Las Vegas Raiders training camp is underway as the team held its first full practice of the season which also means the Raiders’ position battles have commenced. There are plenty of open spots available on the depth chart but below are a few of the biggest and most important ones for Las Vegas over the next month-plus.
Each battle includes some background information, the top contenders, the most likely scenario and a bold prediction to cover all the bases.
Contenders: Alex Bars, Greg Van Roten and Netane Muti
If left guard Dylan Parham can grow from his rookie season and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor can replicate his 2022 success, then the Raiders will have a quality offensive line this year. However, they do need to fill a massive hole at right guard regardless of what Parham and Eluemunor do.
Bars was one of the worst players at his position last year, surrendering 38 pressures—tied for the sixth-most among guards—and ranking second to last with a 39.6 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Clearly, the Raiders can upgrade from him, but their options are limited.
In Van Roten and Muti, Las Vegas has two players who are at very different stages in their careers. The former is a 33-year-old NFL journeyman who made a handful of spot starts for the Buffalo Bills last season.
Meanwhile, Muti is about to enter year four after spending the majority of his career on the Denver Broncos practice squad before the Silver and Black swooped him up last December. He has the potential to be a dull-dozing run blocker, but his lack of regular-season experience could be an issue in pass protection.
Also, don’t be surprised if the Raiders start either Justin Herron, Thayer Munford or Brandon Parker at right tackle and slide Eluemunor inside as a more creative way to solve this problem.
Likely winner: Van Roten
Bold prediction: Muti
Contenders: literally every DT on the roster
Both starting spots are wide-open in Las Vegas as defensive tackle was one of their weakest position groups on the roster a year ago and the team’s best player from last year, Andrew Billings, is gone.
Bilal Nichols and Jerry Tillery are the two best pass-rushers within the crew heading into camp, but they’re also two of the worst run defenders so they likely won’t be starting together. Rookie Byron Young has the most potential to develop as a well-rounded player, but he’s going to be behind the eight-ball since he’s starting camp on the PUP list.
Another interesting development within the position group is the team placed Neil Farrell Jr. on the Non-Football Injury list after the first day of practice and recently re-signed Kyle Peko. Farrell landing on NFI means he was injured outside of the team’s activities and bringing in Peko could indicate the second-year pro will be out for a while, though nothing has been confirmed nor denied on that matter.
Then there are veteran nose tackles John Jenkins and Adam Butler, both of whom can be run-stuffers but Butler is the superior pass-rusher with 17 career sacks in five seasons to Jenkins’ 2.5 in 10. However, Butler also missed all of last season after failing a physical with the Miami Dolphins.
It really is anyone’s game at this spot.
Likely winners: Butler and Nichols
Bold prediction: Farrell Jr. and Young
Contenders: Duke Shelley, Nate Hobbs, Brandon Facyson, David Long Jr., Tyler Hall, Amik Robertson and Jakorian Bennett
Now that Marcus Peters is in town, the Raiders have their CB1 in place but the second and third spots are still very much up for grabs.
Hobbs walks in as a favorite to win one of the two jobs, however, he’s coming off a down year where he battled injuries and gave up the most receiving yards (559) on the team despite missing six games. Still, he should earn a starting spot, and if he can play outside, that will open up an opportunity for Tyler Hall.
Hall burst on the scene late last season and made several impact plays as a nickel corner, picking up six defensive stops, four pass breakups and a sack in limited action. He lacks experience but his production is something the coaching staff can’t ignore.
Free agent signings Long Jr. and Facyson come to Las Vegas after struggling to hold down starting spots with their previous clubs a year ago, so it’s difficult to have lofty expectations for either of them in 2023. Shelley is also among the Raiders’ new crop of corners and might be the most intriguing player of the group as he recorded 10 pass breakups and an 84.9 PFF coverage grade on a little less than 400 snaps last season.
Then there’s the biggest wild card, Bennett, who is a rookie but has the competitive advantage of being able to play inside or outside. However, the same can be said about Robertson, who will be motivated by playing in a contract year.
Likely winners: Hobbs and Shelley
Bold prediction: Hall and Bennett
Contenders: Austin Hooper, O.J. Howard and Jesper Horsted
While rookie tight end Michael Mayer is a second-stringer on the Raiders’ current projected depth chart, I don’t expect him to stay there for very long. So, we’ll focus on the battle for positioning behind him, especially since Josh McDaniels likes to run a lot of 12 and 22 personnel.
Offseason additions Hooper and Howard are both about to play for their third team in as many years—technically, fourth for Howard as he was cut by the Bills at the end of camp last season and then signed with the Houston Texans. The former is the better receiver with 41 catches and 444 yards a year ago to the latter’s 10 and 145. However, Howard is the superior blocker which could make him a good compliment to Mayer.
This is more of a two-horse race but Horsted is an intriguing wild card. He played wide receiver at Princeton and set school records in receptions, yards and touchdowns while also serving as a career .312 hitter on the baseball team, so he’s clearly a great athlete. He also posted an 80.6 PFF run-blocking grade in the preseason last year.
Likely winner: Howard
Bold prediction: Horstead
Contenders: Zamir White, Brittain Brown and Austin Walter
Josh Jacobs sitting out of training camp—and potentially longer—throws the Raiders’ running back rotation for a giant loop. The team needs a go-to rusher with Jacobs’ absence and that will likely come from one of the two backs they used a draft pick on last year.
As the higher selection of the two, White enters camp as the favorite to win the job. ‘Zeus’ was a punishing runner at Georgia, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 3.66 yards after contact in 2021. However, White was Las Vegas’ most productive back during the preseason, out-gaining his classmate by 74 total yards and 1.4 yards per tote.
Walter is a major dark horse but played well enough last August that he’s worth mentioning. He matched White’s efficiency with 4.5 yards per rush and mixed in four catches on five targets for 24 yards.
Likely winner: White
Bold prediction: Walter