In anticipation of the draft, which is now only 3 weeks away, we are going to look at the Raiders current team roster and see what areas they most need to address in the draft, with undrafted free agents or current NFL free agents and which position groups are strong enough that the team will likely go with what they have.
Defensive Tackle: The biggest need, by far, on the team is at defensive tackle where the team has only a few options and very little depth. Currently the depth chart will likely be Pat Sims as the team’s starting nose tackle, Antonio Smith as the team’s starting under tackle, and a healthy rotation of Stacy McGee.
After those three players, none of which are super stars, the team has almost no depth. The roster includes third-year tackle Ricky Lumpkin, who has played in two NFL games in his career, fifth-year player Torell Troup, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2011, and fourth-year tackle David Carter, who has a total of 4 starts in his 3 years.
There is also former Packer C.J. Wilson, who is listed as an end but has the size to slide inside and play some defensive tackle, too, as needed.
While it’s always possible that one of those players is a diamond in the rough, it’s foolish for the team to count on the current defensive tackle group. A key injury could put this unit from below average into terrible, quickly.
The Raiders must address this position in the draft or in free agency before the start of the season. It’s likely the Raiders will bring in at least a couple of new bodies at defensive tackle to help with depth and see if they can find a force at this important position.
It seems likely this is a position to be addressed in the draft but it should, at least, be addressed by bringing some undrafted free agents into camp to see if they can find talent they can develop, here.
Cornerback: Like defensive tackle, this group has players that are likely starters at the top three positions. Going into training camp, the outside cornerbacks will be last year’s first round pick, DJ Hayden, and new-comer Tarell Brown. The slot cornerback going into camp will be Carlos Rogers.
After those three, there isn’t much experience in the cornerback corps. The team has Chance Casey, Johnny Adams, Neiko Thorpe, Chimdi Chekwa and Tony Dye on the roster. They also have special teams stand-out Taiwan Jones listed as a cornerback but he has yet to play much at that position after being drafted as a running back out of Eastern Washington University.
The team has been looking at draft-eligible defensive backs left and right in their draft preparation and I will be shocked if they don’t add at least one cornerback in the 2014 draft next month.
Defensive End: Like defensive tackle, this position almost completely lacks depth. The team lost one of last year’s starters, Lamarr Houston, to the Bears in free agency. The other, Jason Hunter, remains unsigned but shouldn’t be more than a backup at this point.
The Raiders signed two productive players in free agency, bringing in two former Super Bowl winners Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to play defensive end for them, in free agency. These two are penciled in as the starters.
Behind Tuck and Woodley are Jack Crawford, who has played in 18 games over the last two years but has never once started, and newcomer CJ Wilson who was a backup defensive end at Green Bay. Wilson is able to play both end and tackle but because he’s listed as an end on the Raiders roster, currently, he falls in this section.
Those four make up almost the entire defensive end squad, currently. The only other player on the roster is second year player Ryan Robinson, who is more of a defensive end/linebacker hybrid.
Could use help:
Wide Receiver: The Raiders have a receiver group that has a number of second tier receivers but lacks a clear-cut number one receiver, something the Raiders have not had in over a decade.
Newly-signed former Packer James Jones is the closest thing the team has to a number one receiver, but he has never been “the guy” before, coming from Green Bay’s explosive offense that had good depth for a number of years. Jones is coming off a 59 catch, 817 yard season, which is a career high in yards and the second highest number of receptions in his career.
Behind Jones, the Raiders have a number of guys who have flashed potential but have not yet shown they can be a consistent force. Rod Streater is the most likely to line up across from Jones, at this point. Andre Holmes had a decent season after a suspension in 2013.
There is also inconsistently talented Denarius Moore, who has taken over a few games and been most invisible in others. Color me a believer in using him sparingly, only, unless he proves he can focus for the entire game.
