With the young roster that GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have to work with, the Oakland Raiders will have plenty of positional competition throughout offseason programs and training camp.
As with any team, this type of competitive environment can do nothing but help moving forward—especially in the rebuilding stage the Raiders find themselves in.
In some situations, incoming rookies could unseat veteran players, while several positions up and down the roster could stand to be upgraded through the ongoing free-agency period as well.
Either way, most—if not—every position on the roster will be open for competition, and some of which will provide interesting battles that may not be settled until the start of the regular season.
Here are the projected five most heated roster battles for the Oakland Raiders this offseason.
Heading into training camp, it is extremely likely that Matt Flynn is the Raiders’ starter and that he will carry every advantage in the position battle throughout.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition, and there are two quarterbacks with very interesting potential behind him.
Terrelle Pryor still has a ways to go as a passer, but you can bet he has been putting in the work to get there. His athletic ability is as impressive as any quarterback in the league, and the Raiders will certainly want to see what he can do.
Tyler Wilson, the Raiders’ fourth-round selection out of Arkansas, was once touted as a future first-rounder. A down senior season was the main reason he fell to where he did, but many will attribute that to the Razorbacks’ struggles as a program overall. He is as tough as quarterbacks come and has the ability to make all of the necessary throws.
Overall, Flynn is likely to win the starting job, but the talent behind him will make this the most talked about roster battle throughout the offseason.
Projected Winner: Matt Flynn
When healthy, Darren McFadden is among the best running backs in the NFL. Obviously, he has had some trouble staying on the field over the past few seasons, but much of that can be attributed to some unlucky breaks that come with playing the position.
Either way, the Raiders and their fans have seen how important the backup running back position can be. With Mike Goodson now a New York Jet and Taiwan Jones making the transition to cornerback, two new candidates for the role were brought in.
Former Jacksonville Jaguar, Rashad Jennings, was signed to a one-year, free-agent deal earlier this offseason and brings with him an interesting talent. As a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew, Jennings averaged over five yards per carry in each of his first two NFL seasons.
Last season, while struggling with some injuries, he managed just 2.8 yards per carry. The down year was likely the main reason the Raiders were able to get him for the price they did, and Jennings will certainly be looking to show that his first two seasons were more indicative of what he can do.
The other candidate for this position is one of the Raiders’ 2013 sixth-round picks, Latavius Murray. Murray had a very successful career at UCF and has all the physical tools to have that production translate to the next level.
Whether that happens instantly or not, we likely will not know until training camp gets under way. On the other hand, what we do know is that it has seemingly become a yearly event that productive NFL running backs are found in the later rounds of the draft. Murray could easily earn himself significant playing time as Darren McFadden’s primary backup.
Projected Winner: Latavius Murray
The tight end position represents the most unpredictable group on the entire Raiders roster. At this point, there are three candidates competing to win the starting job.
David Ausberry has all the physical tools to contribute as a pass-catcher, but he's still relatively new to the position. Questions remain surrounding his blocking ability. If he can show improvement in that area, he could be the early favorite.
Nick Kasa, one of the Raiders’ sixth-round selections in April’s draft, presents a more balanced option at tight end. Kasa shows well as a blocker and has the size, speed and physical ability to contribute as a receiver as well. Having converted from defensive end in his junior year, he, too, is still relatively new to the position, but he performed well as a senior.
Mychal Rivera, another of the Raiders’ sixth-round selections, is more of a receiving tight end. Like Ausberry, he will need to show the ability to block in the running game to get significant playing time, so he could see more of a situational role early on.
Projected Winner: Nick Kasa
The Raiders’ weakest position heading into the offseason, plenty of players have now been added to the cornerback group.
First-round selection D.J. Hayden is likely to earn a starting role early on in training camp. At this point, he is easily the most talented cornerback on the Raiders’ roster, showing ability to thrive in both man and zone concepts.
Free-agent signee Tracy Porter is coming off a difficult season with the Denver Broncos and will be looking to rebound. His best career seasons came in New Orleans when Dennis Allen was his position coach, and the hope is that he can show similar form in Oakland.
Mike Jenkins, another free-agent signing, comes over from the Dallas Cowboys. Coming off a few very difficult seasons, it is certainly possible that the former first-round pick just needed a change of scenery, and he will be given a great opportunity to compete in Oakland.
Projected Winners: D.J. Hayden and Tracy Porter
After releasing Michael Huff, the free safety position became the biggest hole on the Raiders’ roster.
Earlier this offseason, the Raiders signed former Cleveland Brown Usama Young to a free-agent contract to help fill the position. Young is a very capable starter and can contribute both in pass and run defense, but as with every other position, the Raiders will look to create more competition.
As such, we must operate under the assumption that this will be one of several positions that the Raiders will continue to look at in free agency.
Safeties still on the open market include players like Kerry Rhodes, Quintin Mikell and O.J. Atogwe. If any of them can be had for something close to the veteran minimum salary, it would be difficult to reason against their signing.
Projected Winner: Usama Young