Now that the Las Vegas Raiders rookies have reported to training camp and the veterans will join them on Wednesday the 20th, the Raiders 2022 season is officially, and finally, underway! The position battles are set to commence as players fight for starting and/or roster spots but before all of that, let’s take a look at the depth chart to see where everyone stands heading into camp.
Starter: Derek Carr
Backup: Nick Mullens
On the bubble: Jarrett Stidham, Chase Garbers
Heading into year nine, Carr’s biggest concern during training camp will be picking up the new playbook and making sure his teammates are up to snuff. Barring an injury, he’s the unquestioned starter and it’d be a bit of a surprise to see him participate in much more than a few drives during the preseason if any. However, the spot behind him is very much in question.
Mullens is ‘on the bubble’ too as the backup quarterback battle is wide open. Right now, I’d give him the leg up seeing as he’s the most veteran player of the bunch. But Stidham also has the most experience in Josh Mcdaniels' system having played in New England for the first three years of his career. Granted, the Auburn product has only participated in eight regular season games with zero starts, 24 completions, 270 yards and two touchdowns to four interceptions.
As for Garbers, he’s the long shot to make the roster but could wind up on the practice squad as a developmental player. The undrafted free agent also comes into camp with the least expectations so he could be the loosest of the bunch and catch the coaches’ eyes during the preseason.
Starter: Josh Jacobs, Jakob Johnson (FB)
Backups: Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Zamir White
On the bubble: Ameer Abdullah, Brittain Brown
To be honest, health is the biggest concern when it comes to the Raiders’ running backs. Jacobs has battled injuries throughout his career and didn’t participate in minicamp and OTAs, meanwhile, Drake is coming back from a broken ankle and even the rookie White has been sidelined. The good news is everyone expects to be healthy for Week 1, it’s just a matter of how many reps they’ll be able to get in before then.
All of the guys on the shelf could leave the door open for Abdullah and Brown. The former might have the edge though, seeing as he has over 800 career reps on special teams in the NFL while the latter only has 38 in five college seasons under his belt.
Starters: Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, Keelan Cole
Backups: Demarcus Robinson, Tyron Johnson, Mack Hollins
On the bubble: Dillon Stoner, Jordan Veasy, DJ Turner, Justin Hall
Adams and Renfrow are basically in the same spot as Carr. They’re locked into their roles and really just need to learn the playbook, so we’ll likely see them wearing bucket hats instead of helmets during camp fairly frequently while the rest of the crew battles it out.
The third wide receiver spot is, well, wide open (pun intended). I’d consider Cole to be the leader in the clubhouse at this point given his experience and production, but don’t sleep on Johnson. He brings the most speed to the position group and could be the downfield threat the Raiders’ receiving corps is somewhat missing.
Robinson and Hollins are no slouches either, as Robinson brings over 1,600 career receiving yards and 14 touchdowns as well as a championship pedigree, while Hollins was recently ranked as a top 25 red zone threat. The point is, the WR. 3 spot is very much up for grabs.
It will be an interesting competition to fill out the rest of the roster, partially because it depends on how many wideouts McDaniels wants to keep. That will likely be somewhat dependent on the running back situation, but the returner battle between Turner and Hall could play a big factor in the outcome.
In college, Turner ran back 15 kickoffs for 333 yards — 22.2 yards per attempt — and no touchdowns with 18 punt returns for 233 yards — 12.9 yards per return — and one score. Meanwhile, Hall had 36 kick returns for 938 yards — 26.1 per clip — and one TD in addition to 22, 169 — 7.7 ypa — and zero on punts at Ball State.
Starter: Darren Waller
Backups: Foster Moreau, Jacob Hollister
On the bubble: Nick Bowers, Jesper Horsted, Cole Fotheringham
The ‘starters’ could be ambiguous when it comes to tight ends as McDaniels does like to use a lot of 12 and 22 personnel, so Moreau could add a couple of starts to his name this season. That also could lead to the Silver and Black carrying four on the roster but regardless, there will be a battle for the third spot on the depth chart.
