For the first time in a few years, the Oakland Raiders' fanbase seems to have a grasp on two very important things: realistic expectations and realistic hope.
On the one hand, after years of losing, the Black Hole finally seems to have accepted the fact that, unlike in the past, there is no more quick fix out there. With the dire situation of the salary cap, the Oakland Raiders are in full rebuilding mode, and oddly enough, people seem to be at peace with that.
On the flip side, signings like the one of Charles Woodson seem to have invigorated folks, leaving them with a sense that eventually this whole thing might turn out alright.
Regardless of the future, however, the Raiders still need to field a 53-man roster this fall—no matter how tough it might be.
With that in mind, we've set out to rank the 53 best guys currently on the roster all the way from No. 53 to No. 1.
Of course, no ranking list is ever unanimous, so let us know what you think in the comments.
53: Chimdi Chekwa
52: Brandon Bair
51: Kaelin Burnett
50: Reggie Smith
49: Willie Smith
48: Alex Parsons
47: Lucas Nix
46: Brandian Ross
45: Phillip Adams
Mostly backups, these are the guys fighting for roster spots.
The biggest surprise on the list is probably Bair, the second-year defensive tackle out of Oregon. At 6'7", Bair is a big dude who is great at getting his hands into passing lanes.
With the presence of a lot of wide bodies currently up front, a tall and lean guy like Bair could allow Dennis Allen to switch things up on passing downs.
Parsons and Nix figure to be primary backups along the offensive line, but both will need to show some improvement this season if their time in Oakland is going to last very long.
44: Jack Crawford
43: Christo Bilukidi
42: Travis Goethel
41: Marquette King/Chris Kluwe
40: Brice Butler
There are lots of intriguing names at this point in the list, including young guys like Crawford, Bilukidi and Butler.
Both Crawford and Bilukidi are second-year guys along the defensive line hoping to make the jump from fringe roster guy to in the rotation.
While both have great size, neither was able to find playing time last season.
At No. 41 is the Oakland punter.
In many respects, this ranking might be far too low for whichever guy makes the roster, as both have shown they are capable of being above-average kickers in this league. The only uncertainty there is which guy is catching the long snaps come Week 1.
Last on the list is Brice Butler, the rookie wide receiver who showed flashes of brilliance in rookie camp a few weeks ago. After transferring from USC to San Diego State, Butler was never able to establish himself as a dominant force in college despite the enormous expectations he brought with him out of high school.
39: Richard Gordon
38: David Ausberry
37: Latavius Murray
36: Joselio Hanson
35: Usama Young
If there's one position out there that Oakland is going to need immediate improvement at, it's the tight end position. The ranking of Oakland's top two tight ends—at Nos. 38 and 39—shows just how dire the situation really is.
While Gordon is established as more of a blocking tight end, and Ausberry as a receiving tight end, one of the two is going to need to diversify his game in order to move up this list.
At No. 37 is the intriguing rookie running back Latavius Murray, who, like Butler, impressed everyone at rookie camp with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Murray could make a big leap up this board with an impressive preseason.
Last on the list are Hanson and Young, two guys who figure to be backup defensive backs this season.
Up until a week ago, Young was slated as a starter until the signing of Charles Woodson bumped him onto the bench. Given the fragility of Oakland DBs last season, however, both guys figure to see plenty of playing time this year.
34: Khalif Barnes
33: Mike Brisiel
32: Rashad Jennings
31: Jon Condo
30: Kevin Burnett
This stage of the list is a pretty predictable group of guys. In other words, don't expect any of these guys to go shooting up (or down) the list too far.
It starts with a pair of disappointing, yet semi-serviceable offensive linemen in Barnes and Brisiel.
Brisiel was brought in last offseason to help with the zone-blocking scheme, but he failed miserably. With the re-introduction of the power blocking scheme, it's unclear how big of a role he'll play this season.
Some might argue that Condo deserves to be much higher on this list given how badly Oakland missed him last season while he was out.