There is some further depth on the team with Brice Butler, Andre Holmes and Juron Criner all possibilities to make the team and contribute, but the team still lacks a top-flight wide receiver. It seems entirely possible that the team will get a receiver in this draft that can either step in right away or become “that guy” in the next couple of years as this draft is deep at the receiver position.
Tight End: The Raiders currently have four tight ends on their roster but none of them have much experience. Mychal Rivera was a standout receiving tight end last year but isn’t a great blocker. Nick Kasa has elite size and could develop into something special but at this point is still a work in progress, especially after missing most of training camp last year.
David Ausberry was in line to be the starting tight end last year, before an injury sidelined his season before it really even began. Brian Leonhardt rounds out the roster at tight end. He was a camp body that earned a practice squad spot last year.
This position really lacks a do-everything player at the tight end position and tight end is a position that Raiders QB Matt Schaub really likes to use – think Owen Daniels in Houston. While the team is okay going into the season with who they have, an upgrade at this position would be preferable.
Groups that can be set, if needed:
Safety: The Raiders will likely roll with Charles Woodson as their starting free safety next to Tyvon Branch this year. Woodson is declining but can still play at a reasonable level.Behind Woodson, Usama Young re-signed with the Raiders again this year and he can step up and start or be backup, which the team likes.
Behind Branch, Brandian Ross will be back on a one year restricted free agent tender. I personally would like the Raiders to upgrade over Ross but he has starting experience from last season, when he started a number of games with Branch becoming injured.
Quarterback: Schaub should be a big upgrade over Pryor and McGloin. If the Raiders don’t have a QB they like fall to them, they don’t have to draft one. Rolling with Schaub, McGloin and Pryor isn’t terrible as all three have starting experience and upside.
The Raiders are looking to trade Pryor, however, and that indicates to me that they would like to get another spot and then draft a developmental quarterback to serve as the #3 option. I expect this to happen unless the draft falls wrong and they don’t have a value they like at QB.
Offensive line: The point of major upgrade over free agency, the offensive line looks likely to have different starters at every position except center. I think this area is mostly set but it’s possible that the team will draft another OT so that they can develop that guy to compete for either right or left tackle in the future.
This season, Donald Penn is slated to be the team’s left tackle and Menelik Watson projects as the team’s right tackle. However, Penn isn’t likely to be a long term solution and Watson has, thus far in his career, been an injury risk. The team may, then, look to get another talented guy onto the team to throw into the mix at OT or, at least, develop.
Positions that are mostly set:
Fullback: The team has Marcel Reece, a Pro Bowler, as their starter. Behind him, they like Jamize Olawale as a backup. Fullback isn’t a position that gest drafted much, anyway, so this position looks to be set.
Running Back: I won’t be shocked if the team selects another running back but I will be surprised. Right now, I see Maurice Jones-Drew winning the start. Behind him will be some combination of Latavius Murray, Darren McFadden, Kory Sheets and Jeremy Stewart. They won’t take more than 4 running backs, so at least one of those guys will be out after training camp. I don’t see this as being a need position, so the only way I see the Raiders taking a RB is if a guy they like falls and it’s too good a value to pass up.
Linebacker: The linebacker corps is perhaps the deepest position group on the team. The team returned their three starters from last year in Sio Moore, Nick Roach, and Kevin Burnett. They also have Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris healthy to contribute.
It’s possible that the Raiders will add to the linebacker corps if they have a guy they like – say, for example, if they really like Khalil Mack in the draft. However, this position grouping is likely mostly set to start training camp.
Special Teams: The team is very likely to go into the season with kicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Marquette King and long snapper Jon Condo.
This team is still very much a work in progress. They have enough players to pencil in starters at most positions but very little depth. Still, the team is aligned with Reggie McKenzie’s philosophy of building through the draft. None of the players signed this offseason will be with the team long-term except, perhaps, OT/OG Austin Howard.
The Raiders will look to get impact players in the draft to develop behind their new free agent additions so that as those contracts expire, the coaching staff will be able to move young, drafted players into the starting spots.