With the 2009 NFL Draft now concluded and the Raiders having signed several rookie free agents, it's time now to examine the Raiders current roster as the team heads to their first mini-camp this weekend.
The Raiders, as all NFL teams, will have 80 players going into training camp and will have to pare the roster to 53 before the regular season starts. They will also be permitted to place 8 players on their practice squad.
I created this analysis to project what the starters and the depth might look like when the season starts. There are of course unknown variables, such as injury, trades and waiver wire pick ups that could alter the roster from what it looks like now. I did not put much focus on special teams, as many players will be in multiple roles there, and really, Lechler and Janikowski will not have serious competition. Besides that, it was a lot of work just to do the offense and defense.
The players listed in italics are the players that I think are "fringe", that either will be cut, placed on IR or be put on the practice squad.
Have a read and let's see what we can expect from our Oakland Raiders for 2009.
Projected Starter: JaMarcus Russell
Depth: Jeff Garcia, Andrew Walter, Bruce Gradowski
This is the year for JaMarcus to "break-out" and become the elite quarterback that his physical tools demonstrate he should. The Raiders have provided all the weapons for JaMarcus to be successful with the improved offensive line, great running game and much improved receivers. Should JaMarcus falter or get injured, the Raiders finally a veteran QB in Jeff Garcia to step right in and play. Andrew Walter will be 3rd string and probably hang around as he is better than Gradowski.
Projected Starter: Justin Fargas
Depth: Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, Louis Rankin
Fargas is listed as "the starter" because that's how the Raiders have listed him, but McFadden and Bush will all see equal or more time than Fargas in the rotation depending on the circumstances. With the improved offensive line and this triumvirate of running backs healthy, this will no doubt be the Raiders strength, as they will be able to deploy one of the most versatile and talented running games in the NFL. Louis Rankin, last year's undrafted free-agent signing, looked good in the pre season and will at least make the practice squad and be ready should there be an injury.
Projected Starter: Oren O'Neal
Depth: Luke Lawton, Marcell Reece
Oren O'Neal has everything that the Raiders want in a fullback for their offense, great lead blocking, good in pass protection and can catch the ball. Unfortunately, O'Neal suffered a major knee injury and "hopes" to be ready by training camp. Luke Lawton is an adequate fill in and Marcell Reece, who has excellent size, will be given the opportunity to have an impact on this year's roster. If the Raiders have any doubt about the readiness of O'Neal, expect them to bring in a veteran fullback for a look.
Projected Starter(s): Javon Walker, Darrius Heyward-Bey
Depth: Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schillens, Louis Murphy, Arman Shields, Jonathan Holland, Nick Miller, Shawn Bayes
A major weakness for the Raiders last season abundantly addressed through the draft and rookie free agency. Walker is a projected starter and will have to prove that he is worthy of maintaining that position, as a stable of youngsters will be waiting to replace Walker should he not be healthy of become ineffective. DHB will be given every opportunity to succeed considering his draft position. The Raiders idea is to have DHB pull the safety towards him thus freeing up the intermediate zone for Zach Miller and McFadden. JLH and Schillens will be 3 and 4, while Murphy and Shields will compete for the final spot assuming the Raiders keep only 5 wide receivers. Holland, Miller and Bayes are long shots.
Projected Starters: Mario Henderson, Khalif Barnes
Depth: Erik Pears, Cornell Green, Mark Wilson, James Marten
The fact that the Raiders did not draft and offensive lineman speaks clearly to the confidence head coach Tom Cable has in his current group of tackles. The Raiders were very active in free agency to fill needs at the tackle position. They added projected starter at right tackle, Khalif Barnes, while bringing along Mario Henderson to be the likely starter at left tackle, where in a handful of games last season when Mario was given the opportunity, he proved more than capable. It may well be that Henderson and Barnes compete for the left tackle position with the other sliding over to RT, but this is how I see it now. The Raiders added Erik Pears from Denver, who is young and athletic and seems to be a perfect system fit and will at least be a solid back up. Cornell Green will be back where he belongs as a back up at right tackle. Wilson and Marten will really have to impress in camp if they hope to have any chance to make the final 53.
Projected Starters: Robert Gallery, Cooper Carlisle
Depth: Paul McQuistan, Marcus Johnson, Jonathan Compas
A definite position strength, Gallery and Carlisle are as solid as can be with Gallery rising towards the Pro Bowl level. McQuistan and the recently signed Marcus Johnson provide nice depth and versatility as both can also play tackle.
Projected Starter: Samson Satele
Depth: Chris Morris, Jon Condo (long snapper) John Wade
Getting Samson Satele for a 6th is a steal and his speed, athleticism and durability should elevate the play of the offensive line from the center position. Chris Morris gets the edge over John Wade because he can also play guard.
