Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot


Raiders mailbag: Carrie, Hayden will fight for nickel CB spot

The Raiders' starting lineup is largely set heading towards training camp. That’s a relatively new phenomenon after years with lackluster talent left jobs open and fingers crossed young players would exceed expectations.

Quality exists at most starting spots, with one dominant force on top. This training camp will host a few key battles, including the nickel corner position.

That’s where we begin Saturday’s Raiders mailbag, with questions submitted via my Facebook page (@bairCSN):

Who do you think has the edge at slot corner Carrie or Hayden? (Riley Alltop)
Sean Smith and David Amerson seem set to start at outside cornerback, and should stay there in the nickel package.

DJ Hayden spent significant time working as the first-team slot cornerback during the offseason program, far more than other cornerback options. Head coach Jack Del Rio praised Hayden’s work this spring, saying he was excited about the former first-round pick’s development.

The Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option, making this a contract year for the University of Houston product still trying to gain traction at this level. The Raiders will give him an opportunity to earn a job, something he hasn’t done yet. He was given one before, but fell down the depth chart and was behind others to close out last year.

TJ Carrie, who started 14 games last year, is fighting for significant snaps as well. He has the physicality preferred in the slot, and experience operating in that unique role. He’ll have to take control of the No. 3 job over Hayden and Neiko Thorpe, who will re-join the fray after missing the OTAs and minicamp with injury.

This could be a battle waged all preseason for a key spot in a revamped secondary.

Who will win the KR/PR jobs? (Chris Parsley)
Special teams coordinator Brad Seely made it clear during minicamp that incumbents retain pole position in the quest to return kicks and punts. That makes Taiwan Jones and TJ Carrie your leaders heading into training camp.

There are other options, however, to be examined during the preseason. One is undrafted receiver/return man Joe Hansley, an undrafted free agent who impressed during the offseason program. Fifth-round running back DeAndre Washington is experienced and willing returning kicks. Jaydon Mickens and Antonio Hamilton are also prospects for key special teams spots.

The Raiders haven’t had fearsome returners in some time despite efforts to fortify that aspect of special teams, and while new guys are getting a shot, it’s highly likely Jones and Carrie get another crack at major return roles.

I was a bit surprised at the Jihad Ward pick but this guy looks like a freak of nature. Is it too soon to get on the hype train? (Thaddeus Hudson)
The Raiders have left fans scratching heads after their last two second-round picks, using selections on physically-gifted defensive linemen without much college production. Last year they took Mario Edwards Jr. a draft pick that looks pretty smart with Edwards healthy and dangerous attacking inside and out.

Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward could follow Edward’s path, and certainly looked good in the offseason program. A word of caution: These OTAs were conducted without pads or heavy contact. While Ward looked surprisingly agile for a man so large, true football must be played to fully evaluate Ward.

He has been running with the first team and should get a real opportunity to contribute at least on a rotational basis with Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry at the defensive end spot flanked by edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Is it 9 wins or bust this year for JDR? (Colin Mehigan)
The Raiders are entering new territory after playing four wins better in 2015 and improving the roster with productive offseason. After a decade plus spent at 8-8 or worse, .500 is a new baseline for success. Expectations are far higher, and many national pundits consider the Raiders realistic contenders to win the AFC West.

Del Rio should be comfortable in the captain’s chair after changing the culture in his first season, but the pressure is on to keep the Raiders on a winning track. He has the talent required to do so, armed with a hulking offensive line, firepower at the skill spots and a defense with sharp fangs. The Raiders have the talent required to win nine games. Can they perform well in the clutch and close out games they should win. That will be key to reaching lofty goals while giving fans something to cheer.

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Josh Jacobs is a feature back in every sense. The Raiders star rusher can do most everything well and is capable of playing all three downs. He can carry a significant workload, as he did during an exemplary 2019 campaign where he finished second in AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, and frankly should have won.

He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, proving to be a tough and elusive runner who gains significant yards after contact.

