Oakland Raiders: Final Predictions for 53-Man Roster Cuts

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2017

Oakland Raiders: Final Predictions for 53-Man Roster Cuts

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    On Saturday, the Oakland Raiders along with 31 other teams will cut their rosters down to 53 players. As usual, it's a tough process when making decisions on those sitting squarely on the bubble.

    Keep in mind, on Thursday, there's one more preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks for fringe players to prove they're worth a spot on the depth chart or the practice squad. 

    In some cases, back-end roster battles remain competitive after three outings. While most people tune out the fourth exhibition game, an undrafted rookie or second-year player can ultimately change his career trajectory with a sparkling performance.

    Before Thursday's preseason finale, how does the 53-man roster shape up? Which players have done enough to lock up a spot? Who's leading the competition for reserve roles?

Quarterbacks

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    1. Derek Carr

    2. Connor Cook

    3. EJ Manuel 

    Backup quarterbacks Connor Cook and EJ Manuel will continue their battle for No. 2 behind Derek Carr on the depth chart. Regardless of the outcome, the Raiders will likely keep three signal-callers.

    By the numbers, Cook has outperformed Manuel through three games. The second-year passer has completed 28-of-52 pass attempts for 254 yards and a touchdown. The fifth-year veteran threw for 131 yards on 15-of-25 pass attempts. 

    It's clear the coaching staff wants to see how much the Michigan State product grew from his rookie season to the present. He's nearly doubled his veteran counterpart in pass attempts. Manuel hasn't looked sharp after his first outing against the Arizona Cardinals.

    Whoever shows the most under center against the Seahawks will probably earn the primary backup spot, but they will both avoid the roster guillotine.

Running Backs

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    1. Marshawn Lynch

    2. DeAndre Washington

    3. Jalen Richard

    4. Jamize Olawale (Fullback) 

    Without Taiwan Jones, the Raiders won't carry an extra running back who serves as a core special teams player for the upcoming season. It's cut-and-dry at this position. Most would assume to see the four names above on the final roster. 

    Marshawn Lynch will come out of retirement to take over Latavius Murray's role as the featured back. You can expect him to handle approximately 200 carries. He will split the workload with two second-year running backs who can juke and dash on defenders as receivers out of the backfield.

    Jalen Richard flashed his human-joystick ability with a few moves after the catch against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday. Expect to see more of his elusiveness in the upcoming season. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked No. 1 in average yards after contact (3.63) during the previous season. 

    DeAndre Washington broke free on a 19-yard run against the Cowboys and looks ready for another productive season behind a stout offensive line.

Wide Receivers

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    1. Amari Cooper

    2. Michael Crabtree

    3. Seth Roberts

    4. Cordarrelle Patterson

    5. Johnny Holton

    Initially, six wide receivers seemed likely for the 2017 roster. However, Jaydon Mickens went quiet after the first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. In the NFL, coaches want to see consistency. At this point, the Washington product will spend another year on the practice squad. The same applies to K.J. Brent, who hasn't flashed in exhibition play. 

    Despite missing the two previous exhibition games, Seth Roberts' blocking and big-play ability will keep him in three-wide receiver sets in the slot position. 

    No one questioned Cordarrelle Patterson's spot on the roster, but he's going to see significant time on the field as a viable receiver in space. He's known for his return ability on special teams, but don't overlook the fifth-year pro's speed that can turn a five-yard catch into a 25-yard dash downfield. 

    Highlight Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as one of the NFL's underrated duos. They each logged 1,000-yard seasons and became the first Raiders pair to do so since Jerry Rice and Tim Brown during the 2001 season, per Raiders public relations representative Evert Geerlings.

Tight Ends

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    1. Jared Cook

    2. Clive Walford

    3. Lee Smith

    General manager Reggie McKenzie signed Jared Cook for his receiving prowess, but he showed balance as a decent pass-blocker with the Green Bay Packers in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.

    Now, it's a complete tight end room with in-line blockers, receivers and a young developing talent among the three at the position. Clive Walford's progress slowed due to injuries during his first two seasons, which prompted the decision to add Cook to the group.