Then again, he's a long snapper.
Rounding out the list is veteran linebacker Kevin Burnett, who figures to play a key role amongst the Oakland linebackers this season.
While not getting any younger, Burnett is a serviceable guy who will provide some consistency inside.
29: Kaluka Maiava
28: Jason Hunter
27: Andre Carter
26: Tyler Wilson
25: Terrelle Pryor
I can already hear the complaints about how low Pryor is on this list, but before we get there, let's look at the first few names on the list.
Maiava, Carter and Hunter can be described the same way that Burnett was on the last slide: low-upside, but consistent. With the exception of Carter, none of these guys really has the potential to be impact players on defense this season. That said, they'll play hard and will give Oakland some good snaps.
Carter, however, does have the potential to be a difference-maker. Whether he still has the potential he flashed a few years ago in New England remains to be seen.
That brings us to the Oakland quarterback situation with No. 25 and 26.
I've got Pryor one spot ahead of Wilson on this list simply because he knows the offense and has been in the league for a couple years. In a couple months? Maybe things will change.
I think that as fans, one thing we have to accept is that Pryor isn't going to be the future Oakland quarterback, and I say that based on a few simple observations:
1. The Oakland staff wouldn't have traded for Flynn or drafted Wilson if they thought Pryor was the answer
2. Allen and McKenzie have seen Pryor practice for almost two years, meaning they know far more than we do about how good he really is
Of course, many will argue Pryor hasn't gotten a fair shake, but I'm not sure how anyone could argue with those two simple observations. I'm not saying Pryor isn't a good football player; I'm just saying that the writing on the wall is clear for anyone willing to open their eyes and see it.
24: Menelik Watson
23: Tony Bergstrom
22: Juron Criner
21: Rod Streater
20: Josh Cribbs
It's funny to find Watson and Bergstrom side-by-side in this list simply because of how similar the two are.
Bergstrom, the Raiders' third-round draft pick in 2012, struggled to find playing time last season, while Watson, the Oakland second-round pick in 2013, has been described as "raw" by numerous scouts.
While Oakland is looking for big improvements from Bergstrom this season, it will be interesting to see what it can get out of Watson as a rookie.
Just ahead of them in the rankings is a trio of receivers in Criner, Streater and Cribbs.
From the receiver position, Criner and Streater figure to play much larger roles in the offense than Cribbs, but Cribbs remains a slightly higher-ranked player because of his dynamic kick-returning ability.
By season's end, all three guys should factor into Oakland's plans this season.
19: Tracy Porter
18: Mike Jenkins
17: Sio Moore
16: Miles Burris
15: Vance Walker
With five defensive players—four of whom are new to Oakland this season—it's easy to see where the front office put its focus this offseason.
Porter and Jenkins figure to start at corner for Oakland all season in hopes of improving the team's weakest unit. While both are recognizable names, neither has really lived up to the hype in recent years. Porter, the Super Bowl hero, and Jenkins, the 2008 first-round draft pick, have both failed to materialize into elite corners.
While no one expects either guy to become an elite defender, if Oakland can get average or above-average performance from either, I think everyone would be happy.
Next up is a pair of young linebackers in Moore and Burris.
Moore is one of the most exciting newcomers to Oakland after all the hype he has generated since being drafted. It appears he was one of Oakland's favorite guys in the draft, so it will be interesting to see what kind of rookie season he's capable of.
Burris, on the other hand, was really good as a rookie outside linebacker, but Oakland has flooded the linebacking corps with newcomers this offseason. Burris will be an interesting guy to watch because there's a good chance he finds himself outside the starting lineup despite his impressive season.
Last up is Walker, the big defensive tackle from Atlanta.
With five sacks in the past two seasons, Walker figures to start up front for Oakland in hopes that he can shore up the team's run defense. At just 26 years old, Oakland is hoping he can make the jump into a high-quality defensive tackle.
