When the Oakland Raiders take the field in September the usual suspect will be the flag bearers. Jon Gruden, Derek Carr, and eventually Khalil Mack will get the lion’s share of credit or blame and rightfully so. However, the season will likely hinge on the performance of a few other, less heralded roster features and potential superstars.
Marcus Gilchrist has already been established as a coaching favorite due to his versatility. It’s easy to understand why as it is something he has done, by his own admission, his entire career. For the Silver and Black, he will be expected to play a few vital roles as a secondary multi-tool and cure-all. Gilchrist will be expected to play slot cornerback, defend tight ends, and play deep safety, potentially all on the same defensive possession. If he can grade out as even average at all of those spots, he will already be paying massive dividends.
The downside to his versatility is two-fold as it will take time away from younger players and potentially land him in the dreaded “tweener” zone. It is the latter that the Raiders must be honest in their self-evaluations as the season goes on because just as surely as versatility can get him on the field, lack of elite talent at one position could also get him frozen out.
When Kolton Miller was drafted in the first round, incumbent left tackle Donald Penn was livid. Even as he entered training camp injured, in his mind, Miller was a direct threat to the throne. While Penn isn’t wrong, it seems unlikely that the Raiders expect Miller to win the job. Instead, it is more probable that he ends up as the swing tackle, tackle eligible, and maybe even starting right tackle positions.
Though it is certainly not as sexy a title as “starting left tackle”, if Miller can fill even one of these roles at a league average level then he could prove to be a massive boon. While the OL is stacked with pro bowlers, the Raiders have had issues finding a RT. They are certainly looking for a swing tackle, and have recently featured many tackle-eligible plays. The latter may not be heavily featured by Jon Gruden’s offense, but both of the former are clear holes in the current OL rotation. Right tackle would certainly be a huge change for the career blind side protector but the Raiders will certainly give him a look there if they must.
Arden Key was at one point a potential first-round prospect who had a knack for making splash plays. With his off the field issues being well documented, this is Key’s best chance at a restart. Once Khalil Mack rejoins the team, Key will be relegated to a backup pass rusher who comes in on sub packages. Unlike the other players on this list, Key has a clearly defined role that, if he can be solid in, would do wonders for a team that finished near the bottom of the sack leaderboard. With an additional rusher in the fold who happens to be showing some things in the running game, the Raiders defense has a chance to elevate itself from the previous doldrums.