Raiders

Raiders notes: Donald Penn's potential IR return could cause dilemmas

donaldpennusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Raiders notes: Donald Penn's potential IR return could cause dilemmas

ALAMEDA – Raiders offensive tackle Donald Penn has been on injured reserve since Oct. 3. It will be eight weeks on Wednesday, meaning he’s ever-so -lose to becoming eligible to return.

Just because he can at that point doesn’t mean he will, however. Penn isn’t ready just yet, but coach Jon Gruden has a level of confidence he can return to the active roster at some point this year.

“He has been downstairs rehabbing and we are hoping he can come back and help us,” Gruden said. “I don’t know how close he is officially, but he is making progress. Hope to have him on the field before the season is over.”

There are some pros and cons if the Raiders bring him back. Penn could definitely help at right tackle, with third-round rookie Brandon Parker in the midst of a trial by fire at the position. Parker has been good at times, overmatched at others. A veteran’s stability and Penn’s willingness to teach could an asset down the stretch.

But if Penn suffers a serious injury upon return, he would have to rehab well into the 2019 season, and the Raiders would be on the hook for his entire salary. Right now, only $1.750 million is guaranteed.

Activating Penn would also impact running back Marshawn Lynch. The Silver and Black have already given defensive tackle Justin Ellis one of two designations to return off IR.

If the second goes to Penn, Lynch will be shut down for sure. He went on injured reserve after a Week 6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in London, and would only be eligible for the Christmas Eve home finale against the Denver Broncos at the earliest.

Lynch is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and it’s uncertain what he plans to do in the future. His rehab timetable is also uncertain, or whether a return is even realistic at this stage.

Raiders to sign Ravens TE

The Silver and Black will sign tight end Darren Waller off the Ravens practice squad, Gruden announced on Monday.

They waived receiver Johnny Holton to create Waller’s roster spot. Defensive back Arrion Springs was waived off the practice squad to make room for Holton to return there.

“He’s a big guy that can really run,” Gruden said of Waller. “He was a wideout at Georgia Tech, he’s transitioning into a hybrid role and we will take a look at him.”

He will be more of a tight end with the Raiders, and can learn from veteran Jared Cook down the stretch. He grew up less thatn 50 miles from where Cook was raised in Georgia.

Waller has been suspended twice for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy, the last of which was a one-year ban that ended in Aug. 2018.

Justin Ellis cranking up

Ellis started practicing with his teammates last week, and Gruden said he could re-join the 53-man roster off injured reserve this week prior to Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

“Ellis will be up this week, hope to have him available against the Chiefs,” Gruden said. “That will help us on the inside running game I do believe.”

Sean Smith suspended

The NFL suspended former Raiders cornerback Sean Smith for the rest of the season, ESPN reported on Monday. A defensive back spent 2016 and 2017 with the Raiders before being released this offseason.

He was given a jail sentence for felony assault, though a one-year term was cut short when Smith was released in August. He has been a free agent since his return, though he was never formally disciplined for the incident prior to Monday’s suspension by the league.

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

darylworleyusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Raiders defensive depth chart: Upgrades mandatory at several key spots

The Raiders have the salary-cap flexibility and draft picks required to significantly upgrade a talent-deficient defense. That unit was 30th in rushing, 19th against the pass and dead freaking last in points allowed.

Coordinator Paul Guenther needs more frontline talent and depth on his side of the ball, though there are a few members of the 2018 defense that will be counted on again next season.

Let’s take a look at the defensive starting lineup up as it stands heading into the offseason, and whether the Raiders can write those players in pencil, ink or a series of question marks where a name should be:

Defensive line

DE: ???
NT: Justin Ellis (ink)
DT: Maurice Hurst (ink)
DE: Arden Key (pencil)
Sub-package help: DT P.J. Hall (pencil)

The Raiders will be looking for upgrades across the defensive line, making it hard to put many names down with certainty. Both edge-rushing spots are up for grabs, with one vacant and likely filled by a veteran or high draft pick.

Key’s at the other end spot right now, but another import could take that spot as well. The LSU product could be an impactful situational pass rusher while developing skills, but was forced to play beyond that role. Dialing things back might be in his best interest.

The Raiders like Hurst a great deal, and have Ellis ready for the base defense. Another interior lineman could join the rotation, or even compete for serious snaps. The Raiders must get better up front, especially off the edges, and should spend significant capital to do so.