14: Pat Sims
13: Jacoby Ford
12: Stefen Wisniewski
11: Matt Flynn
10: DJ Hayden
If there is one bright spot in Oakland, it's the team's impressive youngsters.
Coming in at No. 10 is first-round pick D.J. Hayden, the corner out of Houston that McKenzie fell in love with despite the horrific injury he incurred last season.
With Charles Woodson in the fold as a potential mentor, look for Hayden to have a breakout season as a rookie.
Just behind Hayden is new quarterback Matt Flynn, whom Oakland is counting on to distribute the ball offensively. While still a relative unknown, Flynn has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief NFL career and Oakland is hoping to harness that this season.
With Wisniewski and Ford, Oakland has a pretty good idea of what it's getting. With Ford, however, the concern is whether or not he can remain healthy enough to be an impact player.
At No. 14 is Pat Sims, the 335-pound defensive tackle lining up alongside Vance Walker this year. Like Walker, Sims hasn't had great numbers in his short career, but Oakland is hoping that with a secure role as a starter both guys can continue to improve.
9: Nick Roach
8: Lamarr Houston
7: Denarius Moore
Now inside the top 10, these are the guys Oakland is counting on to carry the load for 16 games.
First up is new linebacker Nick Roach. Roach comes from Chicago, where he learned under two of the best linebackers in the league—Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. The good news for Oakland is that Roach also saw a lot of action when those guys were injured, and many believe that getting him was a steal for Oakland.
I expect Roach to fill the void left by Phillip Wheeler last season.
Right in front of him is Lamarr Houston, the defensive end with loads of talent but little to show for it thus far. The good news for Houston is that there aren't any guys like Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant standing between him and regular playing time this season.
Finally at No. 7 is Denarius Moore, the electrifying wideout from Tennessee.
If Moore can stay healthy, he has shown the ability to be a legitimate deep threat in Oakland. Unfortunately, Moore has missed six games the past two seasons.
6: Marcel Reece
5: Charles Woodson
4: Tyvon Branch
I'd go out on a limb and say that no other team in the league has a fullback inside its top six, but in Oakland it's a no-brainer.
As arguably the team's most consistent offensive player over the past few seasons, Reece has earned his place among Oakland's best players. As a fullback with incredible hands, Reece is a unique weapon in the league and is made all the more valuable by Oakland's injury-prone running backs and lack of tight ends.
Just ahead of Reece is Oakland's starting defensive backfield of Woodson and Branch.
While Woodson isn't nearly what he used to be, on a team like Oakland he still deserves the title of one of the team's best five players.
Branch, on the other hand, seemed to be destined for higher on the list before a very disappointing 2012 season. With Woodson beside him and a (hopefully) improved group of corners, expect Branch to return to pre-2012 form.
3: Jared Veldheer
2: Sebastian Janikowski
While ranking any list of players is difficult, Oakland's injuries and lack of consistency made this list all the more difficult. With that said, the top five players on this team remains pretty clear—it's just a matter of where you rank them.
At No. 3 is Oakland's big left tackle Jared Veldheer, the man now known as "The Hulk."
Despite being a third-round pick from Hillsdale, Veldheer has emerged into one of the league's best young tackles. If Veldheer can improve at left tackle, he could continue his ascent up the team's rankings.
Just ahead of The Hulk is the fan favorite: Seabass.
While few teams have a kicker as their second-best player, few kickers have the leg strength and accuracy that Janikowski does. And while any kicker can be a weapon, few are as deadly from as far as Janikowski is, which is all the more helpful on an offensively challenged team like Oakland.
At the top of the list is Darren McFadden, the mercurial running back with all the talent in the world but very little ability to stay upright.
With a rare combination of size and speed, McFadden remains one of the most dangerous players in the league when healthy. The question, however, is simply how long he can do that.
Will this be the year Run DMC plays in every game and maximizes his potential?
But if the Raiders are going to remain competitive this season, they better hope so.