The Las Vegas Raiders training camp rolls on and each day we’re gathering information on who’s hot and who’s not. Our first Raiders 53-man roster projection takes a look at what we might see come opening kickoff next month in Carolina.
It seemed like an eternity to get here but this week teams across the NFL finally put on the pads and began practicing football for real. For the Las Vegas Raiders training camp, a new setting and many new and impactful faces abound. The battle to make the Raiders 53 man roster is underway.
After weeks of slowly acclimating players back into football shape, Jon Gruden and his staff watched their roster of 80 players hit the practice field looking to make a case to be a member of the 2020 Las Vegas Raiders.
Making an NFL roster in 2020 won’t be easy. The lack of OTA’s and minicamps during the offseason, combined with the elimination of the preseason schedule, makes it very difficult to make an impression on coaches. For some, Raiders training camp is a steep uphill climb without a great chance of success.
For 2020, there are not many questions regarding the roster, although there are a handful of battles to monitor as Raiders training camp winds down in the coming weeks.
In particular, how many wide receivers will the Raiders carry and will it be Zay Jones, Keelan Doss, Marcel Ateman, or Rico Gafford who finds their way on to the 53.
And at cornerback the competition should heat up under the Las Vegas sun between Keisean Nixon, Nevin Lawson, and Isaiah Johnson for the final spots.
One thing is for certain, it will not be an easy decision for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. The current 80 man roster is much deeper and more talented than it has been in a long time.
Let’s take a look at my early Raiders 53-man roster projection:
Quarterback (2): Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
Not a lot of controversy at the quarterback position. Derek Carr is the clear starting quarterback for this team. Jon Gruden had good things to say about his performance thus far in camp on Monday when he met with the media.
“I’m really impressed with Carr,” said Gruden of his starting quarterback. “He’s throwing the ball great, he has great command.”
The early reports on Marcus Mariota are what you would expect from a player who was signed in free agency and missed an entire offseason of prep due to the COVID pandemic.
Mariota is behind the eight ball in learning Gruden’s sophisticated system but has shown some flashes that has caught the attention of his head coach.
“He’s interesting,” said Gruden of Mariota. “He took off a couple of times today it really fired me up. He’s been hurt, looks like the ankle has really turned the corner. He’s a dazzling playmaker with his feet and that is the key to his game. He started off slow in seven on seven but picked it up and had a nice day.”
The odd man out here is Nathan Peterman. Gruden has been a big supporter of Peterman since joining the Raiders and played well enough to win a roster spot last preseason had it not been for an injury.
The combination of no preseason games and a deeper roster of talent will ultimately be what costs Peterman a chance of making the team. Expect him to hang around as a member of the practice squad, if he does not sign elsewhere. This is one “battle” for the Raiders 53-man roster that isn’t really one at all.
Running Back (5): Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Lynn Bowden Jr, Devontae Booker, Alec Ingold
The top three runners on this list are set in stone, along with fullback Alec Ingold.
The real debate at running back for the Raiders 53-man roster begins with how many will Gruden and Mayock opt to keep and who will it be?
As of now it looks like it is a competition between Rod Smith, Devontae Booker, and William Stanbeck for one spot.
Smith who has spent five seasons in the league signed with the Raiders late last year but was active in only three games. He missed time early in camp when placed on the COVID-IR list, he returned to practice this week.
William Stanbeck, the former CFL standout was cut and the team added Theo Riddick as a free agent. Might Riddick challenge for a Raiders 53 man roster position? If he did, it might mean the end of Jalen Richard as a Raider. That’s a tough call but we shall see.
In 14 games with the Montreal Alouettes, Stanbeck rushed for 1,093 yards on 170 carries and 329 yards receiving on 33 receptions. The issue for Stanbeck is, will he have enough opportunities to showcase his his worth in practice without the benefit of preseason games.
At the end of the day, due to his experience and resume in the league Devontae Booker will make the team. You might be saying to yourself, his biggest asset is in the passing game and with Jalen Richard and Lynn Bowden Jr already on the roster it seems like overkill.
This is true, but reports from camp are that Lynn Bowden still has a long ways to go as a pass protector. Booker will give Las Vegas an insurance policy should Bowden need a little extra time to develop that part of his game.
Wide Receiver (6): Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Nelson Agholor, Zay Jones
The wide receiver room got a complete make over in 2020. At seasons end last year, wideout was arguably the weakest position group on the roster, that is no longer the case.
Rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards have been all the rage early in camp impressing coaches and teammates with their work ethic, football IQ, and freakish abilities on the field.
“It’s been so impressive to watch them play,” said Hunter Renfrow speaking of rookies Ruggs and Edwards. “Honestly, I feel like last year I was messing up a route or just a concept every other play and you barely have any with them. Just the intelligence that they are bringing, it really has been impressive.”
Nelson Agholor, the former first round pick of the Eagles was brought in through free agency and continues to have a strong camp and is rumored to be pushing Renforw for snaps in the slot.
Tyrell Williams is back for his second year and appears to be fully recovered from the nagging plantar fasciitis injury that plagued him a year ago.
The final spot in my roster projection comes down to Zay Jones, Rico Gafford, Keelan Doss, and Marcel Ateman.
There is a case to be made for Gafford because of his game breaking speed. Gruden has made it known that he wants to be faster and more dynamic on offense, that could be enough for Gafford to steal a spot.
Keelan Doss and Marcel Ateman both were giving an opportunity last year and both were less than impressive. In a combined 19 games, Ateman and Doss caught 16 receptions for 249 yards. They would be ideal fits on the practice squad
For me Zay Jones is the pick. Jones was brought in via a trade with the Buffalo Bills and Gruden is not willing to give up on him so soon.
Jones put in a ton of work with Derek Carr during the offseason and because of that it solidifies his spot on the 53.
Tight End (4): Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Jason Witten, Derek Carrier
Everyone knows Jon Gruden loves himself a good tight end and lucky for the Raiders they have room full of good ones.
Darren Waller had a breakout season in 2019 leading the team in receptions (90) and yards (1,145). Waller has established himself as a top five tight end in the league.
Foster Moreau was a pleasant surprise for Las Vegas during his rookie year that came to a premature end in week 13 when he suffered a knee injury. Moreau proved he can be a threat in the red zone, an area where the offense will need to show vast improvements in the upcoming season.
Hall of Famer, Jason Witten was signed to a one-year $4.75 million dollar contract in March to add another weapon to an already talented group of tight ends.
Gruden called the signing a “no-brainer” and believes Witten still has something left in the tank. The 17 year vet brings a strong work ethic and leadership to a young tight end room.
Offensive Line (9): Kolton Miller, Trent Brown, Gabe Jackson, Ritchie Incognito, Rodney Hudson, Andre James, John Simpson, Sam Young, Denzelle Good
The offensive line returns all five starters from a year ago and if they can stay healthy will be one of the most dominant units in football.
Trent Brown has missed the last several days of practice, although Jon Gruden insists it’s nothing serious and Brown will be on the field soon.
In his stead it has been veteran Sam Young, who is in his first year with the team and not David Sharpe who has been getting the snaps at right tackle.
It sounds like Young is making the most of his opportunity. “Sam is a salty veteran,” said Gruden of Young. “He’s an experienced swing tackle. He’s played tight end at times. He’s a pro football player. And he’s going to compete for the third tackle job and right now he’s making a good impression.”
Sharp played decent in spot starts last season but it appears his luck as the lone survivor of the 2017 draft class could be coming to an end.
John Simpson, Denzelle Good, and Andre James round out the remaining offensive lineman to make the team out of training camp.
Good and James find their way to the roster due to their versatility. Good played well in five starts at Guard in 2019 and has NFL experience at tackle as well.
James who was an undrafted free agent out of UCLA last year, is a converted tackle who is now learning the Center position.
Defensive Line (8): Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Arden Key, Carl Nassib, Maurice Hurst, Maliek Collins, Johnathan Hankins, Daniel Ross
Not many surprises here. The defensive line has depth and talent up an down unlike in recent years.
Jacksonville Jaguars star pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue is rumored to be on the move in the next day or two and the Raiders are said to be one of two teams in the running for his services.
The release of PJ Hall opens the door for Daniel Ross to make the team. Ross joins former Dallas Cowboy teammates, Maliek Collins and coach Rod Marinelli in Vegas for his first season.
Ross has spent two years playing for Marinelli which bodes well for his chances of making the team.
Maurice Hurst enters his third year and according to our Senior columnist, Moe Moton, he believes Hurst may finally reach his great potential under the tutelage of Marinelli.
