Raiders Training Camp: 3 takeaways from depth chart release

On Monday, the Oakland Raiders released their first unofficial depth chart of the 2017 NFL season in preparation for their preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals Saturday.

Below is a quick analysis of the Raiders’ current depth chart.

Jun 13, 2017; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing (left) and tight end Lee Smith (86) during minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1, TE Lee Smith as starter shouldn’t surprise

Despite the Raiders signing tight end Jared Cook to a two-year, $10.6 million contract, Lee Smith still holds the No. 1 position in Oakland on the current depth chart.

Read more on Raiders Wire!

What Raiders should do with their $18M in cap space

Photo via Getty Images

As of Friday, the Oakland Raiders still possess over $18 million in cap space, per Over The Cap.

However, that figure is misleading as it does not include Raiders guard Gabe Jackson’s new extension, or two more draft picks Oakland still must sign that will cost around $4 million in total. Jackson signed a five-year, $56 million contract, $26 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $11.2 million, per SpoTrac.

Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley should be expected to get around $3 million per year, based upon the players’ contracts around him and Raiders safety Obi Melfinowu should get around $800,000 based upon Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham’s contract. 

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Oakland Raiders 2017 position battles 2.0: Middle linebacker

The article can also be found on the Raiders Wire!

The Oakland Raiders ranked No. 23 in rushing yards against last season and had the No. 26 ranked defense overall. A primary reason for the lack of success was the porous play in the middle of Oakland’s defense.

Surprisingly, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie did not draft or sign any starting-caliber middle linebackers leaving a wide open position battle between Raiders linebackers Marquel Lee, Ben Heeney, Jelani Jenkins and Cory James.

Cory James faceshot.jpg
Photo via Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LB Cory James

James played in all 16 games last season and started in five, but his play was often sub-par. He graded out as the No. 77 best linebacker with a Pro Football Focus player grade of 44.3, not too much to be excited about.

However, James has great speed for a linebacker and can cover sideline to sideline, but is very small at just 6-foot-1, 221 pounds.

Currently, he is projected to be the starting linebacker, but he will need to live in the weight room this offseason for him to make a notable impact this fall.

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Jelanie Jenkins signs with Raiders
Photo via the Raiders’ official website

LB Jelani Jenkins

Jenkins was brought in this offseason after having a horrible season in Miami racking up the second worst PFF player grade amongst any linebacker (31.4).

It was definitely a down season for Jenkins, but the numbers are so weak that is hard to imagine him making any real push for a starting position.

He will have to find his niche playing special teams and rotationally on defense.

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Marquel Lee 2

LB Marquel Lee

Lee was just drafted by Oakland in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft and has immediately been thrown into this competition.

The former Demon Deacon has the prototypical size at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds and has great college production with 105 tackles (20 for loss) and 7.5 sacks in his last season at Wake Forest.

He has everything one would look for, but it is hard to win the starting middle linebacker position without having an in-depth understanding of the defense, which is strenuous for any rookie.

Therefore, Lee will most likely not be the starter Day 1 but will earn more playing time as the year progresses.

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Ben Heeny Raiders.jpg
Photo via Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LB Ben Heeney

Heeney had a productive rookie season (71.4 PFF player grade) totaling 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, Heeney missed most of last season making it hard to gauge if he has improved since his rookie year.

Nonetheless, he is a smaller linebacker at only 6-feet, 230 pounds and lacks top-end speed making it hard to ever picture him as a starting linebacker even with the lack of talent currently in Oakland.

Heeney might push James or Lee for the starting position, but his physical tools may inhibit him from ever becoming the every down starter.