The final tuneup for the Raiders won’t see many starters in action against the Seahawks, but plenty of players have a last chance to make the roster.
For a majority of the current Raiders, tomorrow will be the last chance they have to show what they can do in an attempt to make the 53-player roster.
Not only will they get one final attempt to impress the coaches and front office, they will get additional snaps on film for the other 31 NFL teams to evaluate. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the competition head coach Jon Gruden has created has meant there are roster spots still to be determined. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three things you should watch for on Thursday night:
For years, the Raiders have struggled to stop the run and have been beyond lackluster at generating a pass rush. Yet, so far this preseason, what has arguably been the Raiders’ biggest weakness, has become their biggest strength. The Raiders have had very good play from the starters and reserves on their defensive line. As a result, there appears to be a logjam in which there are more roster-caliber D-Line players than spots available.
Front and center in the battle are defensive ends Fadol Brown and Shilique Calhoun. Both players have been pleasant surprises, and it’s hard to imagine either clearing waivers in the event general manager Reggie McKenzie cuts them.
Brown has reminded me a lot of Denico Autry, but with a bit more tenacity to turn his explosive first step into power. Calhoun has been a bust since he was drafted by Oakland in 2016 as a third-round pick, but he has been nothing short of outstanding this preseason, making plays all over the field. In Any Given Monday this week, I predicted Calhoun would get the nod over Brown, but it’s a coin flip at this point. I would love to keep both, but that’s the nature of the NFL. Then again, if Khalil Mack holds out into the regular season, there might just be room enough for both — not that Raider Nation would be happy with such a scenario.
Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin and Jalen Richard are locks to get significant game time this season. The Raiders are committed to the run game, and will likely keep a fourth running back in a developmental role. This role may be an audition for increased snaps next season, depending on how Lynch and Martin fare.
The two backs originally fighting for the last spot were DeAndre Washington and Chris Warren III, though Washington recently had knee surgery, and is an ideal candidate for injured reserve. Given Warren should have his name penciled in at the very least on the 53-man roster, how many snaps should people expect to see him on the field Thursday night? Very little, if any. James Butler hasn’t been a name Raider Nation has heard much about this offseason, but they should expect to see a lot of him against the Seahawks.
In a surprise move, Ryan Switzer was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, securing Dwayne Harris’ roster spot as the kick returner. Griff Whalen also went down with a toe injury and was subsequently released with an injury settlement. Assuming the Raiders keep six receivers, the battle for the final two spots is between rookie Marcell Ateman, speedster Johnny Holton and the ever-inconsistent Seth Roberts.
Ateman has statistically been the Raiders top wide receiver this preseason, so it’s unlikely they can get him through waivers to the practice squad. Gruden has shopped Roberts to prospective trade partners all offseason without success, and accumulate a hefty $4.25 million in dead money, per Over The Cap. Roberts, however, is one of the league’s best run-blockers, and I see potential in him on special teams, particularly as a gunner and lead blocker.
Holton is an OK gunner, but as a receiver, he is a purely a speed threat, and the Raiders already have Martavis Bryant taking the top off the defense. Hence, I would select Roberts over Holton, but anything could happen. If these guys are getting significant time in the fourth quarter, chances are they won’t be in silver and black by the weekend’s conclusion.