For the first time in franchise history, the Las Vegas Raiders finished 4-0 in the preseason. Exhibition wins and losses don’t carry over to the regular season, but that’s how a team learning to play clean and discipline football builds a foundation. Let’s take a look at how the Raiders won their games.
Through four preseason contests, the Silver and Black didn’t turn the ball over once and committed 15 penalties. Fans have watched this team draw more flags in one game (several times). Head coach Josh McDaniels has focused on detail at practices, and it’s translated to live action.
An incoming regime will try to establish new principles, methods and ways to approach the game, so don’t let anyone tell you “the preseason doesn’t matter.” In those contests, young players develop, veterans battle for starting jobs and new coaches have to find out what they have on the roster.
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Now, the Raiders have several practices and four games worth of film to make decisions that will wind down the depth chart to 53 players. With cuts due on Aug. 30, let’s dive into the headliners and surprises of our Las Vegas Raiders 53-man roster projection.
- Starter: Derek Carr
- Backup: Jarrett Stidham
The Raiders brought clarity to the quarterback room when they traded Nick Mullens to the Minnesota Vikings for a conditional 2024 seventh-round pick this week. Stidham clearly earned the primary backup position with his solid performances through the preseason.
Chase Garbers has been fun to watch because he can move with his legs, but he held onto the ball too long at times. He’s a developmental quarterback to keep on the practice squad.
Running backs (5)
- Starter: Josh Jacobs
- Fullback: Jakob Johnson
- Backups: Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
McDaniels denied rumors about the team’s intent to shop Jacobs on the trade block, so we’ll take his word for it. Of course, White, who’s a rookie fourth-rounder, is safe after a good showing through the preseason.
Vegas clarified the hierarchy at this position when it released running back Kenyan Drake this week. On top of that, we haven’t seen Abdullah in action since the Hall of Fame Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clearly, he locked up his roster spot early in the preseason.
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Brandon Bolden will share pass-catching duties with Abdullah and play a big part on special teams as he’s done with the Patriots (and Miami Dolphins) over the past decade.
Wide receivers (5)
- Starters: Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, Mack Hollins
- Backups: Tyron Johnson, DJ Turner
Keelan Cole played late in the fourth quarter in Friday’s matchup with the Patriots—that’s a bit of a red flag. Why would a player with his decent resume remain on the field with third-stringers and guys who won’t be on a roster next week?
This gives off Kenyan Drake vibes. Vegas might have been showcasing Cole one last time before general manager Dave Ziegler makes an attempt to trade him.
Johnson’s speed and big-play ability hold value. He hauled in a difficult 45-yard reception on an imperfect pass Friday. The 26-year-old, also known as T-Billy, can open up the field with his speed as few others can.
Turner gets the nod over Cole because of his return duties through the preseason and ability to evade and break tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he forced six missed tackles through four outings.
Cole had a decent offseason with the Raiders, but Ziegler can sell his talent to other teams and possibly upgrade Vegas’ depth along the offensive line. Perhaps he deals the wideout for a guard.
Tight Ends (4)
- Starter: Darren Waller
- Backups: Foster Moreau, Nick Bowers, Jesper Horsted
If the Raiders want Carr to survive the 2022 season behind this offensive line group, they should keep an extra inline tight end who can block. Plus, McDaniels hesitated to consider Waller (hamstring) a lock to suit up for Week 1.
With questionable pass-blocking on the right side, Vegas absolutely needs multiple decent blocking tight ends on the roster. For the Raiders, Bowers took the most inline snaps (86) among players at the position, per Pro Football Focus.
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Don’t sleep on Horsted. He caught all seven of his targets for 108 yards and routinely moved the chains with his receptions through the preseason. By the way, he’s a decent run-blocker.
Offensive line (9)
- Starters: Kolton Miller, John Simpson, Andre James, Dylan Parham, Jermaine Eluemunor
- Backups: Jackson Barton, Lester Cotton Sr., Alex Bars, Alex Leatherwood
- Injured Reserve: Brandon Parker, Thayer Munford Jr.
The Raiders may move Parker and Munford to injured reserve to clear roster space for players at other positions. Neither player has returned to practice since going down with (undisclosed) injuries. If they go on injured reserve after making the final 53-man roster, both can return after Week 4 of the regular season. In the meantime, Zigeler can add some players from the free-agent market with $21.6 million in cap space.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Raiders aren’t set with their starters on the right side.
Eluemunor has put together a strong case to start at right tackle. Unlike Parker and Munford, he’s healthy, and the 27-year-old is clearly the better option over Leatherwood, who’s not a lock to remain on the roster for Week 1. Finally, Eluemunor has only allowed two quarterback pressures (zero sacks) at left and right tackle through four preseason games, per Pro Football Focus.
