Top-heavy. Uninspiring. Baffling. Those are a few of the labels fans have placed on the Raiders’ eclectic roster as training camp approaches. Even with stars leading the way at wide receiver, running back, and pass rusher, Vegas still falls short in several areas across the depth chart.
Raiders Still Finding Their Way After Rocky Offseason
Chief among them: The quarterback position. Jimmy Garoppolo is a serviceable starter in the NFL when healthy — with a heavy emphasis on the “when healthy” part. Behind the man made of glass is a journeyman signal-caller named Brian Hoyer. Needless to say, neither quarterback moves the needle much behind center.
To further exacerbate the issue, one of the team’s star players, Josh Jacobs, is currently holding out in hopes for a new contract. The Raiders slapped him with a franchise tag, but he is rightfully hesitant to take the field without any future job security.
The question marks bleed over to the wide receiver room, as Hunter Renfrow has been the source of constant trade rumors since the season ended. Renfrow caught 103 passes in 2021 but missed nearly half of the 2022 season due to injury. Ideally, the Clemson alum will return to bolster the pass-catching department.
One player that won’t be helping the Raiders out in 2023 is tight end Darren Waller. After seemingly never seeing eye-to-eye with head coach Josh McDaniels, the 2020 Pro Bowler was sent packing to New York this offseason, leaving a hole atop the depth chart that Austin Hooper, O.J. Howard, and Michael Mayer are tasked with filling.
The offensive line is considered a strong part of the unit, with Kolton Miller and Jermaine Eluemunor bookending the group. The interior is less stable, but we will dive more into that later.
There are multiple starting spots up for grabs on the defense. Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones are entrenched in the lineup, but thanks to some savvy free agent signings and underrated draft picks, the competition is ramping up behind the star pass rushers.
Trevon Moehrig, Divine Deablo, and Nate Hobbs are front runners to start at their respective positions but don’t rule out a rookie forcing the coaching staff into more playing time. No one is safe.
3 Raiders In Danger Of Losing Their Starting Job At Training Camp
So, with a better understanding of the current roster, which players are in jeopardy of losing their starting roles at training camp? To qualify for this list, a player must sit atop the depth chart at OurLads.com.
The Offensive Line Can Improve By Benching…
No. 1: Alex Bars (RG)
Dylan Parham, Andre James, and Alex Bars form one of the most abysmal interior lines in the NFL. In a perfect world, none of these players are starters on Sundays. However, the Raiders are not living in a perfect world. Far from it, in fact.
Parham, the most promising of the bunch, allowed 55 quarterback pressures as a rookie. His five sacks allowed and five penalties highlight how shaky the first-year player performed in pass protection. As a run blocker, Parham flashes above-average potential. But he is a long way from realizing that potential.
James started at center for the Raiders in 2021 and 2022, only allowing four sacks in 785 pass-blocking snaps in that span. While the UCLA alum is an iron man and has developed into a leader in the trenches, he still lacks the anchor and lower-body drive to be more than average at center.
Bars, the expected starter at right guard, is far and away the worst of the bunch — which is saying a lot. The former undrafted free agent earned a sub-40 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, ranking among the worst in the league. He allowed five sacks and 38 pressures, further solidifying the case against Bars being a starter in the NFL.
If Vegas had enough bodies behind these three, all of them would be in jeopardy of losing snaps in 2023. Alas, depth is not a strong suit for the Raiders’ offensive line. Parham and James have shown enough to keep their spots; Bars better keep an eye out.
Raiders Will Find Room For Jakorian Bennett — One Way Or Another
No. 2: Nate Hobbs (SLCB)
This name comes with a caveat, as Nate Hobbs will surely see the field often in 2023. However, the former Illini standout may be forced back to the boundary depending on how Jakorian Bennett adapts to playing outside against NFL talent.
Hobbs logged 702 snaps in the slot as a rookie, fetching a strong 76.7 coverage grade from PFF. In 2022, he moved outside and saw his coverage grade drop to 57.1 in 500 snaps. Because of this, Patrick Graham is hoping to see Hobbs seize the nickelback role.
But if the Raiders truly want to field the best five players in the secondary — the 24-year-old defender may have to slide outside. Unlike other entries on this list, Hobbs could lose his starting gig through no fault of his own.
Bennett spent most of his collegiate career playing on the boundary, but his traits hold up better inside according to my pre-draft evaluation. I am not ruling out the Maryland Terrapin sticking outside long-term. If he stumbles, though, expect to see Bennett and Hobbs flip-flop at some point in 2023.
Michael Mayer Will Prove He Is Ready For Starter Reps At Training Camp
No. 3: Austin Hooper (TE)
As the Raiders head to training camp, veteran Austin Hooper sits atop the depth chart at tight end. The former third-rounder has at least 41 receptions and 435 yards in five of his seven seasons in the NFL. These numbers look pedestrian but show Hooper’s steady presence as a pass catcher. Furthermore, Hooper is a willing and committed blocker, even if the 2022 season saw him land career-low grades from PFF.
On top of his regression as a blocker, the 28-year-old tight end has missed action every year aside from 2021. From a lack of a top-end ceiling to the uncertainty around Hooper’s durability, rookie Michael Mayer is in line to take the starting role by force. The Notre Dame product was the best at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft, providing the Raiders with one of the best values at the event.
Mayer boasts reliable hands, refined route running, and deceptive ability after the catch. He has alignment versatility and is a bully in the running game. The second-round pick has a realistic path to the most targets behind Davante Adams. It is rare when a tight end bursts onto the scene as a rookie, but it would be shocking if Mayer isn’t the Week 1 starter in Vegas.
*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images