This week’s trip to play a home preseason game in Winnipeg was up next, but things got weird when the game was played on an 80-yard field due to turf issues.
Head coach Jon Gruden was asked about that oddity after a 22-21 victory over Green Bay at IG Field. He addressed it quickly, put the field-shortening decision on the Packers and quickly moved on.
“We might have five undrafted players make the team,” Gruden said. “That’s the story most people are missing. I’m going to talk about that, and not about any more distractions.”
Okay, Coach. Let’s talk about that.
Several undrafted free agents have impressed over this preseason. Some have a realistic shot to make the 53-man roster.
Gruden said he might keep five. Maybe, but that seems a smidge high. A pair seems certain. Three or four total seems more likely.
Gruden didn’t identify players in the best position to stick around after final cuts, so let’s take a look the prime candidates and their odds of making the squad.
P A.J. Cole
The North Carolina State product won his position battler early in camp, with Johnny Townsend was waived to create space for additional cornerbacks. That left Cole as the team’s only punter, knowing full well such status wouldn’t last if he tapered off after an excellent start. Cole certainly hasn’t done that. He averaged 42.2 yards per punt, with another one dropped inside the 20-yard line despite playing on an 80-yard field without a typically clear goal line.
Cole has earned the right to start the season as the Raiders punter. He’ll get it come September.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: It’s a lock
DT Anthony Rush
The 340-pound defensive tackle has proven stout on the interior, a consistent run stopper the Raiders have been looking for to plug gaps and minimize gains. He had four more tackles, including one for a loss, and three total that Pro Football Focus says constituted a failed run play against Green Bay. That’s three straight solid performances for the Alabama-Birmingham alum, who has impressed coaches and fans alike since signing up after training camp started.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: Seems likely
WR Keelan Doss
The Alameda native could well end up working his hometown all season after yet another productive preseason game. He has been Nate Peterman’s best friend late in these three preseason games and has 11 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown on 14 targets. Gruden lauds Doss’ versatility and continues to praise this smooth route runner who surprisingly went undrafted.
“He's playing three positions,” Gruden said. “He's over there at split end. He's playing the z. He's playing in the slot. He's playing them all well. I'm happy for him.”
The UC Davis product works in a talented and intensely competitive position group but could emerge with a roster spot over more established veterans. Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Dwayne Harris are roster locks. Will the Raiders cut either Ryan Grant or J.J. Nelson to make room for Doss? Will Marcell Ateman factor in here? There’s plenty to ponder while making tough choices at receiver.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: Possibly
CB Keisean Nixon
The South Carolina product isn’t here due to recency bias, because he was awesome Thursday night against Green Back. The aggressive cover man has been sound throughout training camp and the preseason, with a penchant for closing separation when the ball’s in the air.
Here’s the proof: Nixon has been targeted 15 times in three preseason games, per PFF, yet has allowed just five receptions for 37 yards. That’s just a 42.4 passer rating against him. That solid play could put him on the 53-man roster to start the season, with a chance to stay there.
Nevin Lawson will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy to start the season, leaving an open spot he could fill early on. He has played better that last year’s fourth-round pick Nick Nelson, who sits firmly on the roster bubble.
The Raiders are also dealing with injuries to rookie draft picks Isaiah Johnson and Trayvon Mullen. If either one lingers into the season, Nixon could be a candidate for regular season playing time.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: Seems likely
FB Alec Ingold
The Wisconsin alum has been steady throughout a preseason where he has received tons of work. Reps have been high with veteran fullback Keith Smith recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and Ingold has taken full advantage.
He has proven a solid lead blocker with some short-yards rush ability and effectiveness in the passing game. He can play on special teams and has impressed offensive coaches running a system that still needs good fullback play.
Smith, however, will have something to say about Ingold vying for his job. He’s back healthy again and had a strong showing on Thursday to prove he hasn’t lost a step. He’s a core special teams player and violent hitter that coaches like. He isn’t giving up his roster spot without a fight. The fullback decision could come down to the wire, and Ingold might be the odd man out if the Raiders believe he’ll clear waivers and make it to the practice squad.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: Maybe, maybe not
OL Andre James
James played offensive tackle at UCLA, but the Raiders have moved him inside to center. That’s quite a transition, one that he has made well. Gruden has praised James’ efforts at several points this summer. That’s a positive sign for the young offensive lineman battling for a roster spot.
He has played 140 preseason snaps and allowed just three quarterback hurries in 70 pass-blocking snaps. Getting the mental aspects of the position right can be tough, but Gruden said James has taken to it.
A path to the 53-man roster remains cloudy, considering the Raiders are expected to carry Gabe Jackson despite him being out the season’s first four of five games at least.
Jordan Devey is expected to replace him at right guard, but he’s a capable backup center as well. That means James might not be needed, especially with the extra depth required at guard. His versatility helps, especially if they only keep three tackles on the roster. There are a lot of variables influencing offensive line construction from Jackson to Denzelle Good’s readiness after back surgery to Richie Incognito’s two-game suspension to start the season. It’s seems set James will stick around on the 53-man roster or the practice squad if the OL shuffle doesn’t shake his way.
Will he make the 53-man roster?: Outlook remains cloudy