Top 10 Raiders to watch in 2017 preseason opener vs Cardinals
First chance to evaluate new pieces
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Several star Raiders won’t play Saturday’s exhibition opener at Arizona. Count Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper among that group. Marshawn Lynch isn’t expected to play. Derek Carr’s status is uncertain. Top draft picks Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu won’t go. That may be a disappointment for some. It doesn’t matter much to the Raiders, who want a long look at other players contending for the 53-man roster spot. This game will create separation in some position battles while tighten others. Let’s take a look at 10 Raiders to watch against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
10. DT Treyvon Hester
The seventh-round pick worked with the first unit during the offseason program, though those opportunities have dwindled in training camp with more healthy tackles. He can to join the rotation up front with a strong showing in the preseason, starting against the Cardinals. The Toledo product could be considered a late-round steal if he can help right away on rushing downs.
9. OT Marshall Newhouse
The exhibition opener typically isn’t a time for evaluating starters. Newhouse might be an exception, to see how he fares in his second spot. He’s expected to play right tackle this season, but has been glued to the left side while Donald Penn holds out in search of a new contract. Newhouse has extensive experience at left tackle, and Saturday’s game could offer a glimpse of the Raiders options should Penn get banged up after he returns.
8. DE James Cowser
Khalil Mack’s backup doesn’t see much action. Cowser has seen plenty in training camp. The Raiders limited Mack’s reps before he suffered what is believed to be a minor injury last week. He won’t play Saturday, meaning the Cardinals game offers an opportunity for Cowser to compete against the first unit. The Raiders desperately need depth rushing the passer. Solid preseason play could give coaches confidence to find snaps for Cowser should Mack need a spell or when the Raiders want to attack with numbers.
7. WR K.J. Brent
The Washington product has received significant first-team reps with Amari Cooper injured in training camp. He has fared well on the outside, making tough catches in traffic downfield and over the middle. A roster spot is tough to find at receiver, especially with speedster Johnny Holton’s contributions on special teams. Brent, who spent last year on the practice squad, looks like an NFL receiver. Can he do enough this preseason to force the Raiders to keep him?
6. DT Eddie Vanderdoes
The third-round pick has impressed players and coaches alike with a strong start to training camp. He has provided an interior pass rush and run defense running with the first unit, and should be part of a rotation on the inside. A strong preseason, especially against opposing starters might demand a steadier dose in games that matter. Practicing well is an important step. Playing games well is another.
5. QB EJ Manuel
The 2013 first round pick is looking to rejuvenate his career with the Raiders after a relatively disappointing stint in Buffalo. He has played well this training camp after an uneven offseason program where he was still learning a new system. Manuel has taken most every second-team rep in camp and is a clear leader in the battle to be Derek Carr’s primary backup. Game performance could secure that spot. It’s uncertain if Carr will play – even if he starts, he won’t play much – and getting Manuel reps with the first unit might not be a bad idea. Those are the guys he’ll work with if called to action in the regular season.
4. QB Connor Cook
Last year’s fourth-round pick is behind EJ Manuel in the backup quarterback competition following an uneven start to training camp. He has made some nice throws but missed quite a few in practice. Cook was a big-game player in college, and he could get back in the mix with quality performance early this preseason. Some poor efforts, however, could lock Manuel into the No. 2 spot.
3. CB Breon Borders
The undrafted free agent has really stood out this camp. He was elevated to the first team last week playing in the slot, so coaches could get a better evaluation of someone being seriously considered for a roster spot. He has flashed in practice. Now he must show up in games, when the spotlight is brighter even in the preseason. He has size and quality coverage skills inside and out. Is Borders the latest in a long line of Raiders undrafted success stories? We’ll find out soon enough.
2. CB Sean Smith
The veteran cornerback has had a rough week. TJ Carrie took his spot outside on the first unit, leaving the Raiders to experiment on how to use him. He has worked outside with the second unit, inside in four receiver sets and extensively as a dime hybrid linebacker. Smith’s talent is still clear. The veteran could well earn his starting spot back over the next few weeks, or he’ll find a new role on this team. Smith’s performance over the next few weeks should dictate that, starting with Saturday night’s game.
1. LB Marquel Lee
The Raiders don’t have much experience or depth at inside linebacker, and are giving the fifth-round rookie every opportunity to win a starting job. He has been the first-team middle linebacker since training camp began, and has earned praise for his leadership qualities, pre-snap reads and practice play. The Raiders certainly hope Lee can seize the starting job with solid preseason performance. If he struggles, the Raiders might have to look outside the roster to supplement this position group.