Projected Starter: Zach Miller
Depth: Tony Stewart, Darrell Strong, Brandon Myers, Chris O'Neil
Zach Miller is quickly becoming an elite tight end and has been a favorite target of JaMarcus Russell since his arrival. As long as Zach stays healthy, he should be the Raiders starter for the next several years. Tony Stewart is a decent blocker but he has more value on special teams. Darrell Strong is a project who has the physical tools but will have to prove himself ready for a roster spot in camp. By the Raiders trading up in the 6th round to get Brandon Myers signifies that they are not satisfied with their current group of TE's of which one needs to be in the words of Tom Cable, "married" to Zach Miller, to help out with the blocking so that Miller can be freed up to run routes. Chris O'Neil, a UDFA is a long-shot.
Projected Starters: Derrick Burgess, Jay Richardson
Depth: Trevor Scott, Matt Shaughnessy, Greyson Gunheim, Stryker Sulak, Derrick Gray
Derrick Burgess is playing for his next contract and Jay Richardson is a solid base DE. Those two make up the only experienced starters for the Raiders. Expect a lot of rotation along the defensive line with the "back ups" getting their fair share of playing time. Trevor Scott shows promise and hopes to build off his impressive showing during last season. 3rd round pick Shaughnessy will really have to show that he was the right choice because the Raiders are still very thin at DE. Gunheim, Sulak and Gray will all compete, but as of now, this still remains a position of need for the Silver & Black and they may still bring in a veteran before camp to fill out the depth.
Projected Starters: Tommy Kelly, Gerard Warren
Depth: Terdell Sands, Ryan Boschetti, William Joseph, Desmond Bryant
Once again I think there is a lot of rotation here and some of these guys may see some time at DE as well. The Raiders did nothing to address this position in the draft and have to hope that it really was Rob Ryan's scheme and misuse of talent that has kept this group from playing up to their contracts. Tommy Kelly gets a Mulligan as he was coming off major knee surgery, but this year he has to remain healthy and prove his worth. Warren, a good pass rusher, but has had trouble staying on the field. I like Boschetti, as he seems to have a great work ethic and character and should be a good part of the rotation. For certain this is Sands' last chance with Oakland. He may not make it through the season depending on the play of the others. Joseph and Bryant are on the fringe and if there is a veteran out there for the Raiders to sign, expect that they will because as of now, this position can still use an upgrade.
Projected Starters: Thomas Howard, Kirk Morrison, Ricky Brown
Depth: Sam Williams, Jon Alston, Isaiah Ekejiuba, Frantz Joseph, Slade Norris, David Nixon
The linebacker position may be the most debated position on the Raiders as far as the talent goes. Is the Raiders defense against the run a result of poor defensive line play? bad scheme? poor coaching or talent? With the new coaching regime in Oakland, we will get the answers to those questions. The Raiders seem fixed on wanting to leave Kirk Morrison at MLB and they really appear to be uninterested in the SAM position. Hopefully John Marshall's defense will free up the linebackers for more blitzing and will make the best use of Thomas Howard's speed. Ricky Brown is the incumbent starter at SAM with Sam Williams back again to compete. Alston and Ekejiuba are depth, but are really here for their superb special teams play. Slade Norris was drafted in the 4th round, but I am much more excited about Frantz Joseph and Davis Nixon. With no real depth at MLB, it would seem that Joseph would have to make the final 53. Joseph shows good instincts and the ability to be a real hammer. I really hope he makes it. Nixon is very intriguing, signed by the Raiders out of BYU, Nixon looks to me, at least from his YouTube video to be a cross between Thomas Howard and Shawn Merrriman.
Projected Starters: Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson
Depth: Stanford Routt, John Bowie, Justin Miller, Jason Horton,
A definite position strength here, at least for the starters, not much needs to be said about Nnamdi and Chris Johnson, as their play speaks very well for itself. However, depth is a concern, as Routt has been mediocre at best, Bowie hasn't seen the field, Miller is interesting but is here because of his return skills and Jason Horton is a question mark. Acquiring a solid veteran back up before camp would be a necessary need move for this position.
Projected Starters: Tyvon Branch, Michael Mitchell
Depth: Michael Huff, Hiram Eugene, Jerome Boyd, Darrick Brown
The projected starters listed here are the most difficult to determine at this point and are complete conjecture on my part until we see how they develop in camp. The Raiders want some hitting from their safeties now and certainly want ones that can tackle and play well in the box. That is why I am choosing Branch at FS over Huff and only an injury will keep Michael Mitchell out of the starting lineup at SS considering his draft position. If those two can play to their potential, the Raiders will field two of the fastest, hardest hitting safeties in the league. Huff and Eugene supply solid depth and hopefully this is Huff's year, with a new coaching staff that will put him in a position to succeed and shake the "bust" label from his name. Boyd and Brown, both UDFA's, look to be candidates for the practice squad.
The Raiders have made great strides this year in addressing their needs, getting younger and bringing in good character guys. With all the needs the Raiders had, it would have been unrealistic to expect all their holes to be filled in one offseason. That being said, the Raiders will field a much more competitor team this year but this roster is still a work in progress and more quality is still needed.
What do you think Nation about the Raiders roster as it stands now?