Photo via AP Photo/Bill Feig
The real grind of the NFL season began Tuesday with the arrival of mandatory minicamp, as Oakland Raiders coaches got their first chance to truly assess their players.
Here is a look at the three Raiders with the most to prove at 2017 minicamp.
No. 3, Clive Walford
Raiders tight end Clive Walford has been a disappointment since his ATV crash last year.
Walford had a rookie season filled with promise, but plateaued in year two amassing only 30 more receiving yards while notching the same number of touchdowns (3) than the year prior.
It is not known whether or not Walford’s woes were related to his injury, but given his age he should still have the ability to develop into an elite red-zone weapon for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Interestingly, Walford was considered the best blocking tight end in the NFL last season per Pro Football Focus, but his impressive blocking did not help his overall player grade of 46.9.
This is a pivotal minicamp for Walford to demonstrate that he has improved in areas of need. Should he fail to impress, he could fall from the No. 1 TE in Oakland, all the way down to No. 3 behind new Raiders tight end Jared Cook and Lee Smith.
No. 2, Marquel Lee
Raiders rookie linebacker Marquel Lee is expected to be given the task of filling Oakland’s biggest positional need this season. Lee will be expected to compete for the starting inside linebacker position that was previously occupied by former Raiders linebacker Perry Riley Jr.
Despite the Raiders publicly proclaiming LB as a weakness, they waited until the fifth round to address the void.
Lee is expected to battle Raiders linebacker Cory James for the starting position, but James lacks the prototypical size to be a starting inside linebacker.
Therefore, Lee is logically the best choice to play the position.
However, inside linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and requires strong knowledge and instincts, usually tough for a rookie player to acquire. With that being said, Lee must take full advantage of the offseason activities to prepare himself to take over the role.
If he doesn’t prove he is capable, then Raiders coach Jack Del Rio will never feel comfortable turning the defense over to Lee.
No. 1, Sean Smith
Raiders cornerback Sean Smith might have been the most criticized Oakland player last season.
He signed a monster four-year $38 million deal last offseason, yet seemed to get burned deep at least once a week in 2016.
The Raiders understood that the corner position was a major weakness and drafted Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley. If Conley transitions nicely and can play on the outside, then Smith could easily be expendable if his worth isn’t shown.
Oakland already has reliable nickel corner TJ Carrie and outside cornerback David Amerson.
Therefore, Smith will need to show the staff that he is worth the millions of dollars that they paid him last year. If he doesn’t, he could easily be cut in the near future.