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Raiders’ Quick Slants: 53-man Roster Edition

Initial roster has it’s surprises in both who Las Vegas jettisoned and retained

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Dave Ziegler finalizes his initial 53-man roster as the general manger of the Las Vegas Raiders on Tuesday.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jettisoning a 2021 first-round pick, trading a 2019 second-round pick, releasing two offseason free agent signees, and keeping four undrafted free agents. It sure was a busy Tuesday for Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler.

Waiving right tackle Alex Leatherwood and trading cornerback Trayvon Mullen Jr. jump-started Ziegler’s quest to get the Silver & Black at the league-mandated 53-man roster limit Tuesday. Leatherwood, the No. 17 overall pick in 2021, was claimed by the Chicago Bears on Wednesday while Mullen, the 40th overall pick in 2019, heads to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional 2023 seventh-round pick (a chance to become a sixth-round selection if playtime incentives are met).

In the end, the Raiders couldn’t find any trade partners for Leatherwood and to the waiver wire he went. Fortunately for Ziegler and Las Vegas, Chicago claiming the Alabama product lessens the dead money hit for the Raiders.

Then came the release of veteran wide receiver Keelan Cole and cornerback Darius Phillips. Both free agent additions this offseason were slated to be contributors — until others proved more worthy of roster spots. Cole rotated at outside receiver and in the slot while Phillips got time at nickel corner and punt return duties. Jettisoning both Phillips and Mullens does raise eyebrows for a Raiders team that didn’t have the best depth at the corner position to begin with.

Questions remain at both the cornerback spot and the offensive line as a whole. With only eight total offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, there’s a good chance a further shuffle can occur to add more depth in the trenches — especially since the Raiders are keen on versatility. Offensive lineman signed to the practice squad will help Las Vegas bolster depth, too.

Let’s hit the quick slants as fast as Leatherwood’s tenure as a Raider came and went:

—All six of the Raiders 2022 draft picks made the initial 53-man roster. How many remain after the initial wave of tinkering before Week 1 of the regular season is unclear, however, Dylan Parham (guard, third round) and Zamir White (running back, fourth round) have a shot at contributing early. Seventh-round offensive tackle Thayer Munford Jr. has an opportunity, too, once he’s 100 percent healthy.

—Four undrafted free agents made the initial roster — Darius Butler (linebacker), Luke Masterson (linebacker), Sam Webb (cornerback) and Isaiah Pola-Mao (safety). The group made nice plays in preseason and impressed in training camp. Playing time for each of the undrafted rookies may be sparse in the regular season on defense, however, special teams snaps will be wide open.

—DJ Turner is another undrafted free agent (2021) that made the roster over a veteran (Cole). The Pittsburgh product showed his hands, burst, and speed during the preseason and adds the punt return skills to the mix. While Hunter Renfrow may be the punt returner, Turner can take the role if need be.

—Five is the magic number at both running back and wide receiver. The running back-by-committee approach is real and having five tailbacks in the stable is a testament to that. Of that five (veterans Josh Jacobs, Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden) are 2022 draft picks White and Brittain Brown (seventh round). at wide out, Davante Adams leads the group with slot dynamo Hunter Renfrow, the big Mack Hollins, the speedster Tyron Johnson and Turner rounding out the group.

—Clelin Ferrell remains a Raider. The defensive end hasn’t lived up to his No. 4 overall selection billing and it’s unclear what his role will be in Patrick Graham’s defense. Ferrell is a much better run defender and edge setter than pass rusher so he could be a run-down specialist. Especially with edge rushers Malcolm Koonce and Tashawn Bower likely to be in front of Ferrell. Koonce is a pure pass rusher while Bower showed he has edge discipline and run stuffing ability to go along with pass rush juice.

—I’ll be looking at the cornerback group in depth as well as tight end Jesper Horsted making the roster in future articles, but it sure does look like the coaching staff was more than confident going with Rock Ya-Sin, Anthony Averett and Nate Hobbs as the team traded away Mullen. Horsted showed well in preseason games and the little things he did parlayed into a big 53-man roster spot.