The Las Vegas Raiders have had quite an offseason. They added some big names to the roster and ensured a few of the big names they currently have remained in Las Vegas. Looking ahead, training camp is right around the corner. So, here are three storylines that fans of the Raiders should pay close attention to.
Where will Alex Leatherwood play on the Raiders’ O-line?
When the Raiders selected Alabama right tackle Alex Leatherwood in the first round in 2021, fans were not exactly ecstatic. Raiders fans were even less ecstatic when Leatherwood committed 13 total penalties, resulting in lost yards. Leatherwood made other rookie mistakes that we commonly see in a player’s first year in the league, but as a first-round pick, you expect a right tackle that is ready to join the line immediately and contribute.
Leatherwood’s deficiencies continued, and he was eventually moved to right guard while Brandon Parker moved into the right tackle position. While that sentence is startling for many, it was obvious a change had to happen. Now fast forward to 2022, and the Raiders drafted Memphis right guard Dylan Parham, who is likely to take the starting right guard spot, kicking Leatherwood back out to right tackle.
The training camp storyline to monitor will be if Leatherwood has improved enough in the offseason to take the starting right tackle spot. It’s the general opinion that Parker isn’t exactly the solution to the Raiders’ problem at right tackle. So, if Leatherwood can live up to expectations from draft night, he’d likely get the starting nod. Leatherwood should get a fair amount of work in training camp fending off Maxx Crosby and the defensive line’s newest high-profile addition, Chandler Jones. Those videos will certainly be something to see. Iron sharpens iron.
While on the subject of the importance of the passing game, let’s look at the next big storyline to look for in training camp.
Are the Raiders phasing out Josh Jacobs this season?
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs’ biggest headline as of late is that his fifth-year option was declined. That suggests two things. He could either be fighting for an extension at the end of the season or his key card will deny him entry into the Henderson facility after the season concludes. The latter seems to be the most likely option. The Raiders did draft Georgia running back Zamir White in the fourth round, after all. White has a slightly larger frame than Jacobs. However, while Jacobs may still be the more elusive back, White is more of a power back. He draws comparisons to Leonard Fournette but is less of a threat in the passing game.
Jacobs had just under 900 rushing yards last season with nine touchdowns and came up big in several key moments when the Raiders needed him the most. Jacobs was also running behind a substandard offensive line, and it may not be much better this season. Being the veteran, he may have several advantages over White, but Jacobs not only has to worry about losing his starting spot to the rookie, but general manager Dave Ziegler also brought in ex-Patriots back Brandon Bolden and journeyman Ameer Abdullah. Second-year back Kenyan Drake is recovering from an injury but is also listed on the depth chart ahead of White.
Training camp should create the perfect scenario for a “battle of the backs.” Once there, we will see how badly Jacobs wants to stay in Vegas and keep his position.
Who is going to lead the secondary?
The Raiders’ secondary is one that should be dominating headlines based on the uncertainty of the position. After their best cornerback, Casey Hayward, left to play for the Atlanta Falcons, the Raiders signed a number of free agents.
The Raiders signed former Raven cornerback Anthony Averett, who had three interceptions and 11 pass deflections in 2021, and Darius Philips, a depth signing from the Bengals, who is recovering from an injury. The free safety position is all but won by sophomore starter Trevon Moehrig. However, strong safety Johnathan Abram also had his fifth-year option declined by the front office. Newly acquired free agent Duron Harmon played primarily in the FS role, but even with Abram excelling in run defense, if his coverage skills continue to slide, Harmon may be asked to step in. The training camp battles just for the safety position alone could be eye-opening.
What about Trayvon Mullen?
The position of cornerback is another tenuous one for the Raiders. Averett will likely receive some starting snaps if he is not declared the full-time starter. Nevertheless, Trayvon Mullen is coming off a 2021 season where he only played in five games. During those five games, Mullen did not contribute much. The exception was upsetting the Chiefs by holding a pre-game meeting with the team on their team logo. (The Raiders lost that game, 9-48).
Mullen is coming off recent surgery, so his status is up in the air. Slot cornerback Nate Hobbs had an excellent first season in 2021, but his off-field conduct made many wonder if he would still be on the team in 2022. The Raiders also secured cornerback Rock Ya-Sin from the Colts in the Yannick Ngakoue trade. Ya-Sin is a young player with significant upside and could thrive under Patrick Graham after a decent showing in Indianapolis. Ya-Sin won’t lead the team in interceptions, but he should be a contributor in the backfield.
The Raiders’ secondary is one position group to keep a close eye on during training camp. There is no clear front runner, and so many corners are a question mark to even taking the field when camp really heats up. However, this secondary needs to figure it out this camp. We may end up seeing an entirely new group of defenders taking the field in September.
*Top Photo: Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group