Sometimes change is a good thing. Sometimes you root for it to happen, other times you begrudgingly accept it as inevitable. The Raiders went 4-12 last season. In such a time, what you should hope for is upgrades and a lot of them. This season, you just might get them.
There have already been several 2018 starters sent packing. Starting tight end Jared Cook and safeties Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist were all allowed to leave in free agency. Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele was traded. Though punters are not considered “starters”, Johnny Townsend was let go after being thoroughly outplayed by undrafted rookie AJ Cole. Running back Doug Martin was placed on injured reserve and his snaps are expected to go to DeAndre Washington.
There are still many others who started games last season who won’t be feeling too comfortable on Friday as the team may have come upon players they deem as upgrades. In some cases, those players won’t just be buried on the depth chart, they’ll be let go altogether.
Much of these decisions have already been made. Some may depend on what happens in the final preseason game in Seattle on Thursday.
Here are ten 2018 starters who sit squarely on the roster bubble.
1. Brandon Parker
2018 starts: 12
Primary competition: David Sharpe
Parker was the raw physical specimen out of a small school who Tom Cable thought he could coach into a talent. So, the team traded up in the third round to get him. He was forced into starting duties after a week four injury to Donald Penn. And Parker was downright awful. The ream remedied the issue with the starting job with the signing of Trent Brown. Now there’s just the matter of the reserve swing tackle. Thus far Parker hasn’t shown the ability to handle that either. The progress the Raiders had hoped to see from him going into this second season ins’t there, but former fourth round tackle Sharpe has held his own going into his third season. They should only keep one swing tackle. One stays, the other goes.
2. Keith Smith
2018 starts: 3
Primary competition: Alec Ingold
Getting hurt opens the door for someone to steal your job. Smith played well in the third preseason game and could get another shot to earn back his job as the team’s lone fullback. He has undrafted rookie Alec Ingold nipping at his heels though. The Raiders could go either way here.
3. Justin Ellis
2018 starts: 1 (partial season IR)
Primary competition: Corey Liuget, Anthony Rush
Ellis is caught in a numbers game. The Raiders just signed veteran Corey Liuget which could be a sign they’re preparing to be without Ellis. They have a lot of competition along the interior defensive line. Ellis is injured right now so they either have to place him on IR, ending his season, or keep him on the roster, uncertain he’ll play early in the season while risking letting go of a good player. I smell IR with an injury settlement soon to follow.
4. Marquel Lee
2018 starts: 10
Primary competition: Jason Cabinda, waiver wire
Lee was a middle linebacker coming out of Wake Forest. They tried him there as a rookie and then again last season briefly while they were figuring out a passable linebacker combo. Late in the season he was getting a small percentage of the snaps, splitting time with Cabinda. Now it’s Cabinda who gets the backup middle linebacker snaps with Lee moving outside. With Lee getting bumped out of the position he was first intended, and not really standing out there either, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team actively scanning the waiver wire after the cutdown deadline to find a player with more upside.
5. P.J. Hall
2018 starts: 6
Primary competition: Anthony Rush
What a tough call this has turned out to be. It’s hard to imagine the team giving up on a second round pick like Hall after one season. For that reason, it seems to me like they would actively be looking to see what kind of trade market there is. Undrafted rookie Anthony Rush has come on strong and if they waive him, he will very likely be snapped up by another team. I don’t envy having to make this call.
6. Marcell Ateman
2018 starts: 8
Primary competition: Keelan Doss
Another 2018 draft pick who could be bumped out by an undrated rookie. Townsend was the first to get his ticket punched. Doss has been everything the Raiders could have hoped he would be and more this preseason, making one highlight reel catch after another. Ateman had his moments, but unfortunately his latest was getting reamed by Derek Carr on Hard Knocks while Ateman made excuses for not finishing a play. Whether it was a fair criticism from Carr or not, it wasn’t a good look for Ateman.
7. Nicholas Morrow
2018 starts: 5
Primary competition: Waiver wire
It’s a bit odd that the Raiders have as few linebackers as they do, but it ups the odds of Morrow being on this team. Morrow has played well as the nickel backer behind newly signed starter Brandon Marshall. He also plays special teams well, which helps his case, but once again he is a backup so nothing is guaranteed. And we all know how Gruden falls in love with players coming out of the draft and goes after them if he gets another shot at them.
8. Jason Cabinda
2018 starts: 3
Primary competition: Marquel Lee, waiver wire
He and his mom became the darlings of Hard Knocks Tuesday night. They followed hi third preseason performance pretty accurately — he struggled in the first half and came on in the second half. Cabinda has outplayed Lee from my viewpoint. We’ll see if that’s enough.
9. Nick Nelson
2018 starts: 3
Primary competition: Keisean Nixon
Everyone was talking in last year’s draft like had Nelson not torn his meniscus in a workout with the Lions, he may have gone in the second round. So, naturally Raiders fans were super stoked the team got a steal. The quiet Nelson has been pretty much the same on the field. And in the third preseason game, he got absolutely lit up by the Packers’ backup quarterbacks and receivers. Meanwhile undrafted rookie Keisean Nixon has been more and more impressive with each week.
10. Derek Carrier
2018 starts: 2
Primary competition: Luke Willson
Carrier was one of the first free agent signings of the new Gruden era. He was supposed to be a real threat in two tight end sets. That never materialized. Late last season, his playing time was usurped by Darren Waller who was signed off the Ravens’ practice squad. Now they have added rookie tight end Foster Moreau and free agent Luke Willson. Not to say Willson has outplayed Carrier as a receiver — he’s had his issues too — but Willison is a better blocker and has shown at times in his career the ability to make plays. He’s also a million dollars cheaper than Carrier.