Oakland Raiders 2014 Virtual Program: Depth Chart Analysis, X-Factors and More

Brian Flores@@brianj_floresContributor IIISeptember 1, 2014

Oakland Raiders 2014 Virtual Program: Depth Chart Analysis, X-Factors and More

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    After final roster cuts are made prior to the regular season, many call it the "final" 53-man roster. However, some prefer to call it the "initial" 53-man roster. On Sunday, the Oakland Raiders proved why the latter is probably more accurate.

    The team announced its 53-man roster on Saturday. Less than 24 hours later, that group of players had already changed.

    Still, the roster looks the same for the most part. And barring a major move, the starting units are set as the team begins its week of preparation for the opening game of the regular season. Oakland now knows who it will depend on to get the job done in every area of the roster.

    Just as important as the starters are the reserves, as any could see regular action. It's only a matter of time before someone misses action due to injury, and the backup will be expected to step in and maintain, if not improve, the level of performance at the position.

    The Raiders also have yet to resolve their quarterback situation. As much as head coach Dennis Allen denies it, Oakland has a very real quarterback controversy. The depth chart is set for now. But given Matt Schaub's elbow injury and Derek Carr's outstanding performance against the Seattle Seahawks in the final preseason game, it looks as if it could change at any moment.

    The Raiders are set to open the regular season on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at the New York Jets. As they prepare for the matchup, here's a full look at each position's depth chart and what to expect from each position group. There are also some key moves, breakout performers and matchups to look for this season.


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    Depth Chart
    Matt SchaubDerek CarrMatt McGloin

    Since the Raiders traded for Schaub back in March, head coach Dennis Allen has remained adamant that he's the starting quarterback. However, the preseason has provided enough evidence to make a change at quarterback not only possible but even likely. And it could happen sooner rather than later.

    As of last week, Allen has remained steadfast in his decision despite Carr's brilliant performance against the Seattle Seahawks. But the odds seem to be stacking up against Oakland opening up the season with Schaub as the starter. Not only was his performance completely underwhelming this preseason, he's now also dealing with an elbow injury.

    NFL.com's Chris Wesseling reports that while Schaub remains the starter, this could change if he's unable to participate at full strength this week in practice. If that's the case, Allen might not have to make the decision after all.

    Carr is a rookie, and he'll experience some growing pains when he eventually takes over the offense. But there's no question that the offense looked like a completely different unit with him under center. There was more energy, and it was far more dangerous than it was at any point when Schaub was on the field.

    Even if Schaub does get the start Week 1, Carr is likely to be the starter by the time the Raiders return from their bye in Week 6.

    Regardless of who starts, it's unlikely that McGloin sees any actions this season. If he does, he's shown enough between last season and this preseason to prove that he's a good option to have, at least in the short term. Although he may not be able to lead the offense over 16 games, he can be effective for a few games. In McGloin, the Raiders have one of the better backup quarterback options in the NFL.

Running Back

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    Depth Chart
    Maurice Jones-DrewDarren McFaddenLatavius Murray

    Jones-Drew will be the starting running back for the Raiders, but this will be a running back by committee in 2014.

    The group was impressive overall in the preseason. The one who actually showed the least was McFadden. Jones-Drew and Murray both had their highlight moments—Jones-Drew's 40-yard touchdown run against the Green Bay Packers, and Murray's overall performance against the Seattle Seahawks—but McFadden didn't.

    Still, McFadden has shown in past seasons that, given a good blocking scheme and play-calling that gets him into open space, he can be one of the league's most dangerous running backs. The responsibility will fall on offensive coordinator Greg Olson to put him in situations to succeed. This should become easier now that McFadden won't be expected to be an every-down back.

    Even if McFadden is unable to get back to the type of play he last exhibited from 2010 to 2011, Jones-Drew and Murray will still be able to make this a dangerous running attack.

    The group's performance throughout the preseason was one of the offense's strong points, even when the passing attack was underperforming. This will be one of the team's strongest units in 2014.


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     Depth Chart 
    Marcel ReeceJamize Olawale

    For years, fans have wondered why Reece hasn't been a more prominent member of the Oakland offense. But this preseason suggests that he may finally be given the opportunity show how much of an impact he can have.

    Reece has proved to be dangerous as a runner, which means that even if he's out there with a running back, the defense still has to respect the fact that he might actually be the rusher on the play. But he's most dangerous as a receiver. Linebackers can't keep up with him, and he has the speed to even beat cornerbacks.