The defensive end position is set, the only question that remains is will Carl Nassib indeed leapfrog Arden Key as the third-down rusher. Nassib’s three-year, $25 million dollar contract ($17 million guaranteed) tells me that he will get the first crack at it. Could Key miss the final Raiders 53-man roster?
Linebacker (5): Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nicholas Morrow, Raekwon McMillan, Tanner Muse
Mike Mayock made it his number one objective in free agency to add much needed talent to the linebacker position.
He did that by adding not one but two linebackers in coverage specialist Cory Littleton and a guy who can do a little bit of everything, Nick Kwiatkoski. Then, this weekend he added another piece swapping draft picks to acquire talented run-stopping linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot and be responsible for making all the calls in Paul Guenther’s defense. Cory Littleton will be tasked to fix a problem that has hampered Raiders defenses for years by shutting down opposing tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Nicholas Morrow was the leader in the clubhouse to start along side Littleton and Kwiatkoski. With McMillan in fold, snaps for Morrow should go down but he’ll still make the team. Morrow played a much larger role than anticipated last season (70 percent of defensive snaps) and gained valuable experience with the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and injury to Marquel Lee.
Speaking of Marquel Lee, he was recently let go by the team giving undrafted free agent, Javin White a golden opportunity to make the team.
White is a product of nearby UNLV and a fan favorite to crack the 53 man roster, but recently it looks more and more the talented undrafted rookie will be headed to the practice squad. His play in training camp has not gone unnoticed by his defensive coordinator. Due to the pandemic, many thought the UDFA’s chances to make the Raiders 53 man roster were slim but he’s been impressive making it a tough call.
“White has been a pleasant surprise,” said Guenther of the undrafted free agent Javin White. “You know we made a living in Cincinnati getting undrafted linebackers to come in and be a big part of what we do. With Dan Skuta, Vinny Rey, Vontaze Burfict, the list goes on. And this guy to me is as good as a prospect from a college free agent that I have seen in a long time. He communicates, he can run, and he’s really understanding the defense.”
Secondary (11): Trayvon Mullen, Prince Amukamara, Damon Arnette, Isaiah Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, Amik Robertson, Keisean Nixon, Damarious Randall, Johnathan Abram, Erik Harris, Jeff Heath
There may not be a position group on the roster that has as much upside as the secondary.
First round pick, Damon Arnette is not making it easy on Prince Amukamara as they battle it out for the starting cornerback spot opposite of the currently injured Trayvon Mullen.
Analytics show that Prince Amukamara is one of the best press corners in the game, which just so happens to be the style of play Guenther likes in his corners.
Isaiah Johnson is an intriguing guy, as a converted wide receiver, Johnson has great size and length. Johnson was off to a great start in last years training camp before suffering a concussion and facial fracture in week one of the preseason.
The injury landed Johnson on the IR which derailed any moment he had built for himself. It’s too early to give up on a talent like Johnson in his second year.
The key battle to make the Raiders 53 man roster throughout Raiders training camp is between Keisean Nixon and Nevin Lawson – for what I believe is the final corner spot. Should Lawson make the squad he will serve a one-game suspension in week one.
Nixon made the team last year as an undrafted free agent and made his bones on special teams. Nixon offers slightly more upside and is six years younger than Lawson.
At 5 foot 9, Lawson is limited to more of a slot corner and with Joyner and Robertson ahead of him on the depth chart, he becomes expendable.
There are no question marks at safety. Johnathan Abram and Damarious Randall will start, with Jeff Heath and Erik Harris is reserve roles.
Special Teams (3): AJ Cole, Daniel Carlson, Trent Siege
Daniel Carlson was added off the scrape heap in 2018 after the Minnesota Vikings relieved him of his duties.
In his first year with the Raiders Carlson showed promise by making crucial kicks in big moments. He took a step back in 2019 seeing his field goal conversion percentage drop from 94.1 in 2018 to 73.1.
The majority of his struggles came in the 40-49 yard range missing four of 10 attempts. Despite the minor setback his job appears to be safe in 2020.
AJ Cole returns for year two after a decent rookie year averaging 46 yards per punt (ranked 14th).
The most impressive part of Cole’s game is his ability to pin the ball inside the 20-yard line. Thirty-three times Cole was able to put the ball inside the opposing teams 20-yard line which ranked him fifth in the league.
Although this training camp is very short, the work to try and make the Raiders 53-man roster is harder than ever. That’s a good sign for a team emerging from a complete rebuild in search of their second playoff berth since 2002.