Linebackers

SLB: Marquel Lee (pencil)
MLB: ???
WLB: Tahir Whitehead (ink)
Jason Cabinda and Nick Morrow are available – Cabinda’s an exclusive rights free agent but should be back -- to assume the middle linebacker spot they manned last season. Both guys had solid moments working in a platoon, but an upgrade seems to be the right call here.

The Raiders could use a higher draft pick to get a middle linebacker, or bring in a veteran in free agency. Competition seems a necessary addition at the very least, though outright presumptive starter is the way to go. Lee performed well after moving to the strong side from the middle, but that position doesn’t play a ton with defenses in sub packages so often. His name’s still in pencil in case the Raiders snag an athletic edge rushing type who would play strongside linebacker and move to the line in sub packages.

The Raiders defense has lots of issues, and Whitehead isn’t anywhere near the top of the list. The veteran should return to the three-down role he held in 2018.

Secondary

CB: Gareon Conley (ink)
FS: ???
SS: Karl Joseph (ink)
CB: ???
Slot: Nick Nelson (pencil)
Conley will own one cornerback spot. Daryl Worley is expected to man the other, but we can't put him down yet. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and while the Raiders want to bring him back, there’s no telling what the open market will bear and whether the Raiders will match any offer or offer a high-round contract tender. There is a strong, belief, however, that Worley will be back.

Joseph showed great improvement down the stretch, and should be given an opportunity to develop further and bring physicality to the defense while attempting to be more of a big-play maker.

Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson are unrestricted free agentd and Erik Harris is restricted. Harris will likely return, but the Raiders should still look for an upgrade here in the starting lineup, either through free agency or the draft. ... Coaches like Nelson, who struggled some after losing valuable development time recovering from an offseason knee injury.

The Raiders could bring in some competition there, even as cornerback depth with Rashaan Melvin not expected back. A versatile corner could challenge and/or push Nelson over the spring and summer.

2019 NFL mock draft: Who Raiders might take with No. 27 pick

harryjacobsusatsi.jpg
USATSI

2019 NFL mock draft: Who Raiders might take with No. 27 pick

The Raiders had the No. 4 and No. 24 overall NFL draft picks locked up entering the weekend. They had another first-rounder out there, without a slot to call home.

That changed after Dallas fell in the postseason’s divisional round Saturday and then Philadelphia lost to New Orleans the following day.

That set the Cowboys' first-round pick at No. 27 overall, though it was promised to the Raiders in trade for Amari Cooper.

NFL mock drafts have been approximating that Cowboys/Raiders, even though the slot was uncertain.

Now that it’s set, so let’s see what the latest mock drafts have predicted for the Raiders at No. 27:

CBS Sports: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
What they’re saying:
“The Raiders need playmakers because 33-year-old Jordy Nelson isn't close to the player he was in Green Bay. Harry had 73 receptions for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and he reminds us of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Anquan Boldin.”

SB Nation: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
What they’re saying:
“The Raiders need one, or maybe even two wide receivers in the draft this year. Harry would be a nice pickup in the first round. He’s obviously a talent at the position, otherwise he wouldn’t be this high in the draft. But he’s capable of playing in the slot and outside, which would give the Raiders flexibility later in the draft.”

NBC Sports Washington: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
What they’re saying:
This isn't the year for round one running backs. The one goes in the first, odds lean toward the 5-foot-11 Harris, who averaged 6.1 yards per carries during the regular season, but was held to 48 yards on 1 carries in the national semifinal win over Oklahoma.

Bleacher Report: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama
What they’re saying:
“A running back in the first round? Yes, because Josh Jacobs is an Alvin Kamara-like talent.

The junior bruiser for Alabama has excellent balance through contact, great power and has shown the agility and speed to make an impact outside the tackle box. Jacobs is also a soft-handed receiver who has shown in the Alabama scheme the skills to torch defenses in a variety of ways.

The Raiders need to get better at virtually every position, including running back. Jacobs will take pressure off quarterback Derek Carr and should have plenty of holes to run through given the strength of the team's offensive line.”

Pro Football Focus: Safety Taylor Rapp, Washington
What they’re saying:
”The defensive overhaul continues with Rapp who has the versatility to play all over the field. He finished with the No. 4 overall grade among safeties last season (90.1) while missing only two tackles on the year.”