    In Reece, Oakland has a weapon that can keep any defense off balance. If he's used to his full potential, opposing defenses will have to account for him, making the entire offense more dangerous.

    Olawale is going to see most of his action on special teams, but he's proved to be a great understudy to Reece. If he's asked to step in for Reece at any point, the offense won't see too much of a drop-off.

Wide Receiver

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    Depth Chart
    Rod StreaterDenarius MooreBrice Butler
    James JonesAndre Holmes 

    Oakland might not have a true No. 1 receiver, but it has one of the most talented groups of receivers from top to bottom in the league. These receivers have the potential to put up great numbers this season, but that will depend in large part on who's throwing the passes.

    Streater and Jones will begin the season as starters, but every receiver will have an opportunity to make an impact. Moore was considered a possible cut early in the preseason, but the San Jose Mercury News' Steve Corkran noted that his performance against Seattle erased that doubt.

    With Carr throwing the passes, Moore looked like the receiver the Raiders have always believed he can be: dangerous and at times unstoppable. Even with Richard Sherman covering him, he was still able to make plays.

    At 6'4", Holmes has the size and speed to make a big play at any time. He'll have a great opportunity to succeed as he'll often be covered by a third or fourth cornerback.

    Butler was near the bottom of the depth chart to start the preseason, but he earned his roster spot after being the team's most consistent wide receiver over the four games. He runs crisp routes, has good hands and has a nose for the end zone. He'll be one of the surprise performers for Oakland this season.

    If head coach Allen gets his way, Schaub will start Week 1. This will affect the performance of the receivers, but this should be taken in context. Their true potential won't be seen until Carr takes over at center, which is likely to happen before the midway point of the season.

    Once this switch occurs, the rest of the league will see just how dangerous this group can really be.

Tight End

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    Depth Chart
    Mychal RiveraBrian LeonhardtDavid Ausberry

    Injuries have left the Raiders with a very thin group of tight ends. The team knows what it will get from Rivera: decent blocking and a dangerous receiving threat. He received unexpected playing time last season, and he took advantage of it by proving that he can take on NFL coverage and still produce as a receiver. This preseason, he showed that he's ready for a breakout season. 

    But after him, Oakland has little assurance of success.

    Per Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien, Ausberry is expected to return to action this week. This means he'll get in about a week's worth of practices before the regular season kicks off on Sunday. This is a great sign, but it remains to be seen if he's back to full strength and in game shape.

    Until the team has an answer to this question, the Raiders will have to depend on Leonhardt. He was solid during camp and throughout the preseason, and he proved to be an efficient pass-catcher in college. But for now, he's expected to be primarily a blocking tight end.

    If all three are healthy, the Raiders will have an intriguing group of tight ends, but that's not currently the case. For now, they'll have Rivera catching passes and Leonhardt primarily blocking, and they'll hope Ausberry comes along quickly.

Offensive Line

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    Depth Chart
    LT Donald Penn 
    LG Khalif BarnesGabe Jackson
    C Stefen WisniewskiKevin Boothe
    RG Austin HowardTony Bergstrom
    RT Menelik WatsonMatt McCants

    After three preseason games, the Oakland offensive line was set. This seemed to be called into question during the final preseason game when Barnes was moved to right tackle and Jackson stepped in at left guard.

    However, according to Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien, this turned out to be the result of a hip flexor injury that Watson suffered during the third preseason game. If healthy, Watson is still expected to man the right tackle spot.

    This would be great news, as the unit was starting to develop a rhythm together. This group has enough talent and experience to succeed both in the passing and the running game. The more the linemen can play together, the more effective they'll be.

    However, if Watson can't play, the offensive line showed against Seattle that it can still play well with Jackson at guard and Barnes at tackle.

    The Raiders have something this season that they didn't have last season: a healthy offensive line. This will make it easier to plug in any of the reserves and still be effective. Jackson has already shown he can play at this level, and Bergstrom, McCants and Boothe can step in and hold their own.

    As long as it can remain healthy, the offensive line will prove to be one of the Raiders' strengths.

Defensive Line

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    Depth Chart
    RDE LaMarr WoodleyShelby Harris, Benson Mayowa
    DT Antonio SmithStacy McGee
    NT Pat SimsJustin Ellis
    LDE Justin TuckC.J. Wilson

    The Oakland defensive line went through the most high-profile changes this past offseason. Tuck, Smith and Woodley were brought in to provide a pass rush that was non-existent in 2013. It's taken the group some time to jell. But as the preseason progressed, some positive signs indicated progress and that this unit can be as good as it looks on paper.

