With only a handful of training camp practices on tap and one final preseason game left, time is ticking for Las Vegas Raiders hopefuls.
Unlike prior NFL seasons, this offseason is going to be a doozy as teams carry the 90-man roster until Aug. 29 — the day when all 32 teams must be at the initial 53-man squad. That’s 37 players waxed from the Raiders roster, a total of 1,184 players from all 32 teams that will be gone from the offseason 90. That’ll be quite the jarring day for players.
Las Vegas head coach Josh McDaniels knows this.
“I think it’s always difficult. There’s a human side of that. Regardless of who you release, they’ve done a lot of work,” McDaniels said during his Wednesday media session. “They put a lot of effort, time, energy into competing and trying to do the best thing for the team and trying to improve themselves. So, there’s a tremendous amount of respect that’s involved with all of our players, regardless of whether they make the roster, we put them on the practice squad or ultimately they go somewhere else.”
Expect the initial regular season rosters to fluctuate a bit across the entire league landscape. Then there’s the practice squad that’ll need filling, too. So while this focuses on Raider hopefuls, these last remaining practices and especially the final exhibition games are opportunities for all fringe types to put things on tape for all teams to review and see.
Our Matt Holder did provided great insight in his updated 53-man projection after the Rams game on potential roster locks and players on the outside looking in. Laying out who is safe, on the bubble and on the way out, it’s a good projection of the potential regular season roster.
We’re unlikely to see many starters play in the Raiders’ final preseason clash with the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday. Thus, if fringe players want to make it difficult for the Silver & Black coaches and personnel people to cut them, an elevated sense of urgency is a must. Las Vegas went into the offseason with the intention of increasing competition to create the best roster it can assemble for the 2023 season. And McDaniels hopes to see the fruits of that labor when cut day arrives.
“The goal for us will be always to try to make every one of them difficult. Because we’ve added competition in every room at every spot. And so I hope we want to keep 80 guys, and not there’s 47 that we like and we’re trying to figure out who the other six are,” the Raiders head coach said. “I don’t think we’re going to be in that boat. I think there’s going to be a number of players we would love to keep, as I mentioned, that’s kind of go where it goes into the 53-plus 16, 17 extra guys where you’re saying, ‘How can we construct this thing, so we have the best group of players going forward.’”
My Darkhorse Roster Candidates
Kristian Wilkerson, wide receiver: It’s easy to earmark the undrafted Southeast Missouri State product due to his history with the New England Patriots (2020-2022), but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Wilkerson. The 6-foot-1, 214-pounder showed he can work inside in the slot or on the perimeter as a wide receiver in practices and preseason games. He hauled in five catches for 54 yards with a smooth toe-tap and drag touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams last Saturday. But what caught my attention were the blocks Wilkerson laid out in the run game.
Drake Thomas, linebacker: This undrafted free agent out of NC State is the high-energy, do-anything type defender that’s welcome on any defense. At 5-foot-11 and 223 pounds, Thomas may be undersized for the middle linebacker spot but his frenetic energy creates controlled chaos as he’s a tackling machine. He led the Raiders with 12 total tackles against Los Angeles (eight solo) and arrives swiftly with bad intentions. Las Vegas does lack depth behind starting middle linebacker Robert Spillane, so Thomas could make his case stronger this week.
Cole Fotheringham, tight end: Known more for his blocking ability at Utah, Fotheringham showed he’s a capable receiver with five catches for 71 yards in the Raiders preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers. The 6-foot-4, 243-pound tight end took advantage of second-round pick Michael Mayer missing time and showed well in Las Vegas offense. He’s a willing blocker and special teamer and Fotheringham could heat up the competition for the third tight end with Jesper Horsted. The latter struggled as a blocker against the Rams.