The first roster cutdown date is fast approaching which means the Raiders will have to make some tough decisions about who stays and who gets the ax. No decisions will be more difficult than those which must be made along the defensive line.
It's rather unexpected that the Raiders would have tough cuts along the defensive line considering how weak the entire group seemed to be this offseason. But while this group may not be considered one of the best in the league, they have proven to be quite deep, making the decisions on who to keep all the more tough.
Here is what the Raiders are looking at:
Justin Tuck and Dan Williams are for sure starters with Khalil Mack playing a lot of defensive end as well as linebacker.
Then there is second-year nose tackle Justin Ellis and this year's second round pick Mario Edwards who should see time at defensive end as well as defensive tackle.
After that things get more muddy.
The remaining defensive linemen on the team currently are DT Ricky Lumpkin, DE Benson Mayowa, DE Denico Autry, DE Shelby Harris, DL C.J. Wilson, DT Stacy McGee, DE Max Valles, and DT Leon Orr
Mayowa and Wilson both started games last season, mostly due to injuries, with both having their moments. Autry, Harris, Lumpkin, and McGee all appeared in games last season. Valles is a rookie sixth round pick and Orr is an undrafted free agent.
Typically you see a team carry no more than eight defensive linemen. However, Mayowa and Mack have been working at both DE and linebacker this year so let's bump the number up to nine.
With five of those positions set, that means the Raiders must pick four from the other eight defensive linemen.
If you go based solely on NFL experience, Wilson, Mayowa, and McGee would be shoo-ins. Wilson in particular signed a new 2-year deal this offseason to return to the team.
On the other hand, the coaching staff is brand new and they are going to put a lot of weight into what they have seen this training camp and preseason.
In the first two preseason games, Ricky Lumpkin, Denico Autry, Shelby Harris, Benson Mayowa, and Leon Orr have all had their moments. And Max Valles was a draft pick which usually afford some leeway in terms of immediate impact.
You see the dilemma? Four spots for eight players and a case can be made for all of them.
In my 53-man roster projection I have Mayowa, Lumpkin, Autry, and Harris as the ones who make the roster.
Mayowa is a former undrafted free agent who came up with the Seahawks under Ken Norton Jr. He is being used in a variety of ways, including as a special teams ace, and has looked very good in those roles in training camp and preseason. He is the Raiders' leading tackler this preseason along the defensive line. He leads in tackles (5) and QB hits (2).
Autry has also shined all through camp and carried it over to the preseason. He is tied for second among Raiders' defensive linemen in tackles (4) this preseason and has a tackle for loss as well.
Lumpkin was called up to replace former sixth round pick Stacy McGee late last season and outplayed him. In just three games, Lumpkin eclipsed McGee's stats over the first 11 games. Lumpkin continues to win that battle this preseason, and earned early snaps on the defense because of it.
Harris was a seventh round pick in 2014 and showed some flashes in last year's camp. He was put on the practice squad most of last season and looks to have stepped up his game this offseason as well. He has been around the ball all preseason and is the only player on the team with a sack, tackle for loss, QB hit, pass defended, and fumble recovery.
Valles may be a draft pick, but he has not stood out in camp or preseason from what I've seen. He went in the sixth round because by most accounts, he was very raw. Another year of college would have done him a lot of good. The NFL equivelant is the practice squad. But if the team decides they want to keep him, they would have to decide whether to cut Shelby Harris or Denico Autry.
Orr's situation is he could just be an odd man out. This undrafted rookie has played well at times, and he looks deserving of a roster spot. But he would have to beat out more established players to do it. He could be the wildcard in all of this. Then again, so could many of these guys.
I took my best shot in predicting who the Raiders keep along the defensive line. They too will take their best shot at keeping the right 8 or 9 guys, while hoping a couple of them make it through waivers to be placed on the practice squad.
The third preseason game could help make that decision easier. Then again, it could make it even more difficult.