With three preseason games in the books, the Oakland Raiders look to be settled at some positions on their roster and still trying to find their sea legs at others. This could of course be more perception than reality, but it is important to note that certain positions are still seeing multiple groupings or poor results.
All the research done for this piece regarding the number of players at each position was garnered through www.ourlads.com and their archives. Using historical data will help give some context as to the tendencies of the decision makers of this team.
Quarterback: Derek Carr, Connor Cook
There is a significant amount of distrust with the backup quarterback position and that is well deserved. The reality is, there are not many options for the Raiders. With Teddy Bridgewater being traded to the Saints, both he and McCown are unavailable. The only free agent of note is Colin Kaepernick and Gruden may want to avoid any potential distractions regardless of what it may be or what form it takes. Robert Griffin III would make some sense, but if Jon’s brother Jay did not like him, Jon probably will not.
Connor Cook has looked “alright” in the pocket, but for some reason he has not connected on most throws. Teams in the end are victims of their options and the options for the Raiders are not good. With that in mind, staying with the devil you know may be the best option.
Running Back: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, Chris Warren, Keith Smith
Doug Martin was a mixed bag in preseason week three and if DeAndre Washington was healthy, it would be a hard sell to put him in this group. Gruden does seem to have a fondness for Martin and he has claimed that he has worked hard this preseason. Richard will prove to be a dynamic receiving option out of the backfield and slot, while Chris Warren will be a hybrid half back/full back in the Zack Crockett role.
Gruden has historically carried five total backs with two being full backs. One of those fullbacks would almost always lean towards an offensive weapon that would be effective running and receiving in short yardage situations. Warren played full back in college and is ideally built for this role.
Wide Receiver: Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Dwayne Harris, Marcell Ateman
Generally speaking, players that make it to the NFL have very little special teams experience, because they were stars in both college and high school. Due to that, the back end of positions like cornerback and safety include young guys who are developing into special teamers. The Raiders have loaded up on older defensive backs that have not played special teams and are not in a place to start learning. This means they will be highly reliant upon the receiver position for both gunner positions and the return jobs.
Carrying seven receivers is definitely outside the norm for Gruden, but so is carrying two quarterbacks. Because of semi-questionable roster construction, it will be incumbent upon the Raiders to make their receiving room a special teams room as well. If Griff Whalen did not get hurt, he would be in this group rather than Ateman.
Tight End: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Derek Carrier
Carrier may not be that active in the preseason, but with his salary and the tendency of rookie tight ends to make it to the practice squad, it would be highly unusual if Butler or Baugh beat him.
Offensive Line: Kolton Miller, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Donald Penn, David Sharpe, Jon Feliciano, Brandon Parker
Breno Giacomini was recently cut from this roster. Hallelujah. More importantly, Gruden historically carries eight offensive lineman. That said, rather than seven wide receivers the Raiders could carry nine lineman. Due to Feliciano’s versatility inside at all three spots, it does not behoove the Raiders to carry multiple inside guys. Sharpe and Parker could learn multiple positions as well, giving Tom Cable all the flexibility he would need. While Cable was in Seattle especially later when the offensive line struggled, there would be nine or even ten lineman rostered. The difference here: the Raiders have offensive line talent.
Defensive Line: Bruce Irvin, PJ Hall, Maurice Hurst, Khalil Mack, Arden Key, Justin Ellis, Mario Edwards Jr., Tank Carradine, Fadol Brown
Historically the Bengals and by extension the Vikings, whose defense is run by Paul Guenther’s mentor, have had nine players in their defensive line groups. The traditional 43 would use five defensive tackles and four defensive ends. Assuming Mack reports week one (if he does not, Shilique Calhoun would take his place), the Raiders will probably lean towards five defensive ends in order to create as many rush combinations as possible.
Over the last few years the Bengals have mixed and matched groupings bouncing between eight lineman and nine. It has really depended upon injuries at the linebacker positions to know what the Bengals would do for both groups.
Linebacker: Tahir Whitehead, Marquel Lee, Emmanuel Lamur, Kyle Wilber, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Morrow
This is a very straight forward group and even though Cowser has shown up from time to time, he simply is not on the level of the other guys in this group.
Cornerbacks: Rashaan Melvin, Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, Leon Hall, Nick Nelson
As previously mentioned, the Raiders have painted themselves into a corner with this group. Loading up on older vets who are not experienced in special teams means all your depth is about playing defense. It places a considerable amount of pressure on the receiver group and it means the Raiders are fairly locked in on who will play in each spot.
Before the season started, Gilchrist was the primary slot defender. Due to injuries to both Gilchrist and Melifonwu, it seems that Gilchrist will not be in a position to be that primary slot defender. Although he is a competent safety, limiting the ways one deploys him is not ideal. Â
This explains why the Raiders added Rogers-Cromartie. Leon Hall will likely be the primary slot defender until Nick Nelson wins that job from him. In a pinch, we could see Rogers-Cromartie in the slot as well.
Safety: Marcus Gilchrist, Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson, Erik Harris
It seems the Raiders will have a pair of smaller safeties as their primary starters. Nelson is a veteran that knows Guenther’s system, but he simply cannot meet the athleticism of Marcus Gilchrist. The primary advantage of pairing Gilchrist and Joseph is their interchangeability. Their skill sets are extremely similar, which allows the Raiders to deploy them in exotic ways.
The downside is simple. This pair of safeties would be small and the issues with tight ends could absolutely continue. Erik Harris could become a match-up piece and Morrow may continue to be a chess piece as well. Regardless of the concerns, this duo could end up being extremely fun to watch.
Special Teams: Eddie Piniero, Johnny Townsend, Andrew Depaola
Practice Squad: Marcus Baugh, Paul Butler, Ian Silberman, Jordan Simmons, Ryan Yurachek, Jason Cabinda, Azeem Victor, Saeed Blacknall, Shalom Luani, a quarterback
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