Oakland Raiders Rookie Training Camp Progress Reports
The Oakland Raiders' draft picks have seen enough time on the field to show what they can do. Most of these rookies aren't expected to start, but with the overhaul the Raiders' roster underwent this offseason, they certainly have the opportunity to earn playing time.
There's been no real-game action yet, so the performances of these players should be taken in proper context. How they truly perform in the NFL won't be known until they see live action in front of a crowd against other players who are also fighting for a job.
However, that doesn't mean what they've done in camp hasn't been valuable.
After more than a week of training camp, each of these players has done enough to give an idea of how much responsibility he'll be able to handle in 2014. Whether it's as a starter, a key reserve or someone who's going to require more time to develop, each rookie's role has become clearer by now.
Along with the drafted rookies, the undrafted rookies have also had an opportunity to make a name for themselves, and one in particular has made a very good impression on the coaching staff.
Here's an assessment of every player's performance so far and how much of an impact they could potentially have for the Raiders this season based on how they've played in camp.
Every player has been given a projected role based on how he's performed so far.
- Starter: Will be expected to perform on every down.
- Potential starter: While not currently listed as the first-stringer on Oakland's depth chart, he is a legitimate contender to earn a starting spot during the preseason.
- Key reserve: Won't start but has the potential see plenty of playing time.
- Situational reserve: A specialist that won't see a lot of time on the field but has exhibited a specific skill set that can be useful in certain situations.
- Special Teams: Not likely to see much, if any, playing time at his listed position but has the athleticism to be valuable on special teams.
- Bench: A project. Has too much potential to be cut but is currently not ready to be depended on.
- Cut: Won't be on the final 53-man roster.
There's still a lot of football to play before the start of the regular season, but there's enough evidence based on the players' performances and how the coaches have used them in camp to see where on the roster they're likely to land.
Each projection specifically identifies how the Raiders will likely use that player in 2014.
Outside Linebacker (Round 1, Pick 5)
In today's NFL, it's almost impossible for a first-round pick, especially one picked in the top five, to live up to expectations.
This is what Khalil Mack faced when he arrived in Oakland, and he's done a great job of dealing with the pressure.
Following his first day of training camp, Mack was asked what impact he hoped to have during his first season. He responded, per the team's official site, "I want to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year and that's what I'm going to hold myself to while I'm out there on the field working, and remember that while I'm out there working hard."
During camp, Mack has shown flashes of the player the Raiders were hoping to get when they selected him. Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien notes that Mack has shown good hands, sometimes not even needing both hands to pull in an interception. Per USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Mack has also exhibited his ability to deliver a big hit and stop the run.
In an interview with CBS Sports' Jim Rome, head coach Dennis Allen pointed out that not only has Mack already exhibited the ability to be effective against the pass and the run, but he's also shown maturity and knows "how to play the game with power." Mack has the physical tools, but more importantly, he knows how to use them.
Mack has already established himself as the starter at strong-side linebacker. It's still early, but there's mounting evidence to show that the Raiders will get everything they were hoping for from him.
Projected Role: Starter
Quarterback (Round 2, Pick 36)
Derek Carr has shown what many expected from him coming into camp: flashes of brilliance but also areas of his game that are not yet at the NFL level.
The coaches have found parts of his game that require improvement. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur, offensive coordinator Greg Olson had concerns about Carr's footwork, particularly with his drop step.
CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair notes that Carr has exhibited the willingness to improve in any area that he or the coaches identify as a weakness, and Olson notes that with the adjustment, Carr's passes are now "getting out quicker," according to Tafur.
The good news is that aside from these minor adjustments, there hasn't been a major flaw in Carr's game.
Overall, the coaching staff has been pleased with his play. When asked about Carr's performance so far in camp, head coach Dennis Allen said, per CSN Bay Area, "I think he's on track for where we want him to be, and he's continued to improve on a daily basis, so [we're] pleased with where Derek Carr is."
The fortunate part is that Matt Schaub has established himself as Oakland's starting quarterback. That's not going to change unless Schaub is injured, or if he has a sudden and severe drop-off in performance.
This means that Carr will have time to continue to develop. There's no questioning his talent, but it's also obvious that he needs more time to learn the NFL game.
For now, he's worked his way to No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart. That's where he should remain throughout 2014.
Projected Role: Key reserve (second-string quarterback)
Guard (Round 3, Pick 81)
Following the draft, Rob Rang of CBS Sports indentified Gabe Jackson as one of the steals. He gave a glowing review of Jackson and explained how he would impact the Raiders offensive line:
Aggressive and powerful, Jackson is at his best driving defenders off the line of scrimmage and clearing holes for backs to exploit. This fits in well with the north-south running that have made Jones-Drew and incumbent starting running back Darren McFadden standouts during their NFL careers. Jackson is also a quality pass blocker, who utilizes his strength, balance and core flexibility to protect the inside - especially critical in Oakland given how Schaub (and Carr) have struggled when pressure comes up the middle.
Rang notes that this fits in perfectly with the type of player general manager Reggie McKenzie has looked for to fill the offensive line: "We want to do the pushing around. You do that with big people."
