Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Oakland Raiders' Final 53-Man Roster
The Raiders' roster bubble should resemble the size of a hot air balloon, and we’ll explore some potential keeps and cuts to place the best talent on the field.
The determining factors concerning who’s saved and who’s released hinge upon the following: skill set duplication at the position, need for depth or lack thereof and projection of impact as an active player during the regular season.
We’ll focus on the last five to make the active 53-man roster and the last five to get sent packing.
In: Tony Bergstrom
Raider Nation may remember offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom as general manager Reggie McKenzie’s first-ever draft pick for the organization. Some Raider fans may have just forgotten him, and rightfully so.
Bergstrom hasn’t stepped on the field for a meaningful game since playing nine games and starting only once in his rookie year in 2012. After two years of inactivity, he re-emerged as the backup center during mandatory minicamp, which displaced second-year guard Lamar Mady, per SilverandBlackPride.com writer Levi Damien.
That’s not exactly making leaps and bounds as a third-round pick, but the Raiders need a backup center behind Rodney Hudson. The need should help Bergstrom maintain a roster spot for at least another year.
In: Matt McCants
In continuing discussion concerning the depth of the offensive line, the Raiders lack depth at guard. J’Marcus Webb and Khalif Barnes are the leading candidates to start at right guard, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson.
The Raiders added another versatile tackle to the mix during mandatory minicamp, providing Matt McCants with second-team snaps at the position.
This says a lot about how much the Raiders value versatility on the offensive line, or it reveals a deep concern for fourth-round pick Jon Feliciano. I believe it’s the latter. It’s hard to sell to fans and analysts Feliciano’s oversold value in the fourth round when he lost second-team snaps to McCants.
At this point, it seems as though Feliciano may land on the practice squad instead of his initial projection as a starter in 2015, according to HNGN.com's Cal Setar.
McCants taking second-team reps provides depth that Feliciano is unable to fulfill this early in his career. The Raiders don’t have solid options at right guard, and McCants becomes the latest offensive tackle to fill a deep void.
In: Cody Fajardo
Cody Fajardo is a dual-threat quarterback from Nevada who threw for 2,498 yards with 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1,046 yards with 13 touchdowns in his senior year.
As a true dual-threat QB, he poses a unique dilemma for defenses in coverage. Fajardo played meaningful snaps with wide receiver Amari Cooper during rookie minicamp in May and looked pretty smooth throwing to the No. 4 overall pick, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today).
However, it’s not just Fajardo’s skill set that keeps him on the roster. Quarterback Matt McGloin could draw high value as a trading chip during the offseason, according to Williamson:
Teams are always looking for depth at quarterback. With Derek Carr, Christian Ponder and Matt McGloin, the Raiders are happy with three quarterbacks. If McGloin has a good preseason but is still behind Ponder as Carr's backup, I could see another team wanting to trade for him to become their backup. It could be something to watch in early September. It has nothing to do with undrafted free agent Cody Fajardo. If the Raiders trade McGloin, it will be more because of a 53-man roster situation rather than a quarterback who is currently behind him.
Personally, McGloin is a better talent than Christian Ponder, but offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will likely keep Ponder as the primary backup due to his familiarity with his strengths and limitations.
McGloin’s slide to No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart should draw the attention from teams looking for a solid backup. The Buffalo Bills have a major issue at the position, per Bleacher Report writer Kristopher Knox, which creates a potential starting opportunity for McGloin under Rex Ryan.
In the likely event McGloin is traded for a high draft pick or requests a release to seek better opportunities, Fajardo claims the No. 3 spot behind Ponder by default. If McGloin surpasses Ponder on the depth chart and the Raiders keep him, Fajardo loses his spot.
In: Austin Willis
Wide receiver Austin Willis is my dark-horse candidate to earn kick- and punt-return opportunities as he develops into a player similar to Wes Welker.
Willis knows that opportunities to play in the NFL are scarce, but he’s ready to work his way up from the bottom to make an impact, per the Emporia Gazette (h/t SilverandBlackPride.com writer Levi Damien):
After making the team, he then had to pay his dues. His first season the undersized athlete played mostly on special teams, catching just one pass on offense. From there he continued to work on his craft and earn a role on the offense.
"It's kind of tough those first couple of years proving yourself and climbing the ladder, but just like anything else, if you're patient good things will happen," Willis told the Emporia Gazette following his invitation to Raiders rookie minicamp. "Coach Higgins gave me opportunities here and I took advantage of those. I plan on doing the same thing again out there in Oakland."
Similar to his early college days at Emporia State, he becomes a valuable asset to the Raiders' special teams. The Raiders don’t have the luxury of the previous season using running back Latavius Murray or cornerback T.J. Carrie in kick returns, as both players prepare for expanded starting roles.
Willis comes into the offseason with more skill sets than kick-return specialist Trindon Holliday. The Emporia State product should eventually take over as the primary returner for the Raiders without much competition from anyone else on the roster.
Interestingly, Willis making the 53-man roster as a wide receiver could push fellow undrafted wide receiver Josh Harper to the practice squad for the upcoming season.
In: Michael Dyer
Former Auburn star running back Michael Dyer has lost his way since his best college season in 2011.
However, he still poses a physical presence within the Raiders' power run-blocking scheme and impressed during the offseason, per Williamson.
Secondly, according to Williamson, Trent Richardson hasn’t come into camp with the power and burst expected of someone trying to salvage a dwindling career. Williamson made an observation on Richardson during camp.
The former No. 3 overall pick continues to underwhelm, leaving the door open for Dyer, who’s competing for a roster spot. The days of the workhorse back taking the vast majority of carries is a role of the past—unless you’re Adrian Peterson.
The Raiders clearly want a solid committee in the backfield. As Richardson’s stock declines, Dyer’s stock rises.
Out: Lamar Mady
Previously, I mentioned the Raiders need depth at guard. However, offensive line coordinator Mike Tice continuously promotes versatility among his offensive linemen. He’s also more content with moving tackles inside rather than pushing Lamar Mady, who’s a natural guard, into the competition with J'Marcus Webb and Khalif Barnes.
At this point, there’s too much ground for Mady to cover at guard after losing snaps as the backup center to Tony Bergstrom. The Raiders have enough young, versatile offensive tackles capable of playing guard, albeit not at a high level (but capable), which makes Mady expendable during the offseason.
Out: Denico Autry
Oakland drafted Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round with the expectation of filling the void at defensive end opposite Justin Tuck.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack bulked up in the offseason in preparation to play more snaps as an edge-rusher, according to CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair. Sixth-round pick Max Valles should develop late in the season as a viable pass-rusher.
The reunion between Benson Mayowa and new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. may draw some favoritism, even though Norton specialized with linebackers with the Seattle Seahawks. The 6’3”, 252-pound Mayowa has a similar build to Bruce Irvin, who was Norton’s ("Leo") hybrid defensive lineman in Seattle.
Norton must find ways to create a pass rush, and Mayowa becomes a sneaky candidate as a breakout player in 2015. There aren’t enough snaps for Denico Autry behind Tuck, Edwards, Valles and Mayowa at defensive end.
Out: Trindon Holliday
The journeyman return specialist appeared on three rosters in 2014, which included the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Honestly, there isn’t much room on the roster for a 5’5”, 166-pound kick-return specialist lacking the skill set of a decent wide receiver.
The inability to place Holliday in wide receiver sets hurts his chances of claiming a roster spot over Austin Willis. The Raiders are committing to due diligence by working out Holliday at a position of need, but he’ll be released yet again when it’s all said and done.
Out: Chimdi Chekwa
The Raiders did very little to keep cornerback Chimdi Chekwa in their camp this offseason. According to Pro Football Talk writer Josh Alper, Chekwa signed with the New England Patriots early in the offseason without a tender attached to this signing.
Chekwa returned to Oakland after New England released him, but the cornerback position exudes young talented players. D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill are the leading trio. Neiko Thorpe impressed during mandatory minicamp, according to Damien.
Dexter McDonald (6’1”, 200 lbs) and SaQwan Edwards (6’0", 200 lbs) have the ability to develop into solid, physical cornerbacks in a year or two.
As a four-year veteran, Chekwa’s upside might have already capped, which explains why the Raiders didn’t tender him in the offseason and why they’ll let him go when cutting the fat from the roster.
Out: Leon Orr
Leon Orr left Florida with some injury and character issues, per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
“Has dealt with a variety of injuries at Florida, including a meniscus strain in 2014," Zierlein wrote. "Florida's head coach at the time, Will Muschamp, said Orr left the team after being told he would not start before Vanderbilt game and he was not allowed to rejoin the Gators.”
He’s an athletic defensive tackle who’s capable of penetrating the offensive line. However, he was severely limited by his selfish behavior and various injuries during his collegiate career. In his senior year, he only played five games and recorded 16 tackles without a sack. Instead of building his potential, Orr buried it in a lackluster senior year.
Oakland also re-signed C.J. Wilson, who weighs 300 pounds—a lot heavier than his days playing defensive end in Green Bay. Wilson could potentially slide inside as a 3-4 defensive end in sub-packages or split snaps with Stacy McGee as reserve defensive tackles behind Dan Williams and Justin Ellis.
Orr wasn’t thrilled about his reserve role at Florida, and he certainly won’t be happy with the lack of snaps behind four veterans—two of them in their prime—at his position in Oakland.
Do you agree with these cuts? Would you keep the same players? Who else belongs on the bubble? You can follow Maurice Moton on Twitter and give your input!
Player measurements courtesy of Raiders.com.