Oakland Raiders: Stock Up, Stock Down Following 2nd Preseason Game
Following an inspiring performance to open up the preseason, the Oakland Raiders were hoping to continue to build momentum against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, the second preseason game resulted in a much less promising overall performance.
The game, which took more than four hours to complete, lacked rhythm thanks in large part to a delay of about an hour due to lighting. It also didn't help that halftime was shortened to two minutes (literally) to try to make up for the lost time.
The end result for Oakland was a sputtering performance that ended in a 20-12 loss.
With the deadline for the Raiders to cut the roster down to 75 players quickly approaching, there were several players who didn't do themselves any favors in Minnesota. Fortunately, while the performance of several players left plenty to be desired, there were also those who stepped up and showed promise.
Here's a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down following Oakland's second preseason game.
Stock Up: Seth Roberts
Perhaps the tightest competition in Oakland heading into the second preseason game was the one for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. Rod Streater, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brice Butler were each expected to get their shot to prove they deserve the spot.
However, of all the wide receivers, it was arguably Seth Roberts who stood out the most.
Thompkins had another quiet game, Streater only saw action with the deeper reserves and Butler remained inexplicably buried on the depth chart and didn't see the field early on.
Roberts, on the other hand, saw first-quarter action with the first unit, and he showed he can be productive in several ways.
His stats aren't anything to write home about. When he was in with the first-team offense, he was used on an end-around run on which he picked up six yards. Later in the game, he caught his one pass, which he took down the right sideline for 39 yards.
However, getting any action with the first-team offense is a big deal for a depth wide receiver, even if it was on a running play. And his reception, even if it was his only one, gave him the opportunity to display his route running and ability to run away from defenders.
This one performance wasn't enough to give Roberts the lead in the competition for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. However, he was on the field often, which showed that the coaches are looking to see what he can do with more playing time, and he certainly showed some positives.
Once considered a roster-bubble player, Roberts suddenly finds himself in contention for a significantly increased role in the offense as the coaches are willing to give him more opportunities. That's a clear sign that his stock his up in Oakland.
Stock Down: Tony Bergstrom
Back in 2012 when Reggie McKenzie first took over as Oakland's general manager, there was no shortage of problems for him to deal with. One of those was the Raiders' lack of draft picks. That first year, McKenzie didn't get to make his first pick until the end of the third round. That pick was spent on offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom.
Given when Bergstrom was selected and the position that he plays, it's unreasonable to expect him to have been some kind of franchise-changing player. What's not unreasonable is to expect him to have made some kind of impact by now.
But since he was picked, Bergstrom has made virtually no impact in Oakland. That continues to be the case this season. Once again, Bergstrom is seen as a player on the roster bubble. And once again, Bergstrom isn't making too strong of a case for himself.
We saw more of that against Minnesota. While he actually performed pretty well in run blocking, he struggled overall. Bergstrom was called for a few penalties, and on several plays he was on his heels struggling to keep defensive linemen in front of him. He struggled as a rookie and has struggled since, and that hasn't changed this year.
If you think that the only reason Bergstrom is still on the roster after several seasons of underwhelming play is because he was McKenzie's very first pick, you're not alone. Whether there's any truth to that suspicion or not is anyone's guess.
What is clear is that Bergstrom's hold on a roster spot at this point should be tenuous at best based on his performance. He's still unreliable, and it's hard to see him as anything more than a third option at any position.
Bergstrom has shown some signs of improvement, and he'll have the opportunity to earn a roster spot over the next two games. But after giving him several years to try to develop into an effective NFL offensive lineman, this might be the year the Raiders finally cut their losses.
Stock Up: Michael Dyer
When Michael Dyer joined the Raiders as a rookie free agent, it looked like he had a pretty steep hill to climb just to make the roster, much less actually get some playing time. But through two games, Dyer has made a strong case to not only make the roster but to also step in as Oakland's No. 2 running back behind clear starter Latavius Murray.