Hollister seemingly has a leg up on the competition as he spent the first two years of his career with McDaniels and the Patriots, but he only managed to haul in nine passes for 94 yards during his time in New England. His work on the ground game was solid but nothing overly impressive with PFF run blocking grades of 70.8 and 61.6 during those campaigns, respectively. Also, those marks came from a small sample size with fewer than 75 run blocking snaps in the two years combined.
As for Bowers, he stood out as a road grader during the preseason last year and eventually got the call up to the active roster during the games that count. He didn’t receive a target, nor did he impress as a run blocker with a 57.0 grade, but he could wind up carving out a role as the blocking tight end in 2022.
Starters: Kolton Miller (LT), John Simpson (LG), Andre James (C), Denzelle Good (RG), Alex Leatherwood (RT)
Backups: Brandon Parker, Dylan Parham, Thayer Munford, Jermaine Eluemunor
On the bubble: Alex Bars, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Bamidele Olaseni, Lester Cotton, Hroniss Grasu, Jordan Meredith, Jackson Barton
Beginning at right tackle, there probably isn’t a more fluid position on the Raiders roster heading into camp. It’s still a question mark as to what position Leatherwood is going to play, and he and Parker will headline the battle for the starting job. One of the rookies, Munford or Olaseni, could serve as dark horses as they both posted run blocking grades in the high 70s and combined to allow one sack in college last year.
While being somewhat tied to the competition out on the edge, even the guard spots are up in the air. Injuries trust and kept Simpson with the first string last year, but there’s a reason why Las Vegas spent their first pick of the draft on Parham. Then there’s Good, who turned 31-years-old and is coming off a torn ACL, and don’t sleep on the guard with the most experience playing in McDaniels’ system, Eluemunor. In 2019 and 2020, Eluemunor logged about 450 snaps for the Patriots.
In other words, there’s four legitimate contenders for two spots and that’s not even including the idea of sliding Leatherwood back inside.
As for the rest of the crew, Cotton is probably the biggest name to keep an eye on since he enters year four with the organization and is hoping to finally make the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. Cotton did get a boost of confidence the other day from now retired offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, who said some nice words about the Alabama product during his retirement press conference, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Vinny Bonsignore.
Starters: Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones
Backups: Clelin Ferrell, Kyler Fackrell, Malcolm Koonce
On the bubble: Tashawn Bower, Gerri Green, Zach VanValkenburg
With no drama at the top of the depth chart, edge will be one of the more boring position groups to keep tabs on during camp.
The biggest enigma is what the team will do with Ferrell. The 2019 No. 4 overall pick lacks the athleticism to be a true standup outside linebacker in a 3/4 defense, but he also doesn’t quite have the size to slide inside and play as more of defensive end/tackle in that system. He’s been the subject of a handful of trade rumors this offseason and a strong showing from Koonce next month could encourage general manager Dave Ziegler to make a move.
VanValkenburg is a solid darkhorse pick to make the roster with a strong preseason. He racked up 37 pressures last season which was tied for eighth among Big Ten edges, and his 87.6 run defense grade trailed only Aidan Hutchinson.
Starters: Bilal Nichols, Johnathan Hankins
Backups: Vernon Butler, Neil Farrell Jr., Matthew Butler
On the bubble: Kyle Peko, Kendal Vickers, Andrew Billings, Tyler Lancaster, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa
The Raiders’ edge and defensive tackle situations could not be more opposite of each other as the latter is extremely fluid. Nichols received a two-year, $11 million contract in the offseason and has the highest pedigree of the bunch, so he’s likely locked into a starting role but everything else is pure guess work.
Hankins has been a solid presence in the middle of the team’s defense for several years now and established himself as a quality run defender. However, he’s coming off a career-low 48.1 run defense grade — almost 20 points lower than his previous worst — and is on the wrong side of 30.
