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Mailbag: What defensive scheme is best for Raiders’ projected 53-man roster?

One more preseason game to go!!!

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders
Patrick Graham, Josh McDaniels
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With training camp wrapping up yesterday and one preseason game left to play for the Las Vegas Raiders, we’re so close to the regular season we can almost reach out and touch it! Cutdown day is around the corner too—Tuesday, August 29—as we start to shift our focus to the games that count in this week’s mailbag.

Q: Looking at the personnel that you believe will be on the 53-man roster, what scheme do you believe would be best for the defense to be competent? Also, with improved play from the secondary, do you think we could be a 12-18 range? Thanks in advance.

A: I think a zone-heavy scheme is the way to go on the backend. That’s where Nate Hobbs is at his best and the same with Marcus Peters now that he’s a little older and is a couple of years removed from a knee injury. Also, Patrick Graham ran a lot of Cover 2 with the New York Giants, and I think he was just forced to call more man coverage last season since the Raiders had so many injuries in at cornerback.

Up front, I think you’ll see a lot of even fronts with four guys on the line of scrimmage and two to three defenders in the box. Las Vegas has been using Neil Farrell Jr. as a 3-technique defensive tackle and John Jenkins at nose tackle to get some big-bodied run-stuffers in the middle during the preseason, similar to what Graham had in New York with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Obviously, Farrell Jr. and Jenkins aren’t the same quality of players, but they share similar skill sets as Lawrence and Williams.

If the secondary improves and can create more turnovers, there’s definitely a chance that the Raiders’ defense could finish close to the middle of the pack in the league. However, I hesitate to make that a definitive statement since I still have questions about their linebackers and defensive tackles, and need to see more production from Chandler Jones as a pass-rusher.

Q: Are the Raiders still in the market for linebacker help and any word on who they could be eyeing? Also, is D. Deablo healthy and how is he performing in Graham’s concepts?

As far as I know, no other linebacker is on Las Vegas’ radar. That could change next week as cutdown day approaches and players become available via trade, but I feel fairly confident saying the Raiders are going to roll with the guys they already have in the building.

The reviews on Divine Deablo have been pretty positive coming out of training camp. He’s healthy, wearing the green dot and bulked up in the offseason, and linebackers coach Antonio Pierce sang his praises at the beginning of camp with the quote below.

“[Deablo] understands his game is speed and he’s gotten better at playing linebacker and coming downhill. What I’ve seen is a guy who’s more comfortable playing the linebacker position. He doesn’t look like a safety playing linebacker. He now looks like a linebacker. And he’ll continue to grow. I think each and every year in the league he’ll get better. He’ll see the game as a linebacker, and that will just make him a better football player.”

What’s your take on the Center position? How (well or poorly) are James and Grasu working with Jimmy G? This is a practice question I suppose since Jimmy G hasn’t pre-seasoned it yet.

A: This question was from last week, hence the reference to Jimmy Garoppolo not playing in the preseason. As a side note, if you see that your question went unanswered, that’s probably because I had logged off before it was asked, so check back the following week as I circle back and answer the ones that are still relevant.

I think Andre James is a solid center but needs to improve as a run-blocker to avoid being replaceable. He’s been good in pass protection but doesn’t have the strength to be a people mover in the run game. This is a contract year for him so, I’ll put it this way, if he doesn't improve that part of his game, I’d argue the Raiders should look at drafting a new center in the offseason.

As for how James and Garoppolo have been working together, I haven’t heard of any hiccups and James spoke highly of Garoppolo’s ability to connect with his teammates. So, I don’t have any concerns about that relationship.

I'm predicting the Raiders to finish at either 8-9 or 9-8. Either would be an improvement, but not likely to get us to the post season. But I'm curious as to what your opinion is on what that one game swing would mean for us? Analytics or just opinions are welcome, but I'm looking at deals, the difference that it would make as far as coaching and player contracts are concerned, etc. I know it's a much deeper question, but just want your thoughts.

A: This is pure opinion, but I think any improvement in year one with Garoppolo under center would make the Raiders a more attractive destination for outsiders. That would signal that the team is headed in the right direction and has the potential to be in the playoff hunt for 2024. Plus, that would bode well for Josh McDaniels as a head coach and make it seem like Derek Carr really was the problem last year. I could see a free agent thinking in the offseason that they could be the one to push Las Vegas over the edge if the Raiders float around .500 this year.

The Raider site's depth chart has the starting CBs as Peters and Hobbs. Do you think Hobbs starts on the outside or moves back to the slot? If he does move to slot, who looks like the starter, Bennett, Facyson or someone else?

A: With how much Graham loves to use nickel personnel, I could see the Raiders having three “starting” cornerbacks with Hobbs playing in the slot. I put starting in quotes as a reference to the fact the third corner might not be out there for the first play, but he’ll get more reps than the third linebacker will if that makes sense.

I do think Peters and Hobbs will be their top corners when Graham decides to go with base personnel, though. As mentioned above, Graham ideally wants to run a lot of Cover 2 which can allow the corners to be more aggressive against the run because they’ll always have safety help, and that’s basically what makes Hobbs so good in the slot.

Any chance Eluemenor slides over as the starting RG if Munford wins the RT spot, or will it be Van Roten regardless of who wins RT? (I know Parham's been out, and that affects things, but assuming the left side is healthy...)

A: I’ve thought about this and do think it’s a possibility, but the thing I always come back to that makes me walk that back is Jermaine Eluemunor got benched the last time he was a full-time guard. Granted, it’s a completely different coaching staff, but it also sounds like he’s been lining up exclusively at tackle.

Early in camp, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur tweeted that he thought Eluemunor was taking reps on the inside, but the offensive lineman replied and said that wasn’t true. He also has exclusively played tackle during the preseason and didn’t play guard in 2020 when he and McDaniels first worked together with the Patriots.

Long story short, I think Eluemunor is the starting tackle or on the bench in Week 1 if Thayer Munford wins that battle.

That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. Thank you all for submitting questions and, as your weekly reminder, if you’d like to have your questions answered in a future column, tweet them at me, @MHolder95, email them to or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will publish on Thursdays throughout the season.