Monday, May 17, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The NFL’s second phase of organized team activities, or OTAs, begins today.
For the Raiders, and the majority of teams, that doesn’t mean much this year. The Raiders are one of at least 21 teams whose players have opted out of the voluntary round of permitted in-person practices. Players from all but a handful of the league’s 32 teams have issued statements through the NFL Players Association announcing their intentions to pass on in-person participation and stick to meeting virtually.
They’ve mostly all cited ongoing COVID-19 safety concerns and the success of last year’s season despite not having any of the traditional offseason staples amid the first wave of the pandemic. It might be disappointing for football fans hoping for reports of players getting on the field, but the scheduled start of practices is still a milestone heading into next season. Now that the draft is over and the schedule is out, it’s time to start thinking about the makeup of rosters across the league.
Here’s an early projection of the Raiders’ opening-game 53-man roster out of training camp and into their Week 1 game against Baltimore on Sept. 13.
Quarterbacks (3): Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
Barring a highly unlikely, blockbuster trade for Aaron Rodgers, this will be the quarterback room for the second consecutive season. The Raiders have surely at least called to inquire about Rodgers, especially after he’s reportedly expressed interest in them, but that doesn’t mean they’re unhappy about their current situation. Carr continues to be underappreciated for how well he’s played, and it’s a luxury Las Vegas was able to bring back Mariota on a reworked contract for insurance as a starting-caliber backup.
Running backs (4): Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Alec Ingold, Theo Riddick
Jacobs, Drake and Ingold are pretty cut and dry. The fourth spot is where things could get a bit interesting. Jalen Richard looked like a favorite to enter a sixth season with the franchise, but has since taken down anything Raiders-related from his social media and alluded to moving on. That could open the door for undrafted free agent Trey Ragas, who was electric at Louisiana-Lafayette the past few years, but Riddick might be a surer bet. The 30-year-old veteran suited up for four games at the end of last season and was a respected member of the position group and practice squad throughout.
Wide receivers (6): Henry Ruggs, John Brown, Willie Snead, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones
The onus is on Ruggs and Edwards to make big strides in their sophomore seasons. Free agent signings Brown and Snead may prove valuable pickups but they’re more complementary pieces. Renfrow is entrenched and excellent in the slot. The sixth, and presumably final, slot could make for a lot of competition. It’s how practice standouts Keelan Doss or Marcell Ateman could sneak onto the roster, but Jones beat them both out last season. Despite not making a major impact on the field, Jones has a strong rapport with Carr and may get another chance.
Tight ends (3): Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier
Waller will unquestionably be the Raiders’ best weapon for another year. Moreau could quietly transform into one too. The former fourth-round pick out of LSU has shown flashes of his ability in his first two seasons, but now will have an easier route to consistent playing time. Carrier won’t play much offensively, but he’s a key special teams contributor.
Offensive linemen (9): Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Andre James, Denzelle Good, Alex Leatherwood, John Simpson, Brandon Parker, Nick Martin, Jaryd Jones-Smith
There should be some competition for the final backup spot or two. Jimmy Morrissey, a seventh-round pick this season, and Lester Cotton, a former undrafted free agent who spent the past two seasons on the practice squad, both will have a chance to make the team. Jones-Smith might have the edge, however, considering general manager Mike Mayock has already gone out of his way to praise the free agent signing. Jones-Smith’s size — he’s 6-foot-7, 345 pounds — and experience — he’s spent three seasons on NFL practice squads — may give him a chance to contribute on a rebuilt, unproven offensive line.
Defensive linemen (4): Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas, David Irving
Hankins has been the Raiders’ most (only?) consistent interior defensive linemen over the past four years, and he should once again be a steadying influence after signing a new one-year deal. The other three players listed above are all gambles to an extent, but ones with high upside. Jefferson was released by the Bills after a disappointing season but had previously played well with the Seahawks. Thomas is a former No. 3 overall pick for the 49ers who is coming off of an ACL tear. The Raiders must have liked what they saw out of Irving after signing him to the practice squad and activating him for two games last year following a brief retirement from the former Dallas Cowboy.
Edge rushers (6): Yannick Ngakoue, Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Kendal Vickers, Malcolm Koonce
This may seem like an odd split with two more defensive ends than defensive tackles, but Ferrell excelled and liked playing on the interior last season. He’ll get more snaps there this year. Rumors indicate the Raiders may move on from Nassib, who underwhelmed and was even inactive for a couple of games after signing a three-year, $25 million deal last offseason, but that’s no guarantee. He’s been a productive player before with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns, and should be worthy of another chance.
Linebackers (5): Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nicholas Morrow, Divine Deablo, Tanner Muse
Etch the names of the top three in stone. It gets trickier after that. The Raiders using a third-round pick on Deablo in last month’s draft complicates things for a pair of rookies from last year, Muse and UNLV product Javin White. Given the way the Raiders raved about White in practice last year and elevated him to the roster for three games, he may able to beat out Muse, who missed all of last season with injuries. But because of his status as a former third-round pick and reputation for strong special teams play, Muse will be given every opportunity to debut this year.
Cornerbacks (6): Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Casey Hayward, Rasul Douglas, Isaiah Johnson, Amik Robertson
This might double as the Raiders’ weakest position group and most competitive in terms of making the roster. It’s hard to leave sixth-round pick Nate Hobbs out of Illinois off the roster after a fiery introductory news conference where he vowed to succeed, but the Raiders may try to develop him on the practice squad this season. Las Vegas has shown no sign of wanting to move on from Nevin Lawson despite middling returns from the veteran, but he’ll be suspended for two games to start the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. That means he’s guaranteed at least not to be on the opening roster. Despite their veteran status, Hayward and Douglas are not locks to make the team but the Raiders might be wise to keep them both around. Without them, this is still a young, volatile unit overall.
Safeties (4): Johnathan Abram, Trevon Moehrig, Karl Joseph, Tyree Gillespie
Apart from Abram, this is a completely new unit, and that might be for the best. The rookie Moehrig seemed like a steal in the second round and on the surface pairs well next to Abram in the starting 11. Joseph could be a decent starter at free safety if Moehrig isn’t ready. The Raiders also showed their confidence level in Gillespie, who will back up Abram and play special teams, by trading up to take him in the fourth round last month.
Special teams (3): Daniel Carlson (kicker), A.J. Cole (punter), Trent Sieg (long snapper)
This is the same group as last year for good reason. Las Vegas played well on special teams, and though some players will be brought in to push this threesome in training camp, it’s difficult to see anything changing.