Top 10 Raiders to watch in third exhibition game vs Cardinals
The Raiders treated this week as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Everything from the practice schedule to meeting format – save, of course, for intense game prep – had the look and feel of the regular season. The effort culminates in Sunday night’s exhibition against the Arizona Cardinals, where starters will play an extended stretch that could last beyond halftime. The Raiders are interested in seeing top players over an extended stretch and guys down the depth chart before making roster cuts next week.
10) Max Valles, DE
The Raiders' sixth-round pick was a dynamic pass rusher at the University of Virginia and projects as a developmental prospect in the pros. Valles is barely 21 years old and needs coaching and bulk on his frame. A roster spot isn’t guaranteed, but it would be tough to let this prospect slip away from a team without a true speed rusher. Flashing talent on versus Arizona could help justify a spot on the 53-man roster. If not, the Raiders might have to risk waiver-wire exposure while trying to sneak him on the practice squad.
9) Neiron Ball, LB
Ball is going to be on the regular-season roster, and should be a strong special teams presence while developing other areas. Ball has seven tackles, two quarterback hits and two hurries in two games. Continuing to show some ability as a defender in games could earn a more prominent place on the depth chart and give coaches confidence in him as insurance should a starter succumb to injury.
8) Seth Roberts, WR
The first-year player is in the thick of the toughest position battle in training camp, with several worthy contenders for a few roster spots. Roberts just missed a big-play opportunity last week with Derek Carr, but hooked up with Christian Ponder on a 39-yard reception. He needs to produce again on Sunday night to keep pace in a tight race.
7) