Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Oakland Raiders' Final 53-Man Roster
The Oakland Raiders will have significantly more roster competition throughout training camp this year than any other in recent memory.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and his front office staff have done well to improve the team in a number of areas—and more specifically, a number of areas of need.
With talent and depth upgraded across the board, final roster decisions become all the more difficult, but that's a good problem to have.
Here is a look at those difficult decisions to come, projecting the last five in and last five out of the Raiders’ final 53-man roster in 2014.
In: WR Juron Criner
The Raiders finally have some solid depth at the wide receiver position, and the training camp competition should be interesting to watch as a result.
With Rod Streater, James Jones, Denarius Moore and Andre Holmes being virtual locks to make the final roster—and Greg Little likely having the advantage for the fifth spot—the sixth and final spot will be the toughest to predict heading into camp.
At this point, the player with the best shot at earning it may be Juron Criner.
No, he hasn’t yet been able to build on the potential he showed early on, but reports from offseason OTAs have him as a standout among the receivers thus far.
Of course, whether or not he has a spot on the final roster will come down to his ability to translate practice performances into in-game production.
If he can do that in preseason action this year and prove capable of contributing on special teams, Criner should be on the Raiders’ final 53-man roster.
Out: WR Brice Butler
Brice Butler will be right in the thick of the competition for the final spots in the receivers group, but with the improved depth, he could end up being the odd man out.
Similar to the case of Criner, Butler flashed potential throughout the preseason of his rookie campaign but never saw it translate into production during the regular season.
Given that he has had less time to develop thus far, he will still have every opportunity to compete for and win a job, but it will come down to preseason performance.
Either way, the competition for the final roster spots at receiver is a testament to the Raiders’ improved depth at the position, and it may result in them having to let go of a young player sooner than they would like.
In: OL Matt McCants
The Raiders improved the talent and depth at the offensive line significantly this offseason, giving the unit quite a different look overall.
While the team likely already has a starting group in mind, there will be some competition for the depth position, and Matt McCants should be able to win one of those spots.
Although he may still need some time to develop and add strength, he has potential moving forward. He showed as much with his solid play at right tackle when called upon in 2013.
His skill set and athleticism allow him to play either guard or tackle as needed, making him fairly versatile, much like several other depth players in this group.
Out: OL Tony Bergstrom
One player who will now have a tough road toward making the final roster on the offensive line is Tony Bergstrom.
He is heading into his third season with the team but has yet to see much of the field due to injury issues.
Also working against him is the fact that he was selected in 2011 to be part of the then zone-blocking scheme with Greg Knapp as the offensive coordinator, and the team has since moved to a gap scheme.
Bergstrom’s ability to play a number of positions across the line will help him in the competition, but a number of names are likely already ahead of him on the depth chart.
Of course, the Raiders made him a third-round compensatory selection for a reason, and he will have every opportunity to win a roster spot, but the improved talent on the offensive line will make that difficult this season.
In: DE Jack Crawford
Jack Crawford has yet to make much of an impact since being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, but he should get at least another year to develop.
While the starters on the defensive line were upgraded in a big way this offseason, depth up front remains a significant issue.
As a result, Crawford has a chance to become a valuable rotation player, seeing the majority of his snaps on running downs.
He needs to improve his pass-rush ability in order to be an every-down player, but the veteran additions at the position could go a long way toward helping young players like Crawford do just that.
Again, a need for depth here likely means Crawford is safe, but he will need to make use of another season.
Out: RB Kory Sheets
One of the Raiders’ more interesting signings of the offseason was to bring in a former CFL star in Kory Sheets.
There have been plenty of examples of players having successful careers in the NFL after some time north of the border, and Sheets earned an opportunity with his play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
However, with the Raiders now having depth at the running back position, it may prove difficult for him to make the final cut.
If healthy, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden will certainly share the load, and as offensive coordinator Greg Olson stated, the team is excited about Latavius Murray’s upside heading into his second season.
With fullback Marcel Reece’s ability to run the ball when needed, keeping four running backs on the final roster doesn’t make much sense.
Of course, if Sheets demonstrates special teams value, he could change that, but again, making the team may prove difficult considering the other backs in the fold.
Should he not make the final roster, a strong preseason would get him looks elsewhere around the league.
In: DE Shelby Harris
The pick of Shelby Harris in the seventh round of the draft may have been a bit of a surprise given that he didn’t play football in 2013, but he just may find himself on the Raiders’ final roster in September.
He fits the mold of the team’s 2014 acquisitions in the trenches, in that he has size (6'2", 288 pounds), athleticism and the versatility to play either end or tackle in the 4-3.
For him, the key will be learning how to best utilize his impressive length both in run defense and in the pass rush.
As was the case for Crawford, Harris’ odds of making the final roster increase when you consider how desperate the Raiders are for depth at the position.
Out: LB Kaelin Burnett
For Kaelin Burnett, making the final roster will likely come down to how many linebackers the Raiders choose to carry.
With Khalil Mack, Sio Moore, Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris all in the mix, this is one of the deepest groups on the roster, and the team could conceivably stick with those six heading into the season.
Burnett has been a regular contributor on special teams, and that spot would need to be replaced, but it just may not make sense for the Raiders to carry seven linebackers when depth is so badly needed elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Burnett, he could be the odd man out, but such a situation is a sign of the Raiders’ productive offseason in improving their depth across the board.
In: S Jonathan Dowling
The Raiders’ final pick of the 2014 draft, Jonathan Dowling will enter camp with a solid chance to make the final roster.
With the kind of range required of a single-high safety, the team would be wise to have him learn from Charles Woodson while he can. Ideally, Dowling can take over the free safety spot when the future Hall of Famer eventually retires.
Until that point, Dowling will provide depth on defense while likely contributing on all special teams units to develop his tackling ability in the open field.
Doing so, while adding some size and strength, could give him a good chance at becoming a productive, playmaking free safety in the NFL.
Out: S Brandian Ross
With Tyvon Branch out for the majority of the 2013 season, Brandian Ross was forced into his starting role despite being new to the safety position, and he struggled throughout.
Now with Branch back in the fold and some added depth on the back end, Ross may have a difficult time making the final roster as a safety.
Whether or not the team tries him at cornerback again remains to be seen, but the depth chart is relatively crowded with young players at that position as well.
Another full offseason in the system and at his new position could serve him well, but again, after his struggles in 2013, Ross may have difficulty making the team out of camp this year.