The 2017 offseason program is underway for the Oakland Raiders, with 90 players currently on a roster that will ultimately be trimmed to 53 players by Week 1.
Below, fans can find Raiders Wire’s first 53-man projection on offense in a series that will be updated throughout OTAs.
Derek Carr, Connor Cook, EJ Manuel
Notable cuts: None
This is probably the easiest position group to project for next season. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is going to be an MVP candidate again in 2017, making the starting quarterback job a no-brainer.
The Raiders carried three quarterbacks in 2016, and there is no reason to believe that will be any different this year.
Oakland also used a fourth-round draft pick on backup quarterback Connor Cook, making it unlikely they would cut bait so soon. And former Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel is almost certainly going to challenge — and potentially win — the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Carr.
With NFL free agency nearly over and the NFL draft squarely in the rear-view mirror for the Oakland Raiders, the time to look forward is now.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has done a commendable job at stockpiling talent at key positions while not overplaying his hand this offseason, but the team still has some vital questions to answer this season.
Here are the four biggest causes for concern heading into 2017 for Oakland.
No. 4, No help in the middle of the defense
McKenzie didn’t do a lot this offseason to address the team’s concern at inside linebacker, only signing former Miami Dolphins inside linebacker Jelani Jenkins and drafting Marquel Lee in the fifth round.
This is somewhat confusing after McKenzie allowed team leader in tackles Malcolm Smith to walk in free agency and has still not entertained re-signing Perry Riley at the time of publication despite his posting a top-20 season at his position in 2016.
Unfortunately, Jenkins posted the worst Pro Football Focus grade of all qualifying linebackers in the NFL last year (31.3), and Lee is expected to struggle in coverage as he’s known as a downhill linebacker primarily.
McKenzie also cut the team’s healthiest and most productive defensive tackle last season in Dan Williams, leaving yet another cavernous void to fill in the center of the team’s defense. The move was made to make salary cap room for Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, but the replacements McKenzie have brought in again are suspect.
After leaping much higher than they had to in order to draft a fifth-round prospect in Raiders rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, McKenzie did snare a good value selection in the seventh round in DT Treyvon Hester.
However, relying on two rookies and the services of players such as Raiders defensive tackles Darius Latham and Justin Ellis (each of whom struggled mightily last season) seems risky at best.
When that fact is partnered with the massive question marks at middle linebacker, Oakland may find themselves in quite the conundrum up the middle of their defense in 2017.