Which Raiders have the answer the bell this summer?
Training camp is just around the corner for the Las Vegas Raiders, which means the battles for roster spots will officially be in full swing. While some players will be fighting to kick start their NFL careers, others will be working to keep their careers alive or vying for a better spot on the depth chart. Regardless, there will be plenty of Raiders with something to prove over the next month or so.
The Raiders made several changes offensively this offseason that will lead to some interesting position battles in camp. Key contributors from last year’s squad like Rodney Hudson, Nelson Agholor and Gabe Jackson are gone, leaving a few vacancies in the team’s starting lineup. Even beyond the first-stringers, there are a handful of storylines to keep an eye on as several backups will look to cement their spots.
With so much ambiguity, which players have the most to prove at each offensive position group for the Silver and Black?
Quarterback: Nathan Peterman
Quarterback is probably the least controversial position group for the Raiders heading into camp. Derek Carr is the unquestioned starter and Marcus Mariota seemingly has a stranglehold on the second-string spot after taking a pay cut to stay in Las Vegas.
Now, one could argue that Mariota has the most to prove as he’ll be auditioning to become another organization’s starter this preseason. However, Nathan Peterman still has more work to do, in my opinion.
Peterman has been with the organization since the end of the 2018 season but has only played in one regular season game with a mere five passing attempts. Last year, he didn’t get an opportunity to show off his skills in preseason games, so many people’s impression of the veteran quarterback includes a notorious five-interception first-half performance.
Like Mariota, Peterman’s future is likely in a different uniform, but it will be difficult for him to find another landing spot without some quality tape in August.
Even if he does stick with the Silver and Black moving forward, he needs to mount the case that he’s deserving of a roster spot. While Gruden has consistently kept three quarterbacks, Peterman needs to do everything he can to prevent the organization from bringing in someone who’s younger and has more potential to occupy that third seat in the meeting room.
Side note, anyone who has followed me on Twitter over the last couple of years knows how painful this section was for me to write.
Offensive Line: Andre James
Replacing a six-year starter is never an easy task, so replacing a six-year starter who is widely considered a top-three player at the position is as tough as it gets. With Rodney Hudson now in Arizona, Andre James finds himself in that extremely difficult position.
While James received a nice pay bump and contract extension this offseason that should serve as a confidence boost, he still has plenty to prove and will have to earn the starting spot. The two-year veteran has only started one regular season game and participated in 116 offensive snaps. Those performances haven’t exactly been stellar either as he received a cumulative PFF grade of 23.4.
The organization brought in Nick Martin via free agency, who has 62 games of starting experience and has been a solid player in the past. So, the Raiders’ starting center is certainly an open competition heading into training camp.
With that being said, James enters the preseason as the favorite to win the job. Putting together a couple of strong performances early in camp could go a long way towards the UCLA product cementing himself as Las Vegas’ center of the future.
Wide Receiver: Henry Ruggs III
Truth be told, there are several wide receivers for the Silver and Black that have something to prove. However, none of them are facing as much pressure as Henry Ruggs is.
When the Raiders made Ruggs the first wideout off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, they were looking for a true number one receiver. With only 26 receptions, 452 yards and two touchdowns, it’s safe to say he failed to meet that expectation in year one. It also didn’t help matters that other rookie pass-catchers that the team could have drafted found a great deal of success last year.
Injuries and a bout with COVID-19 did significantly hamper Ruggs’ production as a rookie so obviously, he still has plenty of potential moving forward. Coming out with a strong performance in August will help instill confidence in the organization and fan base that they made the right decision with the former No. 1 overall pick.
Running Backs: Jalen Richard
Jalen Richard has gone from rookie minicamp invitee to the second-longest tenured Raider behind Derek Carr. That’s an impressive accomplishment as he’s managed to carve out a secondary role behind three different primary backs in Latavius Murray, Marshawn Lynch and Josh Jacobs. However, the former undrafted free agent’s clock might be ticking.
One of Richard’s biggest calling cards is as a third-down back or receiver out of the backfield, which is a big reason why he’s been able to stick around despite all the changes ahead of him on the depth chart. The problem is Las Vegas signed Kenyan Drake to a rather hefty contract to fill that role, and Theo Riddick is still around who possesses a similar skill set. So the room is getting a little crowded.
Returning kickoffs is probably Richard’s best competitive advantage moving forward. While he did lead the team in kick returns and yards per return last season, he only had 10 for 24 yards a clip, which ranked tied for 34th and tied for 18th against the rest of the NFL (min. 10 returns).
So, with signs pointing toward a diminished role in the offense and average performances on special teams, does it make sense to keep Richard around at $3.5 million? That’s what he’ll look to prove next month and a few big returns in the preseason could help make his case. For what it’s worth, the organization would save $1.125 million in cap space by cutting the six-year pro, per OverTheCap.com, which would leave some wiggle room to sign a veteran midseason if need be.
Tight Ends: Foster Moreau
Honestly, there aren’t many storylines heading into training camp when it comes to the Raiders’ tight ends. Darren Waller has already proven to be a top-three player at the position, Forster Moreau has a firm hold on the second spot and Derek Carrier remains as a solid blocker and third option to round out the position group.
But someone must take the honors and Waller has nothing to prove until September, and Carrier is a nine-year veteran who has a clear and defined role already. So that leaves the 2019 fourth-round pick as the odd man out.
Moreau stood out in the red zone with five touchdowns as a rookie until a nasty knee injury cut his season short. Last year, it felt like the organization was proceeding with caution regarding his recovery by bringing in Jason Witten and using the former LSU Tiger on over 100 fewer snaps than the year before.
With Witten gone and a fully functional knee, it’s time for Moreau to emerge as one of the best second tight ends in the league and build on the potential he showed as a rookie. That starts by turning some heads in camp.