    Smith and Sims are expected to provide some pressure up the middle, but their primary responsibility will be to excel against the run. Sims had an up-and-down 2013, but he seemed to figure things out toward the end of the season. The hope is that he can maintain this level of impact over a full season.

    Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien notes that throughout Smith's career, his success has come mostly as a pass-rusher in a 3-4 defense. Now that he's a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, he'll have to adjust to the new expectations. He showed progress during the preseason, and he'll need to build on that all season.

    If either Smith or Sims struggles, rookie Ellis will get a chance to play. He proved in college that he's capable of clogging up running lanes up the middle. The coaches won't hesitate to use him if the starters can't stop the run.

    The biggest additions were Tuck and Woodley, who were brought in to provide a consistent pass rush off the edges. In order for these two signings to be a success, both players must end the season at least near double-digit sacks. If they don't, it means they didn't provide the expected pass rush, and the entire defense will struggle because of it.

    Behind the big names, the Raiders have some intriguing prospects, including rookie seventh-round pick Harris. He's shown that he's more than just a pass-rushing defensive end. He'll get more opportunities as he continues to round out his game.

    The most interesting prospect is recent signing Mayowa, who was added less than a day after the Raiders announced their initial 53-man roster. Seattle was reluctant to let go of the second-year man. Though still raw, he has the physical tools to be a force at defensive end, and he's shown flashes of what he's capable of.

    Playing with veterans Tuck and Woodley could be just what he needs to learn how to make the best use of his abilities.

    The defensive line could be the surprise unit of the defense. The potential is there. Now it's just a matter of the group consistently playing to its full potential.


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    Depth Chart
    WLB Sio MooreMiles Burris
    MLB Nick RoachKaluka Maiava
    SLB Khalil Mack 

    Oakland's corps of linebackers will eventually turn into one of the strengths of the defense, but it's young and could struggle early in the season.

    The starting group has two potential stars in second-year player Moore and rookie Mack, but they're both inexperienced. While they'll get their highlight plays, there will also be moments when they get lost in coverage or swallowed up by a blocker.

    This season will be a learning experience for both, but they have the talent to produce effective performances throughout the season.

    Fortunately, the starting group has veteran Roach in the middle, which should aid in the continued growth of both players. Roach isn't flashy, but he's been a consistent performer throughout his career. While Moore and Mack might get the headlines, Roach will be the steadying presence.

    Roach is expected to be the leader of the linebackers, which is why his return from a concussion is so important. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that he's yet to return to practice. The team will need him back for the linebackers to perform to their potential.

    If either Moore or Mack struggle at any point, or if Roach remains out for an extended period, the Raiders have Burris and Maiava, who both played well during the preseason. The two of them are able to fill in at any of the three linebacker spots.

    An area the Raiders will need to address is depth. Less than a day after announcing the 53-man roster, the team cut linebacker Kaelin Burnett to make room for defensive end Benson Mayowa. Oakland needs to find a replacement. The team simply can't go the entire season with only five linebackers.

    For now, the group might be short a man, but the ones who are left are capable of excelling. Moore and Mack will play better as they gain more experience, and the performance of the group as a whole will reflect their growth.


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    Depth Chart
    Tarell BrownChimdi Chekwa, Keith McGill
    Carlos Rogers Neiko Thorpe
    T.J. Carrie (slot corner)Taiwan Jones

    No Oakland position group struggled as much as the cornerbacks this preseason. To start the season, the Raiders will go with experience. The hope is that veterans Brown and Rogers will be at least somewhat effective. Unfortunately, there's no evidence to suggest that this will be the case.

    The cornerbacks were picked on throughout the preseason, and no progress was evident after four games. In the final game against Seattle, Russell Wilson picked apart the secondary on a four-play touchdown drive in his only action of the game.

    The starters might be set for now, but the coaches will be willing to give an opportunity to anyone who steps up. This includes Carrie, Chekwa and Thorpe. Chekwa was working his way toward a starting spot opposite Brown, but an injury knocked him out until at least Week 1 of the season.

    Carrie and Thorpe were both given opportunities to earn a starting spot, and while both showed some promise, they were beaten too often to be given a real shot at the position. For now, they'll continue to be works in progress.

    McGill will primarily see time on special teams along with Jones. Neither will see any significant time at cornerback unless injuries force the coaches' hands.

    The major unknown is D.J. Hayden, who isn't even on the roster at this point. After being placed on the physically unable to perform list, he's guaranteed to miss at least the early part of the season. The hope is he'll be able to contribute when he returns.