    Carr threw a touchdown pass to Lee Smith in the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. In the postgame press conference, the Raiders lead quarterback also rebuked the restricted blocking label placed on the recipient of his first preseason touchdown pass:

    "Quit calling him a blocking tight end. As you see, people just drop him sometimes. That's one thing we have to take advantage of. We can't just be limited by a certain personnel group. Lee is one of the guys who has the one of the best sets of hands on the team. Being able to run him up the seam and do things like that, people won't be able to dictate when he comes in the game what they want to play."

    Don't assume Cook and Walford will dominate two-tight end sets. We can see Smith catch passes down the seam and over the middle in the upcoming season under offensive coordinator Todd Downing.

Offensive Line

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    Tackles: Donald Penn, Marshall Newhouse, Vadal Alexander, David Sharpe

    Guards: Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, Jon Feliciano

    Center: Rodney Hudson, Ian Silberman

    Donald Penn rejoined his team days before the third preseason game and took the field with the starters. Fortunately, he stayed in shape during his holdout and didn't miss a beat against the Cowboys.

    On Saturday, Marshall Newhouse seamlessly shifted to right tackle and sealed the edge on Washington's 19-yard run in the first half. Vadal Alexander didn't show enough through three games to earn the starting position. He also committed a costly penalty that erased Jamize Olawale's 56-yard run. Penalties have plagued the LSU product during his time with the starters.

    Here's a new name cracking the final roster, but it's a well-deserved addition. Offensive line coach Mike Tice spoke glowingly about Ian Silberman's transition from guard to center after the Raiders' preseason-opener:

    "He's probably been the biggest story on the line the whole training camp. He had not snapped a ball in practice. He had not snapped a ball in a game. He played every snap in the game at center and did very well. Had one mental and the mental he had, he stepped with the wrong foot. I'm very proud of him.”

    Naturally, Silberman plays the guard position, but his versatility as an interior lineman should boost his stock high enough to earn a roster spot.

    Silver and Black Pride writer Levi Damien noted the third-year pro's progression to the second-team offense:

    "Initially Silberman was third team behind Rodney Hudson and returning practice squad center, Oni Omoile. But soon he would move up to second team ahead of Omoile and hasn't looked back and last Saturday, the first team interior line not playing in the game, and Feliciano still not all the way back, Silberman ended up being the only Raiders player to play every snap."

    Most fans wouldn't recognize Silberman without his Raiders jersey, but he could see time on the field as a backup if necessary.

Defensive Line/Edge-Rushers

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    EDGE: Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, James Cowser, Shilique Calhoun

    DE/DT: Mario Edwards Jr., Denico Autry, Justin Ellis, Jihad Ward, Eddie Vanderdoes, Treyvon Hester, Darius Latham

    The Raiders will rotate players across the defensive line. As a result, it's not easy to highlight starters.

    Mario Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry will likely play the most snaps at 5-technique defensive end and 3-technique defensive tackle. The 2015 second-round pick flashed his ability to occupy blocks and clear space for edge-rushers behind him as a rookie. 

    Over the past two seasons, Autry logged 1,384 snaps. The coaching staff trusts him in most situations. The third-year defensive lineman has also racked up 5.5 sacks since the 2015 campaign as an interior pass-rusher. 

    The Raiders invested a third-round pick in Eddie Vanderdoes. Treyvon Hester leads the team with three sacks during the preseason. Both players will make the roster and contribute to the rotation on the front line. 

    Head coach Jack Del Rio expressed optimism for Jihad Ward's development. Despite missing training camp after undergoing foot surgery, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, he's a lock for a roster spot.

    Darius Latham quietly put together a strong preseason. He's accumulated nine tackles in three outings, which indicates his ability to track down ball-carriers and wrap up on tackles on the interior. He's going to contribute as an underrated run-defender on the defensive line.

    Behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, James Cowser flashed as a pass-rusher and in short-area pass coverage. The Raiders waived him in the previous year. Then, he returned on the practice squad and eventually appeared in six games. This year, he'll start the season on the active roster.

