The Las Vegas Raiders regular season is so close you can almost reach out and touch it! Training camp, the preseason and cutdown day are over so it’s time to start talking about the real deal in this week’s season preview edition of the Raiders mailbag.
Q: What does the Raiders record need to be in order for you to consider this season a success?
A: I believe last week (maybe two weeks ago) I predicted them to finish in the six to eight range. So, I think getting over .500 should be the benchmark for success. There’s no question that the Raiders are in rebuild mode and if they can manage to win more games than they lose, I think that’s a great way for them to start building momentum toward the future. Granted, I wouldn’t consider eight wins a ‘failure’ per se, but it would still be more of meeting expectations than successful, in my opinion.
Q: How many road wins will the Raiders have this season?
A: Man, you guys are putting me on the spot with the predictions this week, I love it!
I see five winable road games for Las Vegas this year; against the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. Of those, the Broncos, Chargers and Dolphins will be the toughest matchups so I’ll assume they lose two of those and have three wins away from Allegiant Stadium. Hopefully, they can win six out of their nine home contests, then.
Q: Did you see anything on film during the preseason that would justify keeping David Long over Duke Shelly? As far as I can tell, Shelly outperformed him and was cheaper.
A: I did think Long Jr. played better than Shelley against the Los Angeles Rams, but that game was close between those two and the latter was much better against the Dallas Cowboys. Long Jr. missed a couple of tackles in Dallas and gave up a few catches while Shelley played a much cleaner game
However, I think the decision ultimately came down to practice. Long Jr. was getting quite a bit of love during training camp while the hype around Shelley was quieter. That’s one of the tough parts about predicting the 53-man roster. The public only gets to see three outings (and just two in Long Jr.’s case) while the coaching staff takes the entire month into consideration.
Q: What are the biggest differences you see with this year's roster vs last year's? Just based on the roster which team would you prefer?
A: Offensively, I think the wide receiver room has improved significantly with the additions of Jakobi Meyers, DeAndre Carter and Tre Tucker compared to Mack Hollins, Tyron Johnson and DJ Turner. The tight ends have gone in the opposite direction compared to this time last year, as Darren Waller was two years removed from a Pro Bowl campaign and Foster Moreau was a quality blocker.
The Raiders don’t have a good blocking tight end right now and neither Michael Mayer nor Austin Hooper are on Waller’s level as a receiver. The running backs are basically the same and the only change on the line is Greg Van Roten over Lester Cotton, which is an upgrade.
On defense, Las Vegas definitely has more depth at edge now that Tyree Wilson is healthy and everyone else is back other than Tashawn Bower, who doesn’t move the needle in either direction since they only have four players at that spot this time around.
Defensive tackle is a mixed bag to me as I’ll take Johnathan Hankins and Andrew Billings over John Jenkins, but would rather have Adam Butler instead of Kendal Vickers and Matthew Butler. Call that one a wash.
Linebacker is a downgrade since Robert Spillane is a step down from Denzel Perryman and Amari Burney is the only other new face, while Jayon Brown at least had a good résumé coming into the year. Safety though is an upgrade by swapping out Johnathan Abram for Marcus Epps.
Cornerback is another tough spot to make a call on because while Marcus Peters is better than Rock Ya-Sin, we still don’t really know what Jakorian Bennett can do in the NFL since he’s a rookie. Bennett has potential but it’s too early for me to put him over someone like Anthony Averett, who was solid in Baltimore before battling injuries last season in Las Vegas. However, I do like the depth better this year so I guess I’ll give the slight edge to 2023.
That’s six improved position groups, so I’ll say this year’s roster is better than last year’s.
A: Yeah, I think you kind of answered your own question there. That’s kind of what you expect from cornerbacks who are toward the bottom of the depth chart. They’re going to get beat but, hopefully, make a big play or two to make up for it. Amik Robertson’s game against the Broncos last year (the first one) is a perfect example. Jerry Jeudy beats him and calls him short, then Robertson turns around and has a 68-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Also, I think Robertson’s ability to play as a nickel and out wide helped his cause, and I’d argue that he might be a little better than you’re giving him credit for as I thought he was solid when called upon last year. Not good, but solid.
That being said, I was also surprised to see him make the squad and left him off my 53-man projection, so I do see where you’re coming from.
A: The protected practice squad players can change week-to-week and the Raiders haven’t made it public knowledge who is and isn’t protected yet. Also, I don’t believe they’re required to, they just have to let the other teams in the league know.
A: I’ll go with Jakorian Bennett. As a fourth-round pick, he’d already be exceeding expectations if he ends up being a Week 1 starter like he’s projected to be. I was a big fan of Bennett’s film with his ball skills and feistiness, and he was playing pretty well in training camp before getting injured.
A: Drake Thomas was definitely better in the preseason, but he was also playing against worse competition. Luke Masterson would play in the first half against a mix of first- and second-stringers, and Thomas would take the second half against other bubble players. Also, I thought Masterson played well in the first two games and just struggled in the last one.
Masterson is also a couple of inches taller and about 10 pounds heavier than Thomas while also being a better athlete, giving him a higher ceiling in coverage especially since he’s a converted safety.
All of that being said, I was disappointed to see Thomas get cut and not clear waivers. I just thought he was competing with Amari Burney, who also just has a higher ceiling with more physical gifts.
Q: Who gets cut or IR-ed when the Raiders have to cut down to 53 after the exemption for Josh Jacobs expires in early September?
A: Per Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Raiders aren’t expected to put anyone on IR. I had thought they might put Brandon Faycson on IR to get down to 53 as he missed nearly all of training camp with an injury, but it doesn’t sound like that will happen.
I think the last cut could still come from the cornerback room since they have six guys there, putting Faycson, Long Jr. and Robertson on the chopping block. I could also see Adam Butler getting cut and then signing on the practice squad as there are six defensive tackles currently on the roster. The wild card could be letting Brian Hoyer go, and then bringing him back on PS, since he wouldn’t be subject to waivers and could still be around to help mentor Aidan O’Connell and serve as the third-string quarterback.
Q: Will the Raiders add a veteran linebacker like my guy Nicholas Morrow?
A: In regards to the active roster, I’d be surprised if they did. I think they like what Curtis Bolton brings on special teams and the potential Masterson and Burney have. Adding someone like Morrow to the practice squad would make sense to me, though. They have Kana’i Mauga and Isaac Darkangelo on there now, and both guys didn’t play much in the preseason so it’s not like they’ve shown a whole lot to be irreplaceable.