    For now, Oakland will continue to hope that someone steps up. But the team will also keep an eye on cornerbacks who are released around the league. The Raiders won't find an elite cornerback in that group, but they'll hope to at least find someone serviceable.

    With the current state of the cornerbacks in Oakland and how they played in the preseason, serviceable would be an upgrade.


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    Depth Chart
    FS Charles WoodsonJonathan Dowling
    SS Tyvon BranchUsama Young

    The Oakland cornerbacks were picked on throughout the preseason, and they received most of the blame for the team's problems in passing defense. However, Woodson and Branch didn't always hold up their end, and they also have questions to answer heading into the regular season.

    This past July, Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt reported that after a couple of years at the position, Woodson was finally getting used to playing safety. After a career at cornerback, it made sense that he would face an adjustment period.

    Still, Woodson has been caught out of position on passing plays a few times. This has to do with his inexperience at the position, but it also raises the question of just how well he can still keep up. On the plays he gets beaten, is it because he's out of position or because he's lost one step too many? At 37 years old, Oakland is hoping that he has one more good year left in him.

    Branch was a solid strong safety before he went down with an injury last season. He's never been much of a ball hawk, but he's decent in coverage, is a good tackler and has the ability to get to the quarterback consistently on safety blitzes. He might not be great in any area, but he's solid across the board.

    Given the uncertainty at cornerback, the Raiders are going to need Branch to return to form in 2014. He will need to cover a lot of ground as he'll find himself regularly having to help out the cornerbacks. He has the ability, but it will depend on how close to full strength he is.

    Young can contribute at times, but he's a career backup. As long as Woodson and Branch stay healthy, Young shouldn't see too much time this season.

    Of all the players who made Saturday's 53-man roster, none was as big of a surprise as Dowling, who Oakland picked over Brandian Ross. The departure of Ross could be addition by subtraction for this defense as he was weak in coverage, a bad tackler and generally a defensive liability.

    With him gone, those reps will go to rookie Dowling. Initially a top candidate for the practice squad, he's now going to be expected to make immediate contributions this season. He has the physical tools, but he's still catching up to the NFL game. The Raiders are hoping that he's a quick on-the-job learner.

Special Teams

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    Depth Chart
    KickerPunterLong Snapper
    Sebastian JanikowskiMarquette KingJon Condo

    In 2014, the Raiders will get just what every NFL wants from its special teams: nothing to worry about.

    For years, Condo has been one of the NFL's most reliable long snappers. His performance this preseason showed that he's still as reliable as ever. Oakland will continue to get excellent play at one of the most underappreciated yet most important positions on the team.

    King stepped in last season to take over punting duties—the first time someone other than Shane Lechler played the position for the Raiders since 2000. Lechler had been one of the league's top punters for more than a decade, and King actually managed to improve the position. He led all punters last season with an average punt of almost 49 yards. He'll provide more of the same this season.

    While Condo and King will continue to excel, the success of the kicking game will ultimately come down to the effectiveness of Janikowski. He still has one of the strongest legs in the league, but he hasn't had the accuracy to match. However, he looked good in limited action this preseason.

    One of the issues last season was that he had a new holder (King) for the first time in his career. As with so much on special teams, the relationship between the kicker and the holder is one of the most important elements in a football game, but it's something no one notices until it goes wrong.

    After another preseason of work together, it appears that Janikowski and King have worked out these issues. If Janikowski can rediscover his accuracy, the Raiders will have a reliable, and possibly game-changing, kicking game.


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    Derek Carr

    It's not a matter of if, but when, Carr will start for the Raiders this season. This will be a big moment; although Schaub was once a good quarterback, he simply doesn't have the physical tools anymore. There's no question that he's lost the arm strength. As long as Schaub is in there, the offense will not thrive.

    It's going to be a tale of two seasons for Oakland. The real one will start when Carr steps into the starting lineup.


    Khalil Mack

    There were concerns about the fifth overall pick after he was a non-factor in the first two preseason games. That all changed the second half of the preseason, when Mack started to pile up tackles and become more involved in plays. He even added an interception.

    The Raiders are going to need him to be a disruptive force. As the season progresses, Mack's case for Rookie of the Year should become stronger and stronger.


    Darren McFadden

    Of the three running backs on the roster, McFadden was the only one without a true breakout performance in the preseason. However, the possibility is still there. Jones-Drew and McFadden are going to get the bulk of the carries for Oakland.

