Raiders' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 16, 2021

Raiders' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders played the first preseason game in the brief history of Allegiant Stadium on Saturday night, and they started off on the right foot, defeating the Seattle Seahawks 20-7. The next time the Raiders play on their home field will be the 2021 season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

    While preseason wins and losses don't matter and aren't indicative of future success, they are important because teams can use these matchups to help make tough roster decisions they may be facing during training camp.

    Las Vegas has several key roster battles taking place, with a few starting jobs up for grabs and other players trying to earn spots on the 53-man roster. The Raiders still have two more preseason games (Saturday at the Los Angeles Rams and Aug. 29 at the San Francisco 49ers), so there's plenty of time for them to consider their tough decisions.

    Here's a look at how several key battles are going during camp for Las Vegas, along with predictions for their winners.

Nickel Cornerback

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    The Raiders secondary is going to look a bit different in 2021. Veteran Casey Hayward Jr. signed with the team and will likely be a starting cornerback, while rookie safety Tre'von Moehrig could have a big role.

    While there will be some changes for Las Vegas in the defensive backfield, some of them have yet to be decided, including the battle for the starting nickel cornerback role. Nevin Lawson, Nate Hobbs and Amik Robertson are all in the mix and trying to earn playing time throughout the preseason.

    Lawson has worked with Las Vegas' first-team defense most of the time, according to ESPN's Paul Gutierrez, but he will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season. That could open a window for Hobbs, a rookie the Raiders took in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft.

    Hobbs had two tackles and a sack in the preseason opener, and head coach Jon Gruden said his team has "a lot to look at before we make any conclusions, but we do like our fifth-round pick," perΒ Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

    Because Lawson will miss the start of the regular season, Hobbs should have an opportunity to start. And with how well he's playing, he's likely to keep that role even when Lawson returns.

    Projection: Hobbs earns and keeps the starting job.

Defensive Tackle

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    When the Raiders released their first unofficial depth chart, they gave no indication of who will be their second starting defensive tackle alongside Johnathan Hankins, listing Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas and Darius Philon as co-starters at that spot.

    So it seems that job is still up for grabs at this point in the preseason, even though Jefferson appeared to be the most likely starter after he signed with the Raiders as a free agent during the offseason. Another wrinkle is the fact that Las Vegas signed veteran Gerald McCoy, who is looking to bounce back after missing all of 2020 because of a ruptured right quadriceps tendon.

    Still, Jefferson should be atop the depth chart at that spot. He's been solid over the past three seasons, playing 46 games during that stretch across stints with the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.

    While McCoy could work his way into the mix, which could also include Thomas and/or Philon, Jefferson will secure a starting spot heading into his first season in Las Vegas. He's a reliable player who should bring stability to the interior defensive line.

    Projection: Jefferson earns starting job.

No. 3 Running Back

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake will be the Raiders' top two running backs on the depth chart and are likely to combine for a ton of touches. However, Las Vegas is going to carry at least one more running back on its roster, and the battle for that spot heated up in the team's preseason opener.

    There are two undrafted rookies battling for roster spots with the Raiders: Trey Ragas and B.J. Emmons. And they both impressed against the Seahawks. Ragas had 13 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Emmons had nine carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.

    The reason that there's an opportunity for one of these backs to earn a roster spot is because Jalen Richard is out with a foot injury. Bo Scarbrough is also on Las Vegas' roster, but he may be behind Ragas and Emmons based on performance.

    It's possible that either Ragas or Emmons ends up at No. 3 on the depth chart, so the final two preseason games will be important for them. The guess here is that Ragas edges Emmons and makes the roster, as he scored his first touchdown on the Raiders' opening drive, meaning he was facing tougher competition. That could continue to be the case moving forward.

    Projection: Ragas earns roster spot.