Ahh, the 2014-15 NFL season is finally upon us. Players are reporting to Training Camp, well, those who aren't holding out, at least. Season tickets holders are flocking toward their desired locations. And coaching staffs are gearing up for a brutal month long stretch of two-a-days, restless sleep and badgering interview sessions. And while there has been only one arrest [Kory Sheets] and/or suspensions (shockingly) in Oakland, a quiet off-season after the Draft, is a indeed a positive one. Heck, the biggest "news" in the Black Hole since May 8th, was the waiver claiming of WR Greg Little from the Cleveland Browns. But, without further ado, let us dive right into the thickness of all sticky substances: Predicting an Opening Week roster in July.
-- Quarterbacks (3): Matt Schaub, Derek Carr, Matt McGloin.
Not really splitting hairs on this complicated decision. Sorry, Trent Edwards, we'll appreciate the camp arm, but sticking on an NFL team is highly unlikely. Glad we got that out of the way. Now, as for who will be the Starting QB week 1 vs the Jets, the decision is solely left up to Dennis Allen. A Schaub-Carr battle will be well-worth watching this pre-season. The willy, battered Veteran versus the home-grown, Rookie gunslinger. McGloin's invaluable experience in Greg Olson's system will be well-suited for help molding Derek this off-season. Again, no-brainer for these three QB's, but needs to be clarified.
-- Runningbacks/Fullbacks (5): Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Latavius Murray, George Atkinson III; Marcel Reece.
Many, like myself, would have enjoyed the return of Rashad Jennings, but seeing MoJo Drew in the Silver & Black is a severe upgrade. And for the first time in his career, Darren McFadden will be pressed for a backup role at the very least. The only consistency DMC has brought to Oakland has been his confidence to lower his shoulder and a season ending injury by mid-year. But, to his credit, with less carries, McFadden could find stability and success in a 3rd-down role. Latavius Murray's 2013 season was over before in began due to a Lisfranc injury. His production in the Pre-Season will cement his spot; assuming his health is of no concern. And lastly for the RB's: George Atkinson over Jeremy Stewart. While the Raiders appreciate Stewart's Special Teams play, King George the 3rd will bring actual return ability to a team who has longed for a stable returner. It's larger value over a smaller one.
Quickly, Marcel Reece not making this roster would be a bigger upset than someone predicting Malcolm Smith winning Super Bowl MVP honors. He's the heart and soul of this team, and about as versatile as they come through an all-purpose perspective.
-- Wide Receivers (6): Rod Streater, James Jones, Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes, Greg Little, Mike Davis.
Not 3 years ago, Oakland had a receiving corp of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy & Jacoby Ford. My have things changed -- and for the better. Streater, and undrafted FA from Temple, looks to supplant himself as Oakland's #1 WO, as James Jones will lock down the flanker role. But Denarius Moore may have a few kind words about that regard, as well as Andre Holmes. Both still rather young (25 & 26, respectively), Moore's future could possibly be in the slot. His quickness and ability to find creases in coverage's could prove worth inside. As far as the 5th & 6th receiving spots go, they are all completely up for grabs this Training Camp. Juron Criner will look to shake the under-achiever label, as Greg Jenkins pushes for a 53 spot due to his return ability. Will Greg Little finally lose his dropping syndrome? Probably not, but his unique athleticism could very well net him a spot with the Raiders. And as for the case of Mike Davis, who doesn't love the under-dog story? URFA, much like Streater, looking to defeat the odds of playing in the NFL? Anything can happen. But he must prove it on the field showing he's more fact than High School hype.
-- Tight Ends (3): Mychal Rivera, David Ausberry, Brian Leonhardt.
Another year of Naya Rivera "embracing the culture" of the Black Hole? Yes, please. But in all seriousness, the elder Rivera showed flashes of starting ability in 2013. Has clear upside and it's doubtful anyone on this roster takes that starting role from him. It seems we've been waiting an eternity for David Ausberry to finally break loose. Well, geez, been saying it for 3 years now, what's a fourth to lose? His pure athleticism is bar-none on this roster, while his hands are inconsistent as they come. Still, a threat every play could pay dividends with a strong camp. Leonhardt over Kasa was a compelling decision as well. Kasa had off-season surgery and will be a prime PUP suspect. Leonhardt, on the other-hand, is ready to go and earns his paycheck in battling defenders in the trenches. Keeping more than 3 TE's is possible, but with Marcel Reece, it's makes it entirely plausible.
-- Offensive Linemen (8): Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Stefan Wisniewski, Austin Howard, Menelik Watson; Khalif Barnes, Kevin Boothe, Matt McCants.
Battles are won and lost in the trenches, and acquiring depth was a key motive for Reggie McKenzie. As much of a head-scratcher as it was to not franchise tag Arizona Cardinals' LT, Jared Veldheer, the move to replace him with Donald Penn was a quick and decisive one. Now, as to whom will be starting opposite him will be a question answered in August. One should put their money solely on 3rd round rookie, Gabe Jackson. But don't count out Khalif Barnes, who has played 4 positions during his tenure in Oakland. Starting Austin Howard at RG will be an interesting move for the former Right Tackle. But, again, versatility was the clear operative in McKenzie's acquisitions. Much is resting on the shoulders of Menelik Watson this year. And fortunately, we'll have experienced backups in the aforementioned Barnes & McCants in case of emergency/injury. (HA! I almost forgot the Roger Saffold conundrum until now. Good times.)