Dyer opened up the preseason with an unimpressive five-carry, 11-yard performance (2.2 yards per carry). But against Minnesota, he was much better, finishing as Oakland's leading rusher with 45 yards on 12 carries (3.8 yards per carry).
Those aren't stellar numbers, but there are a couple of important takeaways: Dyer looked much more comfortable and assertive in his second game, and he showed he's versatile enough to run both to the outside and between the tackles.
Two things that Dyer has no control over have really helped him: Roy Helu Jr.'s continued absence due to injury and Trent Richardson's evermore disappointing play (more on that later).
Yes, Helu has been out and Richardson has been completely ineffective. However, this shouldn't be taken to mean that Dyer hasn't done his part. He's continued to improve, and he's shown that he can be a productive member of the Oakland offense.
Through two preseason games, Dyer has been Oakland's second best running back. Not only has he gone a long way in securing a roster spot, but he's also made a case to earn important snaps in the regular season.
Stock Down: Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson's first season in Oakland was supposed to be a turning point in his career. During his time with the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, Richardson was seen as a player who lacked vision, burst and the ability to make tacklers miss. This was his time to change that perception.
Instead, all he's been able to do through two preseason games is prove his critics right. Of the six running backs currently on Oakland's roster, Richardson has been the least productive.
|Running Back Ranking Through 2 Preseason Games Based on Yards Per Carry|
|4.||George Atkinson III||8||20||2.5|
|6.||Roy Helu Jr.*||N/A||N/A||N/A|
*Helu has yet to play this preseason.
While the stats themselves aren't impressive, it could be argued that it's difficult to make an accurate assessment based on such small samples.
That might be true. But if you've seen Richardson play, you understand that these numbers are an accurate reflection of his play.
So far, all of the criticism that followed Richardson to Oakland has been proven true. He can't make tacklers miss and he doesn't seem to have any real burst, and the biggest criticism of all—he lacks the vision to find the running lanes—has been frustratingly obvious.
Of the five running backs who have taken the field for Oakland this preseason, Richardson has been the least effective. That's a major problem for him considering he was expected to, at the very least, challenge for the No. 2 running back spot. Right now, there's no spot for him on the roster no matter how you look at it. Every other running back has a clear advantage over him.
- Murray is the undisputed starter by a wide margin.
- Dyer has been the better rusher this preseason.
- Once Helu gets back healthy, his pass-catching ability and proven efficiency as a rusher will immediately place him ahead of Richardson.
- Jones and Atkinson have been better this preseason and are also proven contributors on special teams, giving them an advantage.
Richardson continues to fall further behind the other running backs. His odds of making the 53-man roster aren't looking good. In fact, he's something of a long shot to even make the 75-man roster at this point based on what we saw from him against the Vikings.
Stock Up: Shelby Harris
The Raider are still looking to find pass-rushing help for Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack. Against the St. Louis Rams, Shelby Harris stepped up to show that he's ready to contribute in this role. Against Minnesota, he reaffirmed his presence as a factor in the pass rush for Oakland.
However, what really stood out was that after struggling in the first preseason game against the run, Harris was very strong in this area against Minnesota.
What Harris has shown through two games is that while he can be the pass-rushing presence Oakland hopes he can be, he's not a one-trick pony. Not only can he get to the passer, but he can also help out against the run.
This continued emergence of Harris is a major boost for the defense as a whole. One of the things the Raiders are trying to figure out this preseason is how to best utilize Mack. He can stand up and drop back, he can rush of the edge and he can even help inside at defensive tackle on occasion.
The problem the team is facing is that there's an expected drop-off in performance wherever Mack isn't.
The development of Harris goes a long way in addressing this issue. By having another effective edge defender available, the team won't have to rely as much on Mack on every single down while also giving the team more options.
Obviously, Mack is going to carry the bulk of the responsibility for wreaking havoc off the edge. But through two games, Harris has proven that he's ready to be a dependable, effective backup.
By doing so, he's helped bolster Oakland's front seven, and he's greatly helped his case for making the final roster in the process.