Jalen Richard’s an excellent complement as a third-down back who can pass protect well and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

While those two can cover every offensive scenario, the Raiders should still work to add another running back.

That was clear at the end of last year when Jacobs was shut down with a shoulder injury he played through for weeks. DeAndre Washington filled in as the primary ball carrier and fared well but was allowed to hit the open market, where he remains today.

The Raiders could and should look to upgrade that position and not just by finding a backup. They need someone with a different style, maybe a big and bruising back to accent what the Raiders do offensively.

They tried to do that last season, when they worked out every veteran running back under the sun but didn’t sign anyone until Rod Smith came aboard late.

The sixth-year journeyman re-signed with the Raiders on a low-cost contract.

The NFL draft will have quality options available later in the draft, where the Raiders have three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth.

It might take a third-round pick to land Boston College’s A.J. Dillion, a 247-pound bruiser who can run downhill and pick up short yardage by moving the pile. Draft analysts say he’s good at reading blocks and following his assignment, something important in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Vanderbilt’s Ke'Shawn Vaughn is an option who might be available later. He isn’t quite as big but has the toughness required to get hard yards and could absorb some blows to keep Jacobs healthy and fresh.

This isn’t a full-on draft breakdown, so we won’t go down the list of every scheme fit available for selection. There aren’t many free agent dollars left, so it’s hard to see another runner coming in.

The Raiders can survive with the depth chart they’ve got, especially with fullback Alec Ingold able to carry the ball effectively when called upon. But the NFL is trending toward two back benefits, even when there’s an obvious alpha like Jacobs.

Gruden has historically preferred feeding multiple backs, as he did in his previous Raiders stint with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kauffman, and later with Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly meet virtually with Herbert]

Gruden has also ridden one back pretty hard, as he did with Cadillac Williams while with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are more than capable of rolling with the crew they have but could use to make the backfield a little better before the 2020 season begins by filling a relatively low-ranking need.

NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft


NFL rumors: Raiders meeting with Oregon QB Justin Herbert before draft

The Raiders are meeting with former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert on an official top-30 visit. Well, the term “visit” might be a stretch considering nobody is allowed inside NFL facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pre-draft meetings still are happening, but those face-to-face interactions now are done over FaceTime or Zoom or Skype or whatever video conferencing platform you prefer.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Herbert will be meeting with the Raiders in this way, as the Silver and Black try to refine their options in the NFL draft.

Each team gets 30 meetings during the pre-draft process, though they’re often used on players from lower rounds or with character questions they need to examine further.

This meeting is sure to raise some eyebrows considering Herbert’s position and eventual draft status, but this should be viewed as an exploratory exercise of the Raiders doing due diligence.

[RELATED: How Raiders' NFL free-agency signings could impact returning players]

Herbert should be taken in the NFL draft’s top 10, well before the Raiders draft at Nos. 12 and 19. The Raiders have the capital to trade up in the draft if they choose, but it would be costly to move up high enough to get beyond the quarterback starved Miami Dolphins at No. 5 and the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 6.

They also have a quality quarterback room with Derek Carr as the starter and Marcus Mariota as the backup. There are far more pressing needs at receiver, cornerback and safety and maybe defensive line that could use talent available in the first round.

It’s possible the Raiders draft a quarterback later in the draft, but it seems unlikely in the first round.

Let’s also recall that the Raiders met with top quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins before last year’s draft and didn’t take either guy.

While the Raiders don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, general manager Mike Mayock always says the team will consider upgrades at every position. Head coach Jon Gruden loves meeting with quarterbacks and learning how they think.

Herbert is ranked high among the NFL draft’s best options at quarterback, typically third behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. He has ideal size for a quarterback at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, with great arm strength and field vision. He can throw on the move and is confident throwing the ball downfield and making smart decisions going with shorter and intermediate options.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s latest mock draft has Herbert going No. 5 to the Dolphins.

NFL Network also reported that Herbert has a video conference scheduled with the Bolts.