Oakland Raiders: 5 Players on Roster Bubble Who Should Make Team

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIIJuly 31, 2015

Oakland Raiders: 5 Players on Roster Bubble Who Should Make Team

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders' 2015 training camp should be especially intriguing. While there are still some starting jobs left to be won, more interesting will be the battles for spots deeper on the roster that are still up for grabs.

    Oakland finds itself with a lot of young talent at several different positions. These are spots that might be overlooked in training camp and early in the year. But with the unstable nature of the NFL, it's possible that players who might have been seen as no more than reserves or special teamers could suddenly find themselves in positions where the team is depending on them to perform.

    Because of this, reserve players can end up being just as important as the starters. If the team calls on them, they have to be ready to play. More importantly, they have to be able to perform at a high level.

    These five players might not be major contributors over the course of the entire season, but they are capable of stepping in and helping the Raiders win if the need arises, making them deserving of a spot on the final roster.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    These players could contribute this season. Unfortunately, they play positions that are especially deep. Keeping them would help the Raiders, but they face uphill battles when it comes to finding a spot on the final roster.

    Josh Harper (wide receiver)

    Harper has established chemistry with Derek Carr, which could go a long way once the offense actually steps on the field. But the Raiders have a lot of options at the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart. While Harper has a shot at making it as the team's final wide receiver, a year on the practice squad is more likely.

    Neiron Ball (linebacker)

    Personally, I'm rooting for Ball (if you haven't heard his heart-wrenching story, check out his interview with CSNBayArea.com's Fallon Smith). A man who's been through that much deserves a shot at success. Unfortunately, he's a linebacker, which means he's part Oakland's deepest position group. Ball has the potential to contribute as a situational linebacker and on special teams. However, the best-case scenario is that he ends up on the practice squad.

    Trindon Holliday (wide receiver/kick returner)

    A healthy Holliday would be a great addition to Oakland's special teams. He's only 5'5" and 166 pounds, but he has speed to burn. Unfortunately, his lack of size has made him prone to injuries. His short stature also makes him a non-factor as a wide receiver, which means it's kick returner-or-bust for him. Considering how many options Oakland has at wide receiver, it's a long shot at best that Holliday can make his way onto the final roster exclusively as a return man.

Cody Fajardo

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    There's no doubt as to who will be Oakland's starting quarterback. The only question is how the depth chart will take shape behind him. Rookie Cody Fajardo's unique abilities differentiate him from the other options and make him an intriguing option for the offense.

    Why he's on the bubble

    Because of their experience, Christian Ponder and Matt McGloin are the obvious candidates to back up Derek Carr.

    If Carr has to miss time at any point, it makes sense to have a quarterback with experience to step in for him and manage the offense.

    With two experienced pocket passers in front of him, Fajardo is at a disadvantage given the offense he ran in college. While at Nevada, Fajardo ran the same read-option offense that spawned Colin Kaepernick. This creates doubts regarding whether or not Fajardo is capable of running a more traditional offense.

    Kaepernick has been successful, but he's seen as an exception, not the rule. The same "running quarterback" stigma that's affected so many other college quarterbacks applies to Fajardo. There's legitimate doubt as to whether or not he can actually play quarterback at the next level when he'll have to rely much more on his arm and much less on his running ability.

    Why he should make the final 53-man roster

    It wasn't uncommon for the Raiders to have only two active quarterbacks on game days last year even though there were actually three quarterbacks on the roster. That's likely to continue this year, which means that only the No. 2 quarterback spot is an immediate concern.

    This opens up the possibility of experimenting with the No. 3 quarterback spot. For all intents and purposes, Ponder and McGloin are the same quarterback. They're pocket passers who can manage the offense for a limited time and who'll never be expected to be more than a stopgap in Oakland. By keeping both, the Raiders would essentially have a backup and a reserve backup. This redundancy doesn't really help the team.

    Fajardo, on the other hand, offers something completely different. According to sports-reference.com, he finished his four-year college career with 878 completions for 9,659 yards, 57 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and a completion percentage of 65.1. On the ground, he totaled 3,482 yards, 44 touchdowns and 3,482 yards on 636 attempts while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He's a legitimate dual-threat quarterback.

    Unlike the other reserve options, Fajardo has the ability to add a completely different dimension to the offense. Even if it's just situational, he has unique abilities that can make the offense more dangerous. McGloin and Ponder should battle it out for the No. 2 quarterback spot, but Fajardo is the best option to fill in at No. 3.

Taiwan Jones

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Taiwan Jones is an interesting member of the Raiders roster because for years he's been a player without a position. Drafted as a running back, he was eventually moved to cornerback. This season, he's once again listed as a running back. Despite these changes, he's been primarily a special teamer, which seems to make him expendable.

    Why he's on the bubble

    Aside from the long snapper, the punter and the kicker, NFL teams don't really carry players who are exclusively special teamers. Instead, the special teams units are made up of reserves from around the roster. That means that while a player might play exclusively on special teams, he's technically a reserve at another position.

    This is where Jones runs into trouble. He's been a running back, a cornerback and now a running back again with Oakland, but he's never really played these positions. Instead, he's become a special teams ace. That's an important role, but keeping him would mean sacrificing a roster spot for a player who could potentially contribute somewhere else.

    This puts the team in a tough position. With so many options at running back and cornerback, can the team afford to give up a spot for a player who's never really expected to play anywhere other than on special teams?

    Why he should make the final 53-man roster

    Special teams is a commonly underappreciated part of the NFL game. The return game is often overlooked until it can't pick up enough yards in a close a game. The coverage team is ignored until it gives up a big return.

    Of course, despite the relative lack of attention, the success of these units is crucial to the success of the team. And when special teams play well, it isn't an accident. There are key players on these units who the team depends on for field position both offensively and defensively.

    Jones is one of those players. He hasn't garnered many headlines in his career, but he's been an instrumental part of Oakland's special teams for years. He's a leader. This means not only getting tackles and blocking, but it means ensuring the entire unit both in coverage and on returns is in the best position to create big plays.

    Is it a sacrifice for the team to make room for a player like Jones? Maybe. But it's worth it.

Dexter McDonald

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Oakland's lack of experience at cornerback has been well documented. But if that's the direction the team wants to go in, it should be committed to and embraced. The Raiders should go all-in with youth from top to bottom. This means giving a rookie like Dexter McDonald a chance to succeed no matter where he ends up on the depth chart.

    Why he's on the bubble

    While it remains to been seen exactly how the top three cornerbacks on the roster will line up, it's clear that the top three spots on the depth chart will be filled by D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill. These are the most talented cornerbacks in Oakland, but they also lack experience.

    This makes adding even more inexperience a big gamble. For this reason, players such as Neiko Thorpe, Chimdi Chekwa and James Dockery seem like better options. None of these players has seen major playing time at cornerback in the NFL, but they have seen some, which is more than McDonald can say.

    McDonald has good size at 6'1" and 200 pounds, but he's brand new to the league. In the case that Hayden, Carrie or McGill get injured or are simply not playing well, the Raiders would be smart to have someone with some experience to plug in rather than a completely unproven and untested rookie.

    Why he should make the final 53-man roster

    The Raiders do have some cornerbacks with NFL experience on the roster (Chekwa, Dockery, Thorpe and Ras-I Dowling are all entering at least their third season), but none of them are particularly exciting options. To put it simply, they're all expendable.

    McDonald didn't get much exposure when playing at Kansas, but he did have one especially impressive performance that should be noted. In a game against West Virginia last season, he played particularly well when matched up in one-on-one situations against first-round pick Kevin White.

    McDonald's abilities are evident on film. He knows how to use his good size against big receivers, and he also has good quickness. Even as a rookie, McDonald arguably has a higher upside than the more experienced cornerbacks listed above.

    Including more experienced options at cornerback makes sense, but the Raiders have little to lose and a lot to gain by keeping McDonald. He can help on special teams, and in limited defensive snaps, he can prove that he's this year's Carrie.

Michael Dyer

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Rookie Michael Dyer found his way onto the Raiders roster after a whirlwind college career that included four schools and plenty of trouble. Despite the off-field issues, Dyer was always productive. He isn't the biggest or most explosive back, but he's proven that he can always find ways to be effective once he gets the ball in his hands.

    Why he's on the bubble

    Following last year's all-around terrible rushing performance, the Raiders made it a point to revamp the running back position. Only Latavius Murray is back from last season. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are gone, and the team replaced them with Trent Richardson and Roy Helu Jr.

    Also, with the offense switching from using a fullback to an H-back, Marcel Reece could be in play for more touches out of the backfield as well. With Murray, Richardson, Helu and possibly Reece expected to get opportunities, there might not be enough touches to go around.

    Dyer joins an Oakland team looking for any sort of production from the running back position, but he joins a somewhat crowded backfield. The players who are in place ahead of him have extended contracts, which means the team will likely give them opportunities to succeed ahead of an undrafted rookie.