Stock Down: Cornerbacks
After a strong showing last week, TJ Carrie once again looked good. He was consistently solid in coverage. He can stick with his man, and he regularly finds the ball in order to make a play on it. He still has important improvements to make to his game, but he's on the right track.
Unfortunately, he's the only cornerback on the Oakland roster whom these things can be said about after two preseason games.
Against Minnesota, one thing in particular jumped out: DJ Hayden still doesn't look ready to be an NFL starting cornerback. He showed speed and quickness—two things he's always had. But he gave up a touchdown even though he seemed to be inside wide receiver Charles Johnson's jersey.
The reason? Hayden is now in his third season, but he still doesn't know how to consistently make a play on the ball. Even though he was right with Johnson, the receiver simply turned, found the ball and jumped up to get it. Hayden, meanwhile, did nothing as the ball sailed over his head because he never knew where the ball was.
It seems like almost every game, Hayden gives up receptions even though he's right there with his man. This is why. It's always been an issue, and it's become apparent that it still is.
Over the course of the game, something else became clear: Even though Hayden still doesn't look like the starting-caliber cornerback Oakland needs him to be, the team has no one else to turn to.
Whether it was Neiko Thorpe, Dexter McDonald, SaQwan Edwards or any other cornerback the Raiders sent out onto the field, no one looked ready to take on major responsibility at the position.
The ideal situation would be that if Hayden weren't the starter opposite Carrie, then Keith McGill would step in. Unfortunately, McGill struggled against St. Louis last week. He appeared as unready to step up and take on a prominent role in coverage as the rest of Oakland's cornerbacks. He was out against Minnesota, so he didn't get a chance to show he's improved.
After two games, it's getting pretty hard to argue that the Raiders are somehow just going to be OK at cornerback.
When the team decided this summer to go with youth at the position, it was understood that there would be some growing pains. But so far, the unit as a whole looks subpar and incapable of keeping up with any first-string wide receiver groups over the course of four quarters. It's a matter of when, not if, they'll give up a big play.
The team looks like it's in real trouble at the position, and there doesn't seem to be a solution currently on the roster.
Stock Up: Ben Heeney
Ben Heeney was arguably Oakland's most impressive performer in the team's preseason opener. Heading into the matchup against the Vikings, the question many were asking was: Can Heeney do it again?
The answer was a resounding "yes."
Heeney was once again constantly around the ball. Whether it was a passing or running play, whether he was asked to help at the line of scrimmage or drop into coverage, Heeney always seemed to be near the ball making a play.
While Heeney seemed to be constantly in on the action, sometimes what we think we see doesn't match up with what's actually happening. But according to Pro Football Focus, the stats support this impression of Heeney's play.
|Heeney's Pro Football Focus Performance Ratings|
|Opponent||Run Defense||Pass Rush||Pass Coverage||Overall|
|St. Louis Rams||+1.2||+0.5||-0.6||+1.1|
Against St. Louis, Heeney's rating against the run was third among all Oakland defenders, and his overall rating was tied for sixth. Against Minnesota, he ranked first both against the run and in overall defensive rating.
One thing Heeney has already proven is that when he's on the field, opposing offenses are going to have a much tougher time running the ball.
He's also shown that he can be a force as a pass-rusher. He showed this facet of his game against the Vikings when he rushed up the middle on a delayed blitz and almost broke quarterback Taylor Heinicke in half while also forcing a fumble (you can check out the highlight here courtesy of NFL.com).
Heeney still has work to do, particularly in coverage. He hasn't been terrible in this area, but he's been below average. He'll need to show he can at least be efficient in coverage before he becomes a viable three-down option at middle linebacker.
However, his overall play continues to impress. It's unlikely that he'll beat out Curtis Lofton for the starting middle linebacker spot this season. But what Heeney has already done is prove he's more than just a rookie special teams player. If the team calls on him to step in on defense, his presence will be a boost to the unit.
At this point, Heeney is still a reserve linebacker. But given his performances so far, he's all but assured himself a spot on the final roster.
Who do you think has impressed the most through two preseason games? Who do think hasn't done enough to make the final roster? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below and on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.