In the NFL, a league where injuries are something that every team must deal with throughout any given season, a team’s depth and development very much include the players who make up the practice squad.
Given that a player must not have an accrued season of free-agent eligibility (on the active roster for more than eight games in one season) to be placed on the practice squad, it is most often rookie players who make up this group.
Here are five players who might find themselves on the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad in 2013.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Cal Poly, Deonte Williams has a skill set that projects well at the NFL level.
Having said that, with the Raiders already having three capable running backs ahead of him in Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray, as well as a fullback in Marcel Reece who can handle ball-carrier duties, it is unlikely the team chooses to carry four running backs on their 53-man roster.
Having Williams on the practice squad would provide a strong insurance policy should the Raiders run into any injury problems at the position, and he would of course get another shot at making the final roster in 2014.
Given the way the Raiders will construct their offense this season, depth at the running back position will continue to be key. Whether it is Deonte Williams or another player, it is more than likely the Raiders will look to bolster that depth by keeping a practice squad player.
Although the Raiders do not yet have an established starting group of wide receivers, the number of players at the position heading into training camp will ensure plenty of competition.
At the same time, that high number of candidates to make the final receivers group, which would only be six or seven players at most, means that several players will be left on the outside looking in.
An undrafted free agent out of Rice, Sam McGuffie may be one of those players.
With his intriguing potential as a slot receiver, the Raiders would certainly do everything they could to keep him around, but that is more than likely to be as a practice squad player for this season at least.
Like other members of the practice squad, he would know the system well and be able to join the active roster if needed, but his development for future seasons would remain the focus.
As the Raiders move back to the man/gap-blocking scheme, the offensive line will be a prime focus in 2013.
At this point, there is a relatively solid group of veterans that make up the depth chart at all five positions, and they will be given every opportunity to win the roster spots coming out of camp.
For a player like John Wetzel, an undrafted free agent out of Boston College, the number of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart could make a practice squad spot the likely projection for this season.
Should the Raiders get him to the practice squad without another team moving to sign him, a year of development and adjustment to the NFL game would be key for Wetzel and his chances of contributing to the Raiders in future seasons.
Given whom the Raiders lost at defensive tackle early in the offseason, the position has long been seen as one that needs upgrading in a big way.
While the Raiders did indeed address the interior defensive line in both free agency and the draft, the depth remains relatively thin overall.
Assuming that four defensive tackles make the final 53-man roster—likely Vance Walker, Pat Sims, Christo Bilukidi and Stacy McGee—the Raiders would be wise to have at least one player on the practice squad developing and ready to go if needed.
The player likely to get that opportunity would be the Raiders’ undrafted free-agent signing out of Wyoming, Kurt Taufa’asau.
Some injury troubles toward the end of his college career kept him from improving his draft stock, but a place on the practice squad with the Raiders would allow him the time to adjust to NFL competition while providing extra depth at defensive tackle.
With additions in both the draft and the free-agency period, the Raiders’ linebacker group is now one of the most improved and deepest units on the entire roster.
However, despite the additions, linebacker is still one of those position groups a team can never have enough depth at, especially given the potential for key special teams contributions.
As a result, Billy Boyko out of Lehigh, another of the Raiders’ undrafted free agents, will have a good chance to earn a practice squad spot heading into the regular season.
Considering that several of the Raiders’ veteran linebackers are with the team on just one-year deals, a full season on the practice squad would mean good things for Boyko’s chances to earn a spot on the active roster in 2014.
Dan Wilkins is an Oakland Raiders Featured Columnist. You can follow him on Twitter here.