There have been a lot of talks lately about where the Las Vegas Raiders’ roster ranks in the NFL. You have Pro Football Focus ranking it 21st in the league. Then, you have CBS Sports, which goes and puts it at 12. The chatter about this team is all over the place. Depending on whom you ask, the Raiders will either be a playoff team this year or finish last in the AFC West.
Today, let’s take a real hard look at this roster and have an honest conversation about where they stand. We aren’t going to look at it through Silver and Black colored glasses, and we aren’t going to write these guys off just because they are Raiders. If you cannot handle objectivity, this is your last warning.
The top of this Raiders Roster is impressive
I cannot remember the last time a Raiders team had this many position groups that were in the top 10 in the league. Derek Carr, regardless of how you feel about him, is among the top (maybe not elite) quarterbacks in the league. The trio of Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, and Zamir White make for one of the best running back rooms out there. At wide receiver, the Raiders have a top-five duo in Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow. The same goes for tight ends with Darren Waller and Foster Moreau. On the defensive side of the ball, they have an elite edge duo in Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. Even on special teams, the Raiders boast arguably the best punter/kicker combo in the league with AJ Cole and Daniel Carlson.
Without a doubt, when the Raiders are good, they are very good. The group mentioned above earned two first-team All-Pro nods, two second-teamers, and five Pro Bowl selections in 2021 alone (Carlson was second-team All-Pro but not a Pro Bowler because of Justin Tucker). Here’s the rub: these position groups that are areas of strength make up only about half the team.
There is a steep drop-off in talent
Looking at the rest of the roster, the bright spots are few and far between. At offensive tackle, the Raiders have a stout left tackle in Kolton Miller and a big gaping hole on the opposite side. Brandon Parker is not a starting caliber tackle in this league, but he was better than Alex Leatherwood last year. This year, it appears that the plan is to send Leatherwood back out there. On the interior of the line, things don’t get any better. Leatherwood at tackle means the Raiders need Denzelle Good to get back to his old self quickly, as he at least is serviceable. Otherwise, the Raiders will start penalty machine John Simpson and rookie Dylan Parham at guard.
At the center spot, things are solid at least, with Andre James seeming to have found his footing at the end of last season. Overall, the Raiders’ offensive line consists of a borderline top five left tackle, a quality starting center, and then arguably nobody else that would start on two thirds of NFL teams.
Things get somewhat worse on the defensive end. Up front, the team’s premier edge rushers won’t get much help from the interior. A group headlined by Johnathan Hankins, Bilal Nichols, and a group of rookies does not inspire much confidence. At linebacker, Denzel Perryman is coming off a career year in which he was a tackling machine… but still a liability in coverage. The coverage aspect should be helped by the acquisition of Jayon Brown.
We should also expect to see a lot of second-year linebacker Divine Deablo and veteran signee Kyler Fackrell. The linebackers figure to be average this year and are by far the second-best position group on the defense after the edge defenders. At corner, the Raiders have four solid players in Trayvon Mullen, Anthony Averett, Nate Hobbs, and Rock Ya-Sin. However, none of these guys are true “number one” corners, so you would feel comfortable going toe to toe with the league’s top receivers. At safety, Trevon Moehrig had a strong rookie campaign and could be poised for a breakout season. Unfortunately, it will be easy for opposing offenses to avoid him if he is in two-deep sets opposite Johnathan Abram.
Overall, the secondary has quality pieces but lacks top-end talent. That could be dangerous in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Justin Herbert.
The Raiders roster is a House of Cards
Here is the scary thing about this roster: It has the elite-level talent to carry this team quite far, but the rest of the roster is so shaky that it needs to be carried. This team could be a contender if the stars are all at the top of their game and a few others step up. Nevertheless, if one or more of those stars gets seriously hurt or fails to live up to expectations, the Raiders might not have the pieces to keep the team from crumbling. We almost saw this last season.
The Raiders almost missed the playoffs last year because the offense sputtered after losing two guys. This year’s Raiders figure to have even more star power, but perhaps even less depth.
At the end of the day, ranking rosters on paper before training camps even start is pretty pointless. That being said, we can still take a hard look at this one in particular. Right now, I see a team with a very high ceiling. However, they are climbing on a precarious set of building blocks. According to Spotrac, the Raiders are estimated to have just over $20 million in cap space. If they used some of that to add a more proven right tackle and a couple more pieces on the defense, it would be a lot easier to feel good about this roster.
*Top Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images