-- Defensive Linemen (8): LaMarr Woodley, Pat Sims, Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck; Stacy McGee, Justin Ellis, C.J Wilson, Ryan Robinson.
The additions of Woodley & Tuck quietly were two of the best moves ever made by McKenzie. Yes, both are clearly past their prime(s), but still well-worth their salaries. Will bring a championship-type pedigree and versatility to a defense that has lacked any sort of creativity and stability the past two seasons. Antonio Smith will move inside to 3-Tech coming from the Texans' 3-4, 5-Technique role, while Pat Sims will reprise his role as our Starting Nose-Guard. And to cope with the aforementioned Veterans, young studs in McGee & Ellis can provide a two-deep DT rotation in Oakland. Now, leaving out the likes of Shelby Harris and Jack Crawford over Wilson & Robinson is just an educated guess here. Wilson's ability to play virtually every position on the DL & Robinson's athleticism and ability to bend the edge, prove more valuable. Would not be shocked to see a combination of the four or to even have as much as 9 DL.
-- Linebackers (6): Khalil Mack, Nick Roach, Sio Moore; Miles Burris, Kaluka Maiava, Carlos Fields.
*Note: Kevin Burnett would have absolutely been on this list, before his July 25th release.*
As stated above, Burnett's departure wasn't truly shocking, but the timing of it was. This gives the opportunity to second-year LB, Sio Moore, to usurp the vacant WLB role. But not so fast, my friend. Miles Burris, finally healthy after consecutive shoulder and knee surgeries, will be vying for the starting job as well. 2014 5th-overall selection, Khalil Mack, allows DC Jason Tarver to basically move him anywhere he very well chooses. Wouldn't be surprised to see him play some WDE in certain packages. Kaluka Maiva, like every Raider it seems, is coming of the IR, and will be competing for the ILB spot with Roach. Will most likely serve in a backup/ST role. Selecting Carlos Fields over the likes of Marshall McFadden & Kaelin Burnett was simply an upside selection. Either could win it, if in fact Oakland does keep a 6th LB.
-- Cornerbacks (7): D.J Hayden, Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers; Taiwan Jones, Keith McGill, T.J Carrie.
D.J Hayden's NFL career has been nothing sort of an up-hill, rocky mountain climb without any water and barefooted. After a foot surgery this past May, his training camp and pre-season may be in jeopardy. Thankfully, Oakland has two CB's opposite him who have a combined 18 professional seasons under their belts. While Rogers is a clear-cut Field Corner, he does possess some ability to move to the Boundary if need be. McGill is labeled as a CB, for that is where he will start his NFL career. Wouldn't be the least bit shocked to see him moved (back) to Safety by his second year. A fan-favorite, Taiwan Jones, signed a 3-year extension this past off-season due to his elite ST gunner talent. He's not going anywhere. Having a converted RB in Taiwan and two rookies are your backups is a disaster waiting to occur. Look for Oakland to add a possible 7th corner during the August cuts.
-- Safeties (4): Charles Woodson, Tyvon Branch, Usama Young, Jonathan Dowling.
One should truly pray that Matt Giordano and Brandian Ross are never starting in your NFL backfield. It's depressing. Not much is needed to be said about Charles Woodson. He has literally done it all: Heisman Trophy Winner, Top-5 NFL pick, Super Bowl Champ, Defensive Player of the Year. One last go-around in Oakland for the Canton bound DB. One of McKenzie's first ever "splash" moves as a GM was extending Tyvon Branch. A very talented player, when he's healthy (seems to be a common theme here); needs to live up to his $18M guaranteed bill. Usama Young will return to his 3rd safety role, as rookie Jon Dowling will compete (and win) with Brandian Ross for the final safety spot.
-- Special Teams (3): Sebastian Janikowski, Marquette King, Jon Condo.
Seems like only yesterday "Seabass" was a 1st-round Rookie from Tallahassee. Entering his 14th-year, his leg is still as a powerful as ever, as well as his $3M+ salary. Marquette will finally be going in a Raiders' camp as the unanimous starting Punter. The legendary Shane Lechler is long gone and the Chris Kluwe 'distraction' is even farther. Enjoy the limelight, King. And finally, Jon Condo will now be going on his 8th year as the Raiders' Long-Snapper. Reggie rewarded him with an extension after his 2012 Pro-Bowl year. Fun fact: He's the 5th highest paid LS. Hope Marquette King is paying close attention. McKenzie loves his ST's, and handsomely rewards them.
- And that's all she wrote for your projected 53-man roster for the 2014 Oakland Raiders. Be sure to ask any questions and add in any comments down below, Raider Nation.