    If McFadden can take advantage of the touches he gets, this will be one of the better running back groups in the NFL. If he doesn't, he could start to lose carries to Murray.


    Justin Tuck/LaMarr Woodley

    Tuck and Woodley were brought in for one thing: sacks. How they do in the pass rush will affect the entire defense. The better they do, the better the defense overall will do. The more they struggle, the more the linebackers and the secondary will struggle. Much of the defense's success will depend on them and how often they can get to the quarterback.


    Denarius Moore

    For three preseason games, Moore looked like he might get cut. In the final preseason game, he looked like he should be starting. This disparity in his performance hasn't been uncommon over the years, but there was a clear difference this preseason between Moore with Schaub and Moore with Carr. Once Carr takes over the offense, Moore could finally become one of the NFL's most consistently dangerous receivers.


    Sebastian Janikowski

    For Janikowski, 2014 will be defined by one thing: accuracy. He still has plenty of leg, but whether or not he can keep it on target will be the issue. This will affect what the offense needs to do to get in range.

    Janikowski's range will affect the play-calling. If he's on, it'll be a huge weapon to have. If not, it will make the offense's job that much more difficult.


    David Ausberry

    Ausberry's career has been a case of untapped potential. The "Ausberry will be great once he's healthy" story has become an annual one in Oakland. But this is very likely his last chance to prove the coaches right.

    It looks like he'll be back to start the regular season. He needs to make a huge impact. If he does, he'll prove just how dangerous he is. If he doesn't, he'll be out of a job.


    D.J. Hayden/Chimdi Chekwa/T.J. Carrie/Neiko Thorpe

    Oakland entered training camp with questions at cornerback. After camp and a full preseason, the team has more questions at the position than it started with. Rogers and Brown are the starters, but neither has been convincing.

    Carrie and Thorpe have had the opportunities to secure more playing time, but they've both struggled to earn regular roles at the position. As for Chekwa, he was going to be given a shot at a starting spot, but an injury ended that discussion for now.

    The biggest question mark is Hayden, who is once again out with an injury. He was penciled in as a starter before the injury, and it's assumed he'll step back into the role once he returns from the PUP list later in the season. But he's yet to prove he's truly a reliable option. At the very least, he'll infuse some talent into the group, but he still has to show that he can provide results.

    The cornerbacks were torched all preseason, and that was in only limited duty against starting quarterbacks. If the secondary is going to have any chance in the regular season, one of these players will have to step up.

Biggest Games

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    Week 1 at New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

    This one might seem obvious, but it will be especially important for Oakland, which has struggled on East Coast road trips in recent years, has a quarterback controversy and possesses a secondary that inspires virtually no confidence. The team has a lot of questions to answer and one game to do it. This could also become an even bigger game if Carr gets his first start. Even if he doesn't, Schaub will be under a microscope, and any mistake he makes will intensify the calls for Carr to start.


    Week 6 vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET

    This game could signify a turning point for the Raiders' season. It's the first divisional game of the year, and Oakland needs to start off on a positive note. Coming off the bye, it could also be Carr's first start. Schaub could be given the first four games of the year to make his case. If he struggles, the first week after the bye would be a great time to bring in the rookie. He'll have had an extra week to prepare, and he'll be playing at home.


    Week 8 at Cleveland Browns, 4:25 p.m. ET

    This is one of the few "winnable" games on the Raiders' schedule and a game where Oakland won't be a clear underdog, at least on paper. It's also on the road, where Oakland has struggled for years. This will be a great opportunity to start turning that trend around. There's also a good chance Johnny Manziel will be the starting quarterback for Cleveland by this point. This will be a major test for the Raiders, as they have had trouble dealing with scrambling quarterbacks.


    Week 10 vs. Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET

    The Oakland defense was completely dismantled by Peyton Manning in both meetings last season. One of the biggest reasons for this was the lack of a consistent, effective pass rush, which is why the Raiders rebuilt their defensive front. This will be the first real test to see if Tuck and Woodley can provide the pressure needed to give the Oakland defense a chance against the powerful Denver offense.


    Week 12 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:25 p.m. ET

    The Raiders get one prime-time game in 2014, and this Thursday night game is it. This will be Oakland's one opportunity to show the entire country how much the team has improved.


    Week 14 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m. ET

    Oakland and San Francisco have one of the better rivalries in football, and this will be the first regular-season meeting between the two since 2010. The teams play in different conferences, and they might find themselves in very different places in the standings by this point in the season, but this one is about pride. Expect this game to be an intense, hard-hitting matchup.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats have been taken from ESPN.com.