    Shilique Calhoun hasn't stood out in any fashion, but he's a third-round pick who's only played 10 regular-season games while learning a new position. He played defensive end as a primary pass-rusher at Michigan State. His transition to strong-side linebacker has definitely slowed his development. Yet, it's still early in his career. Expect him to play on special teams until he's comfortable on defense.

    LaTroy Lewis made a name for himself in the preseason. Through three games, he's posted two sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He will need another solid performance to potentially earn a spot on the 53-man depth chart.

Inside Linebackers

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    (Insert veteran pickup), Cory James, Jelani Jenkins, Marquel Lee, Tyrell Adams 

    Raiders fans will have their eyes set on the inside linebacker spots. Cory James exhibited development in the first two preseason games as someone who can move and attack offenses sideline to sideline. Jelani Jenkins displayed his ability to diagnose plays and tackle ball-carriers as well as receivers in the open field. 

    However, who's going to wear the green dot? The Raiders defense needs a player with experience to line up the unit, initiate pre-snap adjustments and make stops in action—that's a lot to ask of a rookie. Marquel Lee doesn't look ready for all the responsibilities as the Mike linebacker. 

    Tyrell Adams will take the field on special teams with a chance to see the field on occasion as a reserve inside linebacker. Still, it's likely the Raiders look to the waiver wire or unrestricted free agents after final roster cuts on September 2. 

    As a grizzled veteran, Perry Riley Jr. probably wanted to avoid sweating it out during training camp and preseason. He remains an available option at inside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

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    Cornerbacks: Sean Smith, David Amerson, T.J. Carrie, Gareon Conley, Antonio Hamilton, Dexter McDonald

    Safeties: Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph, Obi Melifonwu, Shalom Luani

    On Tuesday, Gareon Conley returned to the practice field for the first time since mid-June. He's also expected to play Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. He's not going to solve all the secondary issues right away, but it's a good sign to see your first-round pick ready to go for the regular season.

    Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Michael Gehlken confirmed David Amerson suffered a concussion after an on-field collision on Saturday. Sean Smith will deal with his legal issues. After the Rams game, Del Rio talked about allowing Smith to battle through the process.

    T.J. Carrie has struggled during the preseason, most notably, against Rams rookie wideout Cooper Kupp.

    The Raiders have multiple uncertainties and question marks at cornerback. The coaching staff hopes to see a healthy and focused group on September 10 against the Titans.

    On Thursday, Antonio Hamilton and Dexter McDonald will battle for the No. 5 cornerback spot. With Amerson's concussion history and uncertainties surrounding Smith's legal situation, both players will likely earn a spot.

    At safety, Keith McGill may start the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a Jones fracture, per Gehlken. If so, he wouldn't count against the 53-man roster but would automatically miss six weeks of the regular season. There's value in his special teams contributions after the Raiders lost several players who provided kick coverage from the previous season. 

    In McGill's absence, Shalom Luani made his presence felt throughout the offseason program. He translated his camp buzz into live-action development as a solid defender in coverage with good leverage on his tackles. At this point, he's a lock for the 53-man roster, but the seventh-rounder will probably see the field on Thursday.

Special Teams

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    Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski

    Punter: Marquette King

    Long Snapper: Jon Condo

    On special teams, it's the usual. Sebastian Janikowski didn't convert a single field-goal attempt into points during the preseason. However, he's been in the league for 18 seasons with a solid standing over the past few seasons. Giorgio Tavecchio will have to wait another year to take over kicking duties in Oakland. The veteran enters the final year on his deal, per Spotrac.

    Long snapper Jon Condo also goes into a walk-year. Keep an eye on Andrew East as a potential replacement after the season.

    Punter Marquette King will remain in Oakland for the distant future unless the coaching staff grows tired of his post-punt antics. The league relaxed restrictions on celebrations, but Del Rio would probably like to see zero flags on his player for the upcoming season.

    King will continue to express himself. As long as it's within reason, special teams coach Brad Seely and Del Rio shouldn't have to sit down for an intervention with him.