Oakland Raiders Final 53-Man Roster Projection
The final cutdown looms large for those players on the roster bubble of all the teams in the league this week.
Tom Cable said that for the Raiders there will be some very difficult decisions to make, unlike previous years. Whilst there will no doubt be one or two of those, many of the positions are set, if not necessarily as starters, but certainly as roster spots.
So who will be in and who will be out for Oakland when the deadline comes this year?
This is the easiest call to make of any position on any team in the NFL.
When you look at the Raiders kicking game (I didn't say their return game), they are simply the best in the league.
Sebastian Janikowski will kick, Shane Lechler will punt, and Jon Condo will long snap.
This is another fairly easy call.
Jason Campbell is the clear number one right now, and Bruce Gradkowski has dispelled any thoughts that his pectoral injury this offseason would see him slip down the depth charts with a first-class performance against the 49ers.
Kyle Boller has made himself the clear number three.
The strength of this unit?
Good. They have a competent starter, and strength in depth.
After waiting his time behind Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden, Michael Bush is ready to make the position his own, and McFadden will no doubt be his primary backup.
Even though they are listed as joint number one backs, it is Bush who will get the call most often.
As the third back, my money is on Michael Bennett in a close call with Rock Cartwright. Cartwright is probably the best all-round player and brings more versatility in the return game, but Bennett is a better pure runner. With the injuries to Bush, and with McFadden being so injury prone, that is what Oakland needs right now.
The strength of this unit: fair. Plenty of talent, but durability issues are a question mark.
With Luke Lawton suspended for the first four games, the Raiders will have to turn elsewhere.
Marcel Reece has shown improved, if not great blocking, but some real talent as a receiver. Monase Tonga is probably a better pure fullback.
With the release of Chane Moline, and the Alex Daniels experiment being over, Tonga and Reece are clearly the two men for the job.
Question is, who goes if/when Lawton returns?
The strength of this group? Weak.
Another pretty easy call here.
Zach Miller is the unquestioned starter, and Brandon Myers is an able backup and special teams player.
That leaves only John Owens on the roster for the third spot now that Tony Stewart and Eric Butler have been released.
The strength of this unit? Good.
I believe that the Raiders will carry six receivers, as they have done in previous years.
Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Louis Murphy are the main players at this position, and I think there is no doubt that Jacoby Ford will make the team too.
That leaves Nick Miller, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Todd Watkins as realistic contenders for the last two places.
I like Nick Miller, and I think the Raiders do too, otherwise why keep him on the active roster for so long last year even when he was injured? Todd Watkins is an okay receiver, but brings a lot of worth in special teams play, so for me the odd man out is Higgins.
He disappeared last year after a bad hit in the Chargers game, and I think you need more toughness than that to play at this level.
The strength of this group? Fair. Similar to the running backs, as there is a lot of talent, but not much production as a group so far.
The starters here look mostly set with the exception of center. Mario Henderson, Robert Gallery, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle, and Langston Walker are all safe in a job (albeit not Satele in the starting job), and rookies Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell aren't going anywhere.
Veldheer may even win the starting center job sooner rather than later,
Khalif Barnes could play any guard or tackle position and provides strength in depth, which leaves probably one roster spot left.
Given the spotty play at center, Oakland will go with Chris Morris purely for his versatility over Daniel Loper who plays only guard.
I don't see a spot for Erik Pears unless the Raiders keep ten linemen, which I doubt.
The strength of this unit? Average. But they have some strength in depth with solid backups.
For once the Raider Nation can look on their defensive line with some pride, as this appears to be the best group they have fielded in may years.
Lamarr Houston, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and Matt Shaugnessy make up a quality starting four, with Jay Richardson, the undervalued Desmond Bryant, and veteran John Henderson adding some quality depth.
I certainly see Henderson beating out undrafted free agent Kellen Heard for this spot, and Heard will probably land on the practice squad.
For the final place, Chris Cooper should beat out Grayson Gunheim. Cooper may have been out of football for a couple of years, and his inclusion in the final roster will surprise some, but he was always a good player and a disruptive presence along the line.
Weighing in at 295 lbs this year, he also fits the Raiders defensive scheme better than Gunheim.
The strength of this unit? Very good, both in quality and depth.
The three new starters on this unit are clearly certain of a roster spot.
Rolando McLain, Kamerion Wimbley, and Trevor Scott make a good set of starting backers.
Travis Goethel seems to have played himself onto the team with a strong preseason performance, and Ricky Brown can play any position in the linebacking corps. His versatility may save him from the cut, but he will have to show that he is durable this year. Another run of games missed with injury will likely spell the end for him.
Thomas Howard is another player who I feel is on the roster bubble, but his speed and pass coverage ability should save him.
That leaves the final place between Slade Norris and Quentin Groves, and I think that this is as close a call as there is on the roster.
Groves fits the scheme better and we gave up a draft choice for him this year, but doesn't seem to have shown that well in camp.
Slade Norris has made some great special teams plays and could be a core player on that unit.
The Raiders are building around youth, and on gut instinct I am going with Norris.
The strength of this unit? Good, but if Scott or Wimbley go down, the backups don't necessarily fit the same scheme and adjustments will have to be made.
I can wrap this one up quickly.
Nnamdi Asomugh on one side, with Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson fighting it out for the other starting job.
Rookies Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware make up the other two places.
The strength of this unit? Very good.
Tyvon Branch is the starter at strong safety, but after that it gets a bit more complicated.
Michael Huff currently holds the other starting safety job, but his play, especially against the run, has been poor.
Mike Mitchell is a lock to make the team, and seventh-round rookie Stevie Brown is also a keeper for me after a strong camp and preseason.
That leaves Hiram Eugene and Jerome Boyd out in the cold.
A good question is, does Huff's poor play and high salary make him expendable?
At this point I don't think it does, and he keeps his roster spot over the other two.
Strength of this unit? Average, but with good depth.
The first positive thing to say about this squad is that it is far stronger than in previous years, especially defensively.
The quarterback position looks infinitely better without Russell and has some quality depth.
The other skill positions such as receiver and running back have bags of talent and potential, but need to turn that into production.
The second positive thing is that all nine players that the Raiders drafted are projected to make the squad and not just by me.
Although the Raiders' draft got good grades with most experts, there were strong criticisms of our later picks, including Travis Goethel and Stevie Brown. Both of these players have showed well so far, and fit the type of player that Tom Cable likes.
This is going to be a first-class draft for Oakland