The Raiders have roughly three weeks until the 90-man roster gets cut. That’s a long time in preseason life, especially with the team still entrenched at the Napa Valley Marriott and three preseason games left. There’s plenty of film left to create and then evaluate.
Players on the bubble have made some decisions tough, with competition at several positions. Let’s pretend the 53-man roster deadline is today. Here’s NBCSportsCalifornia.com’s current roster projection, admitting that there’s time for changes as the preseason wears on to make a talented roster:
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
The Raiders generally keep nine offensive linemen, providing depth to position groups they value. The starting five is intact with Newhouse at right tackle upon Penn’s return. Feliciano can play all three interior spots, and Omoile makes the team with similar versatility. The Raiders have depth a tackle with Alexander and Sharpe, who can play on both sides. UPDATE (12:57 p.m.): Leaving Denver Kirkland off was an oversight. I've added him now. Assuming he didn't suffer a serious injury after being carted off the sideline Saturday at Arizona, he should make the squad. Omoile comes back into play if Kirkland's season is in jeopardy.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The Raiders have a versatile group, with players who can protect the passer and run the ball. Olawale should lead the special teams. The group is light, but a fifth back would’ve been a key special teams player. We found one at another position. Elijah Hood seems like a practice squad candidate.
Manuel is leading the backup quarterback battle, and while the Raiders have gone with two quarterbacks before, the trio should remain intact. Cook is entering his second season and will be given more time to develop.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
This group gives the Raiders options and depth at tight end. Cook is a legitimate receiving threat and Smith ranks among the league’s best blocking tight ends. Walford can do a bit of everything, but is still developing as a player. Coaches like Holmes, who provides quality depth and could feature on every special teams unit. He makes the team as an anchor in the kicking game.
The first four spots are written in pen. The last remains up for grabs, with K.J. Brent pushing hard for that final spot. Holton had it last year and could hang on to it thanks to great speed, improved route running and his place as a gunner on special teams. Brent has worked well subbing for an injured Amari Cooper. He has prototypical NFL receiver size and has proven adept catching passes in traffic. Can he be an impact special teams player? That could be a deciding factor here. Jaydon Mickens is also in this tight race for a roster spot.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Darius Latham might be the toughest cut of this projection. He earned a spot as an undrafted player last year and played extensive snaps. He is a quality run player, but Hester seems to offer more as an internal pass rusher. Latham hasn’t worked much with top units, and could be a casualty of a position upgrade. The Raiders have more athletes inside, with Ellis plugging gaps on rushing downs. Cowser is Mack’s understudy. Edwards and Vanderdoes should lead a rotation inside.
This group of inside linebackers are young and inexperienced, and this assumes Lee and James to enough to keep the front office from signing a veteran to join the group. Adams and Jenkins will work in reserve and on special teams. Calhoun is Irvin’s backup.
Some fans are calling for Smith’s release after a rough start to camp, but there are several reasons that seems unrealistic. Smith is guaranteed $9.5 million this season. Getting something for that cash is ideal. Smith still has great talent, and could right the ship before long. He could provide depth if Conley or Carrie take his starting spot. The Raiders are trying him out as a dime hybrid linebacker as well, and he could be an option there. Borders continues to impress, and McDonald has been the best cornerback among the rest. Antonio Hamilton and Kenneth Durden will continue fighting for their spot.
McGill could be out 6-8 weeks with a foot injury, but might only miss a few regular-season games if that timetable holds. The Raiders will leave him on the roster and avoid releasing a top special teams player or using an IR return option on him. He could end up on IR if the recovery timetable is longer, giving an undrafted player a shot at the roster. Or the Raiders could add another defensive lineman or cornerback and go with four safeties. Luani has impressed thus far, and the team still has high hopes for Melifonwu despite his training camp injury.
This trio will charge into another season together, though it’s an important campaign for Janikowski entering a contract year.