, but he does have to worry about playing time. Both Maurice Jones-Drew and Latavius Murray are threats to take his starting job.

TE David Ausberry

Ausberry was the Raiders final pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was originally a wide receiver at USC but converted to tight end late in his collegiate career.

He is a threat to score every time he has the ball. He runs a 4.46 40-yard dash which is incredible for a tight end. He has strong hands and is a very elusive athlete.

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While the speedster has potential, he has not had a chance to shine. Buried behind Brandon Myers for the first two years of his career, Ausberry saw very little playing time. But after an impressive training camp last year, he finally got his chance and was named the starter. The opportunity came crashing to a stop when he injured his shoulder against the Saints in the second preseason game. He was forced to sit out the rest of the season on injured reserve.

Ausberry should start alongside Mychal Rivera. The Raiders are hoping that the two talents can develop into a lethal combination.

QB Matt Schaub

Schaub was acquired in a trade this off-season that sent a sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans. He has eclipsed 4,000 yards three times and is a two-time Pro Bowler. But last season, it seemed that Schaub could not hit a barn five feet away from him. He threw 14 interceptions in only ten games (benched for Case Keenum).

While Dennis Allen has made it clear that the ten-year veteran is the starter, that could change anytime during the season. If Schaub struggles early, do not be surprised if the Raiders hand the reins over to their quarterback of the future, Derek Carr.

LB Kevin Burnett

After totaling 83 tackles, three forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks last season, it was set in stone that Burnett would once again start for the Raiders. But once Khalil Mack fell to the fifth overall pick, that stone split in half. It is now believed that Sio Moore will start at weakside linebacker with Khalil Mack playing on the other side. Mack and Moore are both very talented and unlike Burnett, they specialize at rushing the quarterback.

If Burnett impresses early, do not be surprised if the Raiders play him over Sio Moore. He had a very productive season last year showing that he is effective despite his age (31 years old). But unless the nine year veteran steps up, he will ride the bench alongside Miles Burris and Kaluka Maiava.

OG Tony Bergstrom

Bergstrom was taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was brought in to complement the zone blocking scheme that Greg Knapp installed. But once Knapp was fired in 2013, the Raiders switched back to man blocking. The situation quickly became worse when Bergstrom injured his foot and was forced to miss the entire season.

The Raiders then brought in Austin Howard and Gabe Jackson this off-season in hopes that they will start. This likely leaves Khalif Barnes and Bergstrom as the next options. But before the two-year veteran can start, he will first have to make the team. There are rumors around the league that the Raiders might cut him before the season starts.

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