    Why he should make the final 53-man roster

    While Oakland seems to have a lot of options ahead of Dyer, that isn't quite the case. Reece, who will assume the role of an H-back, will be more of a jack-of-all-trades for the offense, so there will be several ways to get him the ball other than handing it off to him. As for Helu, he's a capable rusher, but he's more likely to be used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

    With Murray the early favorite to win the starting job, that leaves Richardson and Dyer to compete for carries. Richardson seemed like the best candidate, but there are already reports that the offseason gamble isn't going as planned. According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, the "whispers are that the Trent Richardson reclamation project is not going so well."

    This creates a golden opportunity for Dyer. Fortunately, he has the ability to make the most of it. He's capable of running between the tackles despite his 5'9" size, and he has enough speed to get around the edge if necessary. Murray has game-breaking potential, and Dyer is a player who can be effective in limited, specific situations. This would give Oakland an effective 1-2 combination at running back.

    The truth is that Richardson has already shown what he can do at the NFL level, and it isn't much. Hoping for Richardson to somehow turn things around isn't the smart move for this up-and-coming offense. The better choice is to go with the rookie who has shown real potential and has everything to prove.

    Given the lack of experience, Dyer might not replace Richardson right away. But he has enough potential to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

Brice Butler

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Brice Butler spent all of 2014 inexplicably underutilized. Despite the flashes he showed when he did get to play, the coaches always seemed to pass him over. Butler has shown enough to not only earn a roster spot but to be a key part of the offense.

    Why he's on the bubble

    The one thing that's stopped Butler from making more of an impact has been a lack of opportunities. The frustrating part is that there's never been a clear reason for this. He just hasn't gotten the touches he deserves.

    The top of the wide receiver depth chart is set with Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Rod Streater. After them, the Raiders have nine other receivers to choose from in order to establish effective depth and fill three other wide receiver spots.

    Assuming the Raiders keep six wide receivers like they did last year, that leaves Butler to battle it out with eight other receivers for one of three other spots. There are several intriguing options in this group, making it even more challenging for Butler to stand out.

    Why he should make the final 53-man roster

    Butler seemed to have done enough to earn the trust of the coaches after last year's preseason when he was clearly Oakland's best receiver over the four games. He compiled totals of 13 receptions for 206 yards and four touchdowns. For some reason, this didn't translate to more playing time in the regular season.

    In the limited opportunities Butler did get, he showed what he can do. The best example came in Week 6 against the San Diego Chargers. Despite being buried on the depth chart, Butler finished the game as Oakland's second best receiver with 64 yards and a touchdown on three catches.

    This performance was highlighted by a short pass that he turned into a 47-yard touchdown on which he ran by five members of the San Diego defense, exhibiting his burst, open-field speed and nose for the end zone (you can check out the highlight here).

    The fact is Butler was never given the opportunity that he seemed to have clearly earned. In a tweet Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote last October, it became evident just how odd Butler's lack of opportunities really was: "[offensive coordinator Greg] Olson said [Kenbrell] Thompkins getting more time than Butler last week also has to do with 'production in practice.'"

    There's no good reason why Butler shouldn't be a regular part of the offense. The only possible explanation for him being on the roster bubble seems to be the ineptitude of the previous coaching staff. That should change under the watch of new head coach Jack Del Rio, which should make Butler's spot on the roster all but secure.

Recap

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    None of the players on this list is expected to start. They can, however, help the team out if called upon. Assuming they do make the final cut, here's a look at what the final depth chart should look like at their respective positions.

    (Note: Projected number of players at each position is based on how many active players Oakland carried at the position last season.)

    Quarterback

    QB1 - Derek Carr

    QB2 - Christian Ponder or Matt McGloin (keep one, cut the other)

    QB3 - Cody Fajardo (not active on game days)

    Running Back

    RB1 - Latavius Murray

    RB2 - Roy Helu Jr.

    RB3 - Michael Dyer

    RB4 - Taiwan Jones (special teams)

    Cornerback

    CB1 - D.J. Hayden

    CB2 - T.J. Carrie

    CB3 - Keith McGill

    CB4 - Neiko Thorpe

    CB5 - Dexter McDonald

    CB6 - James Dockery

    Wide Reciever

    WR1 - Amari Cooper

    WR2 - Michael Crabtree

    WR3 - Rod Streater

    WR4 - Brice Butler

    WR5 - Andre Holmes

    WR6 - Josh Harper (a good option here, though not a "must" on the active roster this season)

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL.com. Player measurements taken from the Raiders' official roster.

    Which players on the roster bubble do you think Oakland has to include on the final 53-man roster? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.