Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 | 8:44 a.m.
The Raiders suddenly have a star-power void after trading linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper both have the potential to turn into perennial Pro Bowlers, but Mack was the one sure thing on the roster. The hope is that one or both of the two first-round picks the Raiders acquired from the Bears for Mack can help replace him in the long-term. But who will emerge this season? Here are five players who could become Raiders’ staples by the time the team arrives in Las Vegas.
Karl Joseph Safety
The third-year safety might have one last chance to turn into the player the Raiders expected when they selected him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Although he made marginal improvements last year, the Raiders’ pass defense was still among the worst in the league. Joseph might have taken an inordinate amount of the blame solely based on his potential, which was once considered near-limitless.
Tahir Whitehead Linebacker
New Raiders’ defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has a reputation for elevating proven veterans. The 28-year-old Whitehead, who signed with the Raiders this offseason after six seasons with the Lions, could fit the bill this year. Whitehead is slight improvements away from emerging as a standout after establishing himself as a reliable starter.
Maurice Hurst Defensive Tackle
The University of Michigan product graded as highly as a first-round prospect, but fell all the way to the fifth round in this year’s NFL Draft because of a heart condition. Based on early returns, the Raiders got a steal. Opposing offensive linemen in the preseason have struggled to block Hurst, who could shore up one of the Raiders’ biggest weaknesses from last year.
Gareon Conley Cornerback
Last year’s first-round draft pick was limited to two games in his rookie season after undergoing surgery for a shin injury. But the 23-year-old was back fully healthy for the end of training camp and the preseason, looking like the most talented cornerback on the roster.
Jalen Richard Running Back
This would be more like a re-breakout, after Richard was a revelation as a rookie two years ago by averaging nearly 6 yards per carry and emerging as a pass-catching threat. The 24-year-old squandered that goodwill last year because of fumble issues. If he can secure the ball better this year, he has valuable big-play ability as the youngest player in an aging backfield.