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Identifying 6 Las Vegas Raiders starters who will be on the hot seat in training camp

Moe Moton

The Las Vegas Raiders will wrap up mandatory minicamp Thursday and then finish their spring practices (organized team activities) next week. For now, we shouldn’t overreact to lineups in practices without pads, but a handful of players will face immediate pressure with starting jobs up for grabs.

The Raiders must sort out their offensive line group, but they also have a new defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham, who could shuffle some spots on the depth chart.

With a thermometer, we took the temperature of hot seats for six starters from the 2021 campaign who could lose their jobs this offseason and provided a precise reading in degrees (from 1 to 100) based on competition at the position as well as fit with the new coaching staff.

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Safety Johnathan Abram

While reporters and fans will pay close attention to the Raiders’ unsettled offensive line, Johnathan Abram isn’t a lock to start at safety.

Vegas signed safety Duron Harmon, who played seven seasons with the New England Patriots, taking the field for at least 55 percent of the defensive snaps in four of those campaigns. Tyree Gillespie, a 2021 fourth-rounder, will have an opportunity to showcase himself to a new coaching staff.

Harmon poses the biggest threat for the starting job though. According to The Athletic’s Tashan Reed (h/t Ray Aspuria of Silver and Black Pride), Abram saw some looks in a two-high safety formation, which isn’t his strong suit. He’s far better as a defender in the box closer to the line of scrimmage.

Over the past two years, Abram has allowed an 80 percent completion rate and seven touchdowns with 111.4 and 112 passer ratings in coverage.

If Graham prefers two-high safety looks, Harmon may be the better option (but not by much) to pair alongside safety Trevon Moehrig. As a full-time starter with the Atlanta Falcons over the last two terms, he’s allowed a 70 percent completion rate and five touchdowns with 114.6 and 99.3 passer ratings in coverage. With that said, his history with the Patriots may help him in a tight battle.

  • Hot seat temperature: 80 degrees

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Johnathan Hankins makes the list because the Raiders selected Neil Farrell Jr. in the fourth round of the 2022 draft as their third pick of the class.

Vegas re-signed Hankins to a one-year, $1.3 million deal. The club didn’t retain him on a contract that suggests he’s a guaranteed starter. Going into his age-30 campaign, the veteran interior defender has a clear edge over Farrell, who has to prove himself as a rookie.

However, if Farrell looks like an immediate playmaker up front, Hankins could lose some of his snaps at his age. More than likely, the former will eventually replace the latter, but the LSU product could speed up that process with his performances through the summer.

Hankins has the coolest seat on this list because the pressure falls on Farrell to win the job. Plus, the veteran defender played under Graham, who served as his defensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2016.

  • Hot seat temperature: 20 degrees

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Center Andre James

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Barring injury, left tackle Kolton Miller is the only lock to start on the offensive line. Andre James is a probable starter with rookie third-rounder Dylan Parham as the biggest threat to beat him in a battle for the job.

Parham didn’t play center at Memphis, so he must adjust at that position on the pro level. While the rookie may have an uphill climb, the Raiders selected him in the third round of the 2022 draft as their top pick in the class for a reason.

Nevertheless, Parham probably has a better shot to start at left guard than center because he played at the former position for his first two collegiate terms.

James seems safe at center, but he cannot sleep on Parham, who will have a chance to compete for the position.

  • Hot seat temperature: 35 degrees

Offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Leatherwood will garner the most attention through the offseason program because of his draft status as the No. 17 overall pick from the 2021 draft. For now, it seems as though the Raiders will give him every opportunity to lock down the starting right tackle spot.

According to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, Leatherwood has consistently worked at right tackle when the media had access to view practices.

“Alex Leatherwood was working at right tackle with the first-team offense for the third straight media viewing session. Thus far, I haven’t seen him lined up at guard. Brandon Parker has taken some first-team snaps at right tackle during team drills, but it’s mostly been Leatherwood.”

Las Vegas Raiders’ repoter Vic Tafur on Alex Leatherwood

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As offensive linemen cross-train at different positions through training camp, Leatherwood will likely take reps at right guard, so don’t write his name in pen at right tackle yet. When teams conduct padded practices, we’ll see where he fits in on the front line.

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Still, the coaching staff hasn’t promised anything to Leatherwood, which is a good thing. If he doesn’t start, that’s another blow to the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock draft record, but the Raiders need the best five-man lineup on the field regardless of draft position. The front office could also sign an offensive lineman (Daryl Williams) to bolster the competition.

  • Hot seat temperature: 55 degrees

Right tackle Brandon Parker

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Joint Practice
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If Leatherwood doesn’t start at right tackle, Brandon Parker will likely fill that spot. Per Reed, the latter took the lion’s share of snaps with the first unit during Wednesday’s mandatory minicamp practice.

Once Leatherwood shifted from right tackle to right guard last year, Parker moved into the starting lineup as the bookend tackle opposite Miller. He struggled though, allowing eight sacks and committing nine penalties through 881 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

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Despite his pass-protection issues, Parker looks like the No. 2 option at right tackle behind Leatherwood. Without inside-out versatility, he only has one pathway to a starting job in 2022. If the fifth-year pro isn’t the first-string right tackle, expect him to come off the bench in a swing tackle role.

  • Hot seat temperature: 95 degrees

Left guard John Simpson

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Initially, John Simpson slotted behind guards Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good on the depth chart last year, but because of injuries, he became a full-time starter on the left side.

Through 1,112 snaps, Simpson only allowed three sacks, but he committed 10 infractions, per Pro Football Focus. If the third-year pro cleans up his technique, he’s a solid starter on the interior.

With that said, Tafur offers some caution for the Clemson product.

“Third-round pick Dylan Parham is lining up with the second team at left guard and with the third team at center. So, you would think that starting center Andre James and starting left guard (as of today) John Simpson might want to start looking over their shoulders.”

Vic Tafur of The Athletic on Las Vegas Raiders’ position battles on offensive line

As the second-string left guard, Parham poses a bigger threat to Simpson than he does to James as the third-string center behind backup pivot man (and likely camp body) Hroniss Grasu.

As a natural guard who played the position for three terms at Memphis, Parham could legitimately push Simpson for the interior spot on the left side.

  • Hot seat temperature: 70 degrees

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.