At 6'3, 336 pounds, Jackson fits this role perfectly as he plays like a man who knows his size. The San Jose Mercury News' Jerry McDonald described Jackson as "a pure power road grader."
Jackson likes to keep it simple: Hit the guy in front of him hard and keep pushing him back until the whistle blows.
Arriving in Oakland out of Mississippi State, Jackson was expected to challenge for a starting spot on the Raiders' rebuilt offensive line. While he is currently listed behind Khalif Barnes at left guard, Jackson still has the opportunity to work his way into the starting lineup.
Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien notes that Jackson has also seen time at right guard, where he's performed well. The Raiders are giving him every opportunity to get on the field.
Even Barnes has been impressed with his prime competitor for playing time. He praised Jackson's physical tools and size, but he's been just as impressed with his mentality. McDonald quoted Barnes as saying, "He's [Jackson] one of those rookies that gets it. He listens and he's not hardheaded."
If there's one area Barnes has an insurmountable advantage in, it's experience. Despite his tools, Jackson is still a rookie, and he won't be able to learn in one training camp what Barnes has learned during a decade in the NFL.
For now, Jackson might have to settle for being a backup, but it's only a matter of time—maybe even as early as this season—before the Raiders let him loose on the opposing defensive line.
Projected Role: Key reserve/potential starter
Defensive Tackle (Round 4, Pick 107)
Justin Ellis' style of play is pretty easy to describe: He's big, and he knows it. So far in camp, he's played like it.
Ellis has seen first-team reps, and he's had success when given the opportunity. Silver and Black Report's Chris McClain writes that Ellis has shown the power to take on double-teams, something that he was particularly good at while at Louisiana Tech.
But Ellis' power was never in question. The concern was whether he would be able to incorporate other elements into his game. When Oakland first drafted Ellis, Silver and Black Pride's Tyler Green elaborated on this concern:
While Ellis is very good at bull rushing, he overuses the move. Bigger offensive linemen in the NFL will be able to withstand his huge frame. Unless Ellis adds more moves (swim, spin, chop, throw) to his arsenal and mixes them up, offenses will figure him out.
So far in camp, Ellis has shown that his game is not quite so one-dimensional. McClain notes that Ellis has also shown some quickness by at times getting around the offensive linemen, not always settling for just trying to go through them.
ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez has also seen Ellis' surprising quickness: "[Ellis] showed his sweet feet, dexterity and quicks when he chased down a tipped ball from fellow 300-pound defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin... Men as big as Ellis should not be able to move as quickly as he does, right?"
Still, it seems that for now, the Raiders are OK with Ellis maximizing what he's naturally best at. Per McClain, Ellis has been told by the coaches to "just bring power to the team right now and then we’ll work on finesse later."
Currently behind Pat Sims on the depth chart, it looks for now like Ellis will see limited time. However, if he continues to impress in camp and keep his weight under control, the Oakland coaching staff is not going to keep him off the field for long.
Projected Role: Situational reserve
Cornerback (Round 4, Pick 116)
The Raiders had high hopes for Keith McGill. At 6'3, 211 pounds, he looks the part of the new prototype for cornerbacks in the NFL.
Entering camp, D.J. Hayden's injury was still keeping him out of action, and the Raiders were unsettled at cornerback with one of their projected starters missing. As Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride notes, the team needed someone to step up. McGill was one of the favorites to take advantage of the opportunity.
But he missed the beginning of training camp after being placed on the physically unable to perform list due to an ankle injury suffered during conditioning tests. He was only out for a few days, but those first few days are crucial for a rookie.
McGill was also beaten deep by starting quarterback Matt Schaub the following day, something more indicative of McGill's overall performance. Gutierrez explained that it looked like McGill didn't have help over the top, but whether that's true or not, the fact is that McGill is currently sitting fourth on the depth chart behind Tarell Brown, Chimdi Chekwa and surprise contender Neiko Thorpe.
It's evident at this point that he hasn't shown the coaching staff that he can be depended on.
Now, McGill is once again injured. Although the type of injury or how bad it is hasn't been disclosed, Gutierrez reports that McGill spent Tuesday's practice riding a stationary bike and didn't participate in the rest of the team drills.
Cornerback is arguably the hardest position to make the transition in from college to the pros, so it's understandable for McGill to experience growing pains. Fortunately, there are enough cornerbacks ahead of him to allow time for him to develop.
There's too much potential in McGill for the Raiders to give up on him this early. As long as he continues to work and show that he's improving, he'll remain on the roster.
But for now, it looks like he will remain buried on the depth chart.
Projected Role: Bench/special teams
Cornerback/Kick Returner (Round 7, Pick 219)
Since arriving in Oakland, Carrie has been drawing positive attention from the coaching staff with his play. Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien quoted head coach Dennis Allen back in June as saying, "Really every day there's been something that he's[Carrie's] done that you say ‘Damn, that was a pretty good play.'"
