Rankings positions where Raiders need help from rookies
TRAINING CAMP LOOMS
Raiders training camp doesn’t officially start until the full squad arrives on Friday, but rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans have reported early for pre-camp instruction. Passers and those rehabbing injuries get extra time, but most of these early workouts are for the young bucks. Even on a talented team like this one, the Raiders could use some immediate help from their rookie class. Here are a few areas where they need a young player to fill an important role.
This one is obvious yet poignant for a team that lost core veterans Andre Holmes, Darren Bates and Brynden Trawick in unrestricted free agency. Those guys anchored coverage teams in particular and were vital in the battle for field position. Taiwan Jones and Jamize Olawale remain integral to those efforts, but young players must excel in the kicking game to maintain an advantage on special teams and aid weapons like punter Marquette King and returners Cordarrelle Patterson and Jalen Richard. Young players like Marquel Lee and Shalom Luani must fill gaps and keep the coverage strong.
Uncertainty reigns at inside linebacker, with unproven talents throughout the depth chart. Second-year pros Cory James (MLB) and Tyrell Adams (WLB) manned the first unit during the offseason program, with fifth-round rookie Marquel Lee playing middle linebacker with the second unit. The Wake Forest alum has tangible qualities required of his post, though it’s tough to realize NFL potential in such a cerebral position as a rookie. If James doesn’t pan out and the Raiders don’t add veteran talent, Lee could be called upon to occupy an important role.
The Raiders are looking for more pressure along the defensive front, especially from the inside. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are locked in off the edge and Mario Edwards Jr. should provide a spark at one inside post, but the other remains undecided. Third-round rookie Eddie Vanderdoes could fill that void right away, though he’ll have competition from slightly older players. Vanderdoes has the power and tenacity to reach the backfield, though UCLA’s academic calendar kept him out of most offseason workouts. He hasn’t practiced with veterans, and how he fares against them in practice and preseason games will show whether Vanderdoes is ready to contribute right away.
COVERING TIGHT ENDS/RUNNING BACKS
The Raiders have struggled covering running backs and tight ends in recent seasons, especially with several targets on the field. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu could help in this regard. He’s a massive safety with great speed, someone who could and likely will play as a hybrid linebacker/safety in some packages. That’s an important role considering the Raiders’ unproven linebacker corps and strong safety Karl Joseph’s lack of height versus massive tight ends. Melifonwu could be a super sub safety in the back but carve a role for himself by shoring up a weakness in pass defense.
First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played some slot cornerback late his last season at Ohio State. He could see significant time there in his first year as a pro. He played inside for most of the Raiders offseason program and looked good in a spot DJ Hayden manned last year with mixed results. Conley could be a real upgrade on the inside as a smooth cover man who can run with anybody and as the athleticism to handle receivers of varied size. TJ Carrie would be waiting in the wings should Conley have a rough preseason, but that isn’t expected.