With Cotton’s recent struggles at guard, McDaniels can start Parham in that spot. The rookie third-rounder played right guard at Memphis last season.
Parham has three years of experience playing guard on the collegiate level and lined up on the right side over the last two years (tackle and guard). He can handle the job.
After Leatherwood’s glaring recent struggles in the preseason, Ziegler may not field an offer for him that makes sense for Vegas. Plus, the amount of money that the Raiders would owe the second-year pro in 2022 ($7.9 million) anchors him to the roster for now. Hopefully, the coaching staff finally takes a look at Leatherwood at guard.
By the way, Daryl Williams is still available, and he can play both spots on the right side—just saying.
Interior Defensive Linemen (5)
- Starters: Bilal Nichols, Johnathan Hankins, Kendal Vickers
- Backups: Matthew Butler, Neil Farrell Jr.
Nichols and Hankins are roster locks.
Vickers may have some Denico Autry in him. He’s under 300 pounds and lines up in different spots on the defensive line. Here’s a breakdown of his snaps through the preseason, per Pro Football Focus
|Nose Tackle (A-gap)||Defensive Tackle (B-gap)||4-technique (over OT)||5-technique (outside OT)|
With defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s “multiple” scheme, he probably values a player like Vickers, who fills multiple roles and handles different responsibilities on the front line.
Farrell and Butler had some flashes against the Patriots Friday, which is a good sign for their early rookie development.
- Starters: Chandler Jones, Maxx Crosby
- Backups: Malcolm Koonce, Clelin Ferrell, Tashawn Bower
Despite the loss of edge-rushers Kyler Fackrell and Jordan Jenkins, who will both miss the entire 2022 season on injured reserve, Graham should feel good about the depth behind Crosby and Chandler.
Koonce and Bower wreaked havoc on the edge throughout the preseason. They combined for six sacks and generated a ton of pressure in exhibition action. While Koonce could take a significant second-year leap, Bower may have found his way on the pro level after five years of very little production with the Vikings and Patriots.
Ferrell doesn’t have much trade value, and the Raiders would owe him about $10 million in dead money if they cut him, so he sticks. In the best-case scenario, Ferrell starts to show something while healthy after missing a big chunk of the training camp program with an undisclosed injury.
- Starters: Denzel Perryman, Jayon Brown
- Backups: Divine Deablo, Luke Masterson, Darien Butler
Masterson likely sealed his spot on the roster once he intercepted Mac Jones’ pass in the middle of the field in the first quarter of Friday’s game:
Before that takeaway, Masterson had a solid preseason—not a lot of splash plays but typically in the right spot to make a stop. Moreover, he’s played well on special teams, which is crucial for a backup linebacker.
Butler makes the roster until Ziegler adds talent elsewhere. Yes, that sounds cold-hearted, but the Arizona State product has missed way too many tackles, seven, through the preseason, per Pro Football Focus. On the other hand, he’s made a ton of plays against the run.
Vegas doesn’t have a ton of options at the position, so Butler holds a temporary spot and continues to hone his craft. Despite his undrafted rookie status, he has great potential.
- Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Rock Ya-Sin, Nate Hobbs (slot)
- Backups: Anthony Averett, Darius Phillips, Sam Webb
No surprise atop the cornerback depth chart, though Webb makes the 53-man roster over Amik Robertson, who made a couple of errors against the Vikings and never stood out with a highlight game in the preseason.
Per Pro Football Focus, the Patriots targeted Webb eight times, and he only gave up five receptions for 34 yards, which included just one first down. As a rookie undrafted free agent, the Missouri Western State product has made mistakes and missed opportunities, but he developed a knack for being around the ball.
Webb may get pushed to the practice squad if Ziegler makes a couple of moves (acquisitions or trades)
Phillips has valuable versatility with the ability to line up on the boundary or in the slot. He’s probably the primary backup for Hobbs in the nickel.
- Starters: Johnathan Abram, Trevon Moehrig
- Backups: Duron Harmon, Roderic Teamer
Ziegler may also add a versatile safety who has experience playing in the slot. Typically, Graham has a player who can move between the two positions on the roster (i.e Logan Ryan), and he doesn’t have that right now unless the coaching staff experiments with one of the defensive backs.
For now, Teamer makes the squad because of his ability to contribute to special teams.
Special Teams (3)
- Kicker: Daniel Carlson
- Punter: AJ Cole
- Long snapper: Trent Sieg
No need to tinker with arguably the league’s best kicker-punter-long snapper trio.
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Vegas is set at those spots with a kicker who made 93 percent of his attempts last season, an All-Pro punter and a steady long snapper who’s been with the team since the 2018 campaign.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.