Farrell Jr. is probably the one young buck who could push the veteran after leading SEC defensive tackles with 24 run stops in 2021. Vernon Butler could be a decent option to replace or supplant Hankins as well, but he’s also coming off a personal worst run blocking grade with an alarming 33.2 last year.
As for Matthew Butler, he’ll likely be backing up Nichols and is more of a development project than someone who can contribute right away. Granted, the former Volunteer might be the most rounded player of the bunch, having earned run defense and pass rush grades of 76.4 and 72.9 last season, respectively.
Starters: Denzel Perryman, Divine Deablo
Backups: Jayon Brown, Kenny Young, Micah Kiser
On the bubble: Darien Butler, Luke Masterson
Linebacker feels like another position group where health seems to be a bigger factor then the players’ actual abilities. Last year, Deablo was banged up to begin training camp and that contributed to his slow start during the season, and he’s already been wearing a red non-contact jersey during OTAs. Albiet, the latter was due to a concussion that should be healed by now, but it isn’t a great sign that he keeps ending up on the injury report.
If the second-year pro can’t go, Brown will be waiting in the mix, who is known for his coverage skills. He accumulated 20 pass breakups and four interceptions to just four touchdowns allowed during his five seasons with the Titans. Stringing together some strong practice performances over the next five to six weeks could even earn him the outright starting spot.
The battle for depth will be an interesting one. The veterans, Young and Kiser, have both proven to be solid but not good nor great players in their careers, while Butler is coming off a season where he led all Pac 12 linebackers with a 87.7 PFF coverage grade. The former Sun Devil also has familiarity with position coach Antonio Pierce, who was ASU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach during Butler’s time in Tempe.
Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Rock Ya-Sin, Nate Hobbs (nickel)
Backups: Anthony Averett, Darius Philips, Amik Robertson
On the bubble: Chris Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Cosby
To be honest, the starters are just a pure guess at this point. Mullen battled injuries last year and hasn’t progressed much since his rookie season, while Ya-Sin has missed seven games in the last two seasons for the Colts. Those two still project to walk into camp as the starters, but a bad week or even just day of practice this summer could change all of that.
Averett has a long injury history as well, but he proved last year in Baltimore that he can be a solid corner when called upon after ranking in the top 10 among corners with 12 forced incompletions. Also, there have been rumors that the 2021 rookie sensation, Hobbs, might get some run on the outside after almost exclusively lining up over the slot in year one.
So, the competition is wide open and there are several routes the Raiders could go with for their cornerback rotation, especially if Philips and/or Robertson prove they can hold their own at nickel.
As for the rest of the crew, Cosby is the guy to keep an eye on over the next month. He was used all over the field at Ball State, taking 1,109 career snaps in the box, 1,247 at free safety and 1,407 as a slot corner. The former Cardinal is listed as a corner on the Raiders’ website, but that could change in a hurry.
Starters: Tre’von Moehrig, Johnathan Abram
Backups: Duron Harmon, Roderic Teamer, Dallin Leavitt
On the bubble: Tyree Gillespie, Cole Qwynnterrio, Isaiah Pola-Mao
Moehrig has his starting position locked down, but Vegas’ second safety spot is an interesting one. Abram returns as last year’s starter and showed growth as run defender, but his coverage skills are still questionable and he’s proven to be unreliable playing the two-high coverages that swept across the league last season.
In comes Harmon, who has played for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham before — albiet, Graham was a linebackers coach when they crossed paths — and Harmon has experience playing both deep and in the box. That should make for an intriguing position battle over the next month plus.
Teamer and Leavitt were significant contributors on special teams last season and project to play similar roles this time around, with the caveat being that one of them takes the next step in their careers defensively. Then there’s Gillespie, who was also bitten by the injury bug in 2021 and only saw the field for 13 defensive snaps during the regular season. However, he did notch 165 special team reps and earned a 75.4 PFF special teams grade, 22 points higher than Teamer’s figure and about 13 higher than Leavitt’s.
Thus, one of if not both of Las Vegas’ final two safety spots could come down to who is the best specialist.