His early performance was impressive, but what's more impressive is that he hasn't slowed down since then. Damien reports that "Carrie was in lockdown mode again today [Day 8 of camp]." He added:
Early on he was blanketing Greg Little to knock down a Schaub pass. In the next sessions, he did the same on a pass from Derek Carr to Brice Butler. He had Juron Criner in tight man coverage but Criner made a very tough catch, leaping in the air to pull down the Carr pass with Carrie all up in his grill. Good defense, great catch.
By now, it's established that Carrie's early performance wasn't just a fluke. He's earned more and more playing time at cornerback, and he's continued to impress on the field.
Carrie is currently listed third on the depth chart behind Carlos Rogers and D.J. Hayden, but this is bound to change. Hayden is still out, and even when he returns, he'll have to work his way back into game shape.
Additionally, Rogers was originally brought in to play slot corner. He's been moved to left cornerback to make up for Hayden's absence. In a move that's become less and less of a surprise, Carrie is now the top candidate to take over at slot corner.
While Carrie has surprised everyone with his performance at corner, he was originally brought in for his skills on special teams, where he's also performed well. Per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Carrie is also currently listed as the starting punt returner for Oakland.
Whether it's at corner or in the return game, Carrie is already becoming someone the Raiders are looking to depend on this season.
Projected Role: First-string slot corner/first-string punt returner
Defensive End (Round 7, Pick 235)
It's hard enough to make a 53-man roster and earn playing time as a seventh-rounder, and it becomes even more difficult when you're seen as having a limited skill set.
In Harris' case, not only is he a seventh-round pick, he's joining an Oakland roster that is already set at defensive end. It would take an incredible performance in camp for him to overtake Justin Tuck or LaMarr Woodley on the depth chart, and that's not going to happen.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur notes that Harris has seen some first-team reps during camp, and he's looked good doing it. However, he's seen exclusively as a pass-rusher.
A late-round pick who will only see the field on certain plays may not sound like a recipe for success, but Harris does have a few things going his way.
Per Tafur, Shelby picked up a sack while playing with the first team in place of Tuck. Although he may only be used as a pass-rusher at this point, he's very good at it.
Harris also has a mental edge over the other backup defensive ends on the roster. Silver and Black Report notes that his career almost ended in college after being kicked off both the Wisconsin and Illinois State football teams, and this has given him a special appreciation for the opportunity he has. This has been noticed by the coaches, including defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
According to Tafur, Tarver has noticed that "[Harris] had something taken away from him...The other rookies don't know that feeling, so you can see why it's different for Shelby. He is in the moment and taking advantage of the reps."
While Tuck and Woodley are set as starters, Harris is currently listed as Woodley's backup. For now, he's shown enough for Oakland to get him on the field, even if it's only in select scenarios.
Projected Role: Situational pass rusher/bench
Safety (Round 7, Pick 247)
At 6'3, 190 pounds, Jonathan Dowling has intriguing size for a safety in the NFL. Entering the league, the major concern was whether he would be able handle the leap in competition from what he faced while at Western Kentucky.
So far, the results have been mixed.
ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted that Dowling had an interception during individual drills on Day 6 of camp.
But there have also been reports of Dowling getting beaten over the top, including on Day 9 of camp, when Mychal Rivera got behind him for a big reception, per Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride.
Currently listed third on the strong safety depth chart behind Tyvon Branch and Usama Young, Dowling has some work to do just to remain on the roster.
However, the injury to Young will continue to leave the door open for Dowling to secure a spot on the 53- man roster. Young injured his quadriceps muscle during preseason conditioning drills. He began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and he remains there more than a week into camp.
Young was already considered a backup at safety, so his hold on the second-string spot is not at all secured. Each day that Young isn't on the field means more reps for Dowling. He needs to take advantage of this situation because the 247th overall pick is not at all guaranteed a roster spot. Now is when he'll either earn that spot or work his way off the roster.
If Dowling can continue to improve, he has a real chance of moving up in the depth chart and earning a roster spot for 2014. For now, he'll continue to learn behind veterans like Branch and Charles Woodson.
Projected Role: Bench/special teams, possible cut
Best of the Rest
Seth Roberts: Wide Receiver (Undrafted)
As is the case with every NFL team, the Raiders brought in a lot of undrafted free agents to camp. In general, these players are bodies needed to fill out the 90-man roster, and most, if not all, won't be around when the 53-man roster is announced.
However, a few players in this group always stand out, and they can earn the opportunity to remain with the team. Back in 2012, one such player was Rod Streater, who's currently a favorite to earn a starting spot.
This year, that player could be wide receiver Seth Roberts out of West Alabama.
CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair reports that Roberts "catches virtually everything thrown his way and finds a way to sneak open against cornerbacks with experience." Roberts has been consistent throughout camp, and his performance has caused the coaching staff to take notice.
Unfortunately for Roberts, he faces a major challenge because wide receiver is currently Oakland's deepest position.
Bair notes that while Roberts is a long shot to make the final roster, he's at least had a strong enough showing to be added to the practice squad, a feeling echoed by Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride. This would let the Raiders keep a promising player in-house as he continues to develop.
Projected Role: Cut/Practice squad
All information on starters and the depth chart overall are taken from the Raiders' official release.