5 Players Who Might Find Themselves on Oakland Raiders' Practice Squad in 2015
The Oakland Raiders have several developing talents worthy of future opportunities but not quite ready to take the field during the 2015 season.
The Raiders would benefit from stashing these talents on the practice squad for at least a year before activating them as part of the 53-man roster.
Practice squads serve as the breeding grounds for NFL rosters when in need of re-enforcements due to injury or subpar talent on the active roster. SBNation.com writer Matt Verderame outlines the guidelines and requirements for practice squads across the league.
Who should the Raiders harvest in the practice unit? Which players have the talent to become starters, but need some work on fine mechanics? Some of these talents play at positions already stacked with depth but have too much upside to release before the regular season.
We’ll discuss some young players with high potential worthy of keeping around the breeding grounds of Alameda.
Wide receiver Josh Harper became a popular undrafted free-agent pickup to make the final 53-man roster. However, the Raiders depth at wide receiver won’t allow Harper to make the active roster in 2015.
In 2014, Oakland’s wide receiving corps endured injuries to two top receivers, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, and still only seven wide receivers caught passes from quarterback Derek Carr.
In 2015, Amari Cooper, Streater, Michael Crabtree and Andre Holmes should lead the depth chart as the top four receivers based on production history, draft status and veteran presence.
In reference to the previously noted practice-squad requirements, both Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins are ineligible after two seasons of regular-season activity.
Wide receiver Austin Willis has an opportunity to wrap up kick- and punt-return duties in special teams as the seventh wide receiver. He practiced fielding kicks before the layoff during mandatory minicamp, per SilverandBlackPride.com writer Levi Damien.
If Willis doesn't make the roster as a kick returner, it still wouldn’t make sense to pencil Harper in as the seventh receiver. There’s too much talent at the position to put him on the field and expect even marginal contributions.
Keep in mind offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wants to get Marcel Reece involved in the passing offense similar to Charles Clay, per ESPN's Bill Williamson, and Mychal Rivera serves as a solid receiving tight end.
Harper has proven chemistry with Carr, but there aren’t enough footballs to go around for him this year. Three of the top four receivers, Crabtree, Streater and Holmes, become free agents after the season, which opens a more prominent spot for Harper on the active roster in 2016.
The Raiders' seventh-round pick plays at a position boasting with talent but lacking in experience. Dexter McDonald fits the same mold, and he’s going to wait his turn behind D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie, Keith McGill and Neiko Thorpe.
Oakland has a fluid situation at cornerback, but management as well as the coaching staff emphasized confidence in their young talent leading the depth chart, per Associated Press writer Josh Dubow (h/t Desert News):
Barring a summer addition, the starters at cornerback this season in Oakland will likely come from a group that includes 2013 first-round pick DJ Hayden and second-year players TJ Carrie and Keith McGill.
That trio has combined to make just 15 career starts and has offered little proof as of yet that they can stand up to Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and other top-flight quarterbacks on Oakland's schedule.
We feel like there is some talent in that group," coach Jack Del Rio said. "They do need to be developed. They do need to be worked. A lot of times when you bring in older guys that may be safer guys Week 1, they're not able to hold up in Weeks 15 and 16, and they're not really changing the makeup of the team. We feel like it's time to develop these guys, bring these guys along.
In 2015, it’s time for that trio of cornerbacks to prove themselves as starters going forward.
McDonald had two solid years at Kansas and should blossom under defensive back coach Rod Woodson’s tutelage on the practice field. He’s a talented young cornerback, but the Raiders already plan to push three or four talents at the position with high expectations leaving little room for in-season growth in McDonald's rookie campaign.
Undrafted free-agent cornerback SaQwan Edwards has less of a chance of making the practice squad in comparison to McDonald. However, the Raiders should strongly consider keeping the wide receiver who converted to cornerback in the last two seasons of his collegiate career.
Edwards showed signs of improvement as a solid cornerback in his senior year. According to NFL.com draft scout Lance Zierlein, he exhibits a valuable combination of speed, length and physicality needed to develop into a complete NFL cornerback:
Rangy frame with good overall size. Former wide receiver who appears to recognize route combinations from zone coverage. Able to maintain feel for quarterback’s eyes and the receiver from off position. Has adequate long speed for big corner. Has length to annoy receivers from press. Aggressive when ball is in the air and attacks ball rather than showing excessive respect to receiver.
Edwards and McDonald could potentially become an imposing physical duo for the Raiders against NFL receivers capable of using size to beat defenders. This free-agent pickup could pay dividends in the near future, pending subpar performances from Hayden, Carrie or McGill.
Linebacker Chase Williams hasn’t received a lot of buzz within a crowded Raiders linebacker corps during the offseason, but he deserves some recognition for his senior year at Virginia Tech.
Despite a dormant start to his college career, which hurt his draft stock, he recorded 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for a loss during his final year on campus. The Raiders drafted Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball at linebacker to provide depth at the position and help on special teams, but Williams isn’t far behind in terms of his ability to contribute.
Williams' 6’2”, 215-pound frame needs some bulk to mature into an NFL-ready body. Nonetheless, if he maintains the attributes flashed in his senior year, he should provide more depth to a solid linebacker position in Oakland.
Seventh-round pick tackle Anthony Morris should land on the practice squad as a project, simply because he has the mauling capabilities of an interior lineman.
As shown in the video above, he’s athletic and capable of pulling across the offensive line, which should catch the eye of offensive line coach Mike Tice who's implementing a power run-blocking scheme in Oakland. Tice’s power run-blocking scheme also explains why he drafted guard Jon Feliciano in the fourth round and why I feel Morris fits within the scheme, per Damien:
The Raiders will be running a power blocking scheme this year which is what Feliciano is best suited for. He is described as having heavy feet but Tice has said he has the lateral agility necessary to be a solid run blocker and hold the line from the interior. Tice said he also expects the team's new coaching staff and strength and conditioning folks to be able to get more quickness from him.
Morris also holds value as a tackle, with question marks on the right side of the offensive line and regarding Donald Penn’s expiring contract in 2016. Oakland's first seventh-round pick comes from Tennessee State, a smaller NCAA Division I-AA school from the Ohio Valley Conference, and he's unfamiliar with competing against top-notch competition.
Morris needs more time to adjust to the speed of the game in comparison to his Division I counterparts in the league.
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Player measurements courtesy of Raiders.com.
Player contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com.