Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and the new regime have proved that they will build the roster their own way. They’re showing no favoritism to starters from the Jon Gruden era. With this being the case, some familiar names may be fighting for their starting jobs with the Raiders’ training camp a few days away.
On a re-tooled Raiders defense, the camp battles are looming. Here are three surprise starters who could usurp the throne by Week 1.
Which defensive players will surprise folks during Raiders training camp?
CB, Anthony Averett
Undoubtedly, the Raiders’ cornerback situation is one to watch. With new additions like Rock Ya-Sin, Anthony Averett, and Darius Phillips, there is a brewing competition for crucial depth pieces as well as starters. Trayvon Mullen has shown signs that he could be a good CB1, but injuries have limited his time on the field.
Personally speaking, I also believe that Ziegler and Co. didn’t trade star pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to Indianapolis for Ya-Sin to ride the bench. Early on, Anthony Averett was largely swallowed up by a Ravens secondary containing Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. In 2021, however, Averett got his shot. In a depleted Baltimore defense, he totaled 54 combined tackles and three interceptions. Averett could quickly become a key piece of what the Raiders are building.
DT, Matthew Butler
On paper, the Raiders’ interior defensive line unit sticks out like a sore thumb. Re-signing Johnathan Hankins and reuniting him with Patrick Graham was the most significant attempt made to bolster the defensive tackles. The Raiders did, however, address the need in the draft. They selected LSU’s Neil Farrell Jr. with pick number 126 and Tennessee’s Matthew Butler with pick number 175.
The two youngsters will have immediate opportunities to compete for snaps. Farrell could have a chance to start once Hankins finishes his deal, considering the fit and play style. Butler, however, will compete to start immediately as someone who is versatile across the entire IDL. In the worst-case scenario, Butler should rotate around early.
DB, Duron Harmon
Unsurprisingly, the Raiders declined the fifth-year option of strong safety Johnathan Abram back in April. The new regime also brought in 31-year-old Duron Harmon, a familiar face, to compete as well. Between Abram, Harmon, and second-year safety Tyree Gillespie, there are a lot of snaps up for grabs. Ziegler and McDaniels are almost certainly going to be in the market for a long-term strong safety in 2023. For now, the regime may opt for the more comfortable veteran option of Harmon. While Abram has shown flashes, his inconsistent play may lead him to a spottier box role, where his impact will dwindle. The Raiders will certainly have to do some re-tooling to get the Nation excited about the safety situation.
*Top Photo: Michael Clemens/Las Vegas Raiders