In exactly a week, the first Raiders players will be arriving in Napa to begin training camp. The first players to report will be the rookies, quarterbacks and select first year players, with the rest of the team reporting three days later.
With that day fast approaching, we take a look at each of the Raiders’ positions, ranking them from Strong to Critical and everywhere in-between.
Starters: Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams
Backups: Ryan Grant, Hunter Renfrow, Marcell Ateman, J.J. Nelson, Dwayne Harris, Keon Hatcher, Saeed Blacknall, Rico Gafford, Keelan Doss, Brian Burt
Poll results: Strong (89%)
Notes: Rarely have I seen a position make such a drastic change in one offseason. Heading into free agency in March, this position was critical. Now it’s the opposite. Adding an All Pro receiver helped a great deal. But the addition of Williams and Grant and the drafting of Renfrow solidify things.
Starter: Rodney Hudson
Backup: Jordan Devey, Andre James
Poll results: Strong (77%)
Notes: We can spit hairs about Pro Bowls and All Pros, but you simply won’t find anyone better than Rodney Hudson at the center position. Feliciano was a suitable backup, but Devey may not be a downgrade at the center spot.
Starters: Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley, Lamarcus Joyner (slot)
Backups: Nevin Lawson, Trayvon Mullen, Nick Nelson, Isaiah Johnson, D.J. Killings, Isaiah Langley, Dylan Mabin, Keisean Nixon
Poll results: Strong (61%)
The depth at cornerback is stellar. It was already fairly deep before they decided to use two draft picks at the position. Conley showed well late last season and Joyner is a proven high end defensive back. Worley should have the other cornerback job secured and I expect he will hold his own at the position. If he doesn’t the team has the experience of Lawson and the potential of Mullen to step in as well. Nelson could take a step forward from his rookie season especially now that he is a year removed from the injury he suffered in pre-draft workouts. There is a lot to like about the cornerback group on this team.
Starters: Karl Joseph, Johnathan Abram
Backups: Erik Harris, Curtis Riley, Jordan Richards, Dallin Leavitt
Poll results: Stable (53%)
Joseph looked great by the end of last season. Harris played well too. With Abram, Riley, and Richards — and Joyner able to step in at safety if needed — this team is extremely deep at the position. We don’t yet know what Abram will bring to the table, but he has loads of potential. No question this position is quite stable.
Starters: Josh Jacobs, Keith Smith (FB)
Backups: Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Chris Warren III, Alec Ingold
Poll results: Stable (67%)
Jacobs may or may not be able to take a feature back role at the NFL level. He never did in college, so we just don’t know. If Martin can run as well as he did last season, Jacobs won’t have to handle the load by himself. Richard proved he can be a weapon out of the backfield and Chris Warren III is an intriguing wild card. It’s not exceptional, but it’s also not a bad....stable of backs to head into camp with.
Starters: Johnathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst
Backups: Justin Ellis, P.J. Hall, Eddie Vanderdoes, Gabe Wright, Ronald Ollie
Poll results: Stable (66%)
Notes: They have the bodies there and might have the talent as well. But that means Triple H (Hankins, Hurst, Hall) each stepping up this season. Hankins played well, but a full offseason with the team should help him and Hurst showed a lot of promise he must build on. So, they’re stable with the potential to be strong.
Starter: Derek Carr
Backup: Mike Glennon, Nathan Peterman
Poll results: Stable (53%)
Notes: There were rumors and speculation Gruden could be looking to replace Carr this offseason. That didn’t happen, so Carr will return as the starter in what figures to be a make or break season for him. If he has another down season, the speculation will turn to reality. If he plays like he did in his outstanding 2016 season — the only other time he had the same OC in consecutive seasons — he will be the franchise QB the Raiders say he is. That will require he show he has some Rich Gannon in him which means the ability to make snap decisions on the fly and improvise when things break down.
Starters: Kolton Miller, Trent Brown
Backups: Brandon Parker, David Sharpe, Justin Murray, Tyler Roemer
Poll results: Stable (44%), Unstable (40%)
Notes: The main worry is with Kolton Miller. Best case scenario his issues were health and development related. Jon Gruden is counting on that. Miller defenders point to his first three games in which he didn’t give up a sack as proof that when healthy, he is the first round talent the Raiders drafted him to be. We would need to see more than that to know for certain for two reasons; 1) That was also when fellow rookie Brandon Parker stepped in at right tackle so defenses were putting their best pass rusher on that side most of the time. 2) Miller was not without his issues even in those first games, including run blocking problems. There is at least reason to believe Brown can hold his own on the right side.
Starters: Tahir Whitehead, Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Marshall
Backups: Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee, Jason Cabinda, Kyle Wilber, Te’Von Coney
Poll results: Unstable (38%), Stable (36%)
Notes: Burfict and Marshall were both cut by their former teams and Whitehead was not great despite how much the Raiders seem to love him. Sure, the two new additions could work out great. And Whitehead could improve in his second year in Guenther’s system. A lot of things could happen. One thing is for sure, the Raiders once again didn’t make the position a priority with no splash free agent signing and no draft pick used, let alone a somewhat high draft pick. In that regard, ruling it ‘Unstable’ may be generous.
Starters: Richie Incognito, Gabe Jackson
Backups: Denzelle Good, Denver Kirkland, Jonathan Cooper, Lester Cotton Sr, Lukayus McNeil
Poll results: Unstable (42%), Stable (37%)
Notes: Not only did the team trade away Osemele, but they also let Jon Feliciano leave as a free agent. And they didn’t adequately replace them. It seemed like a logical plan to use one of their four picks in the top 35 picks on a guard, specifically with their three picks at 24, 27, and 35, but they instead went with a running back and two defensive backs. In fact, they didn’t draft an offensive lineman at all. Their only answer was to sign troubled veteran Richie Incognito who will serve a 2-game suspension this season. It’s all pretty strange looking at the seriously suspect condition of this position after being either solid or strong there the past few years.
Starters: Clelin Ferrell, Josh Mauro
Backups: Benson Mayowa, Arden Key, Maxx Crosby, James Cowser, Quinton Bell, Alex Barrett
Poll results: Unstable (41%), Serious (27%)
Notes: Adding a proven pass rusher was a must for a team with a complete lack of pass rush last season. And they completely neglected it. Edge rushers flew off the board one by one and the Raiders seemed to sit back and watch. Building through the draft is a great strategy in theory and in general. But it’s a luxury to do so and it often takes time to feel the impact of those draft picks. Remember even Khalil Mack had just 4.0 sacks as a rookie. So, now their edge rush unit will be made up of two rookies and three players who had a combined 6.0 sacks between them last season. Assuredly there will be some improvement, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
Starter: Darren Waller
Backups: Luke Willson, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Erik Swoope, Paul Butler
Poll results: Unstable (46%), Serious (17%)
Notes: When you have a relative unknown like Darren Waller, there’s always the chance he could pan out. But that’s a big leap of faith. As is hoping Foster Moreau can be more than a blocking tight end. And even then, he’s no Lee Smith. Luke Willson won’t contribute much. He has averaged about 200 yards per season in six seasons. We know what he brings to the table.
There were two positions that were in critical condition heading into free agency — edge rusher and wide receiver. The Raiders went hard after the wide receiver spot, most notably landing arguably the best receiver in football. They didn’t address the edge rusher spot with anything close to that level of aggressiveness, but they didn’t completely ignore it, using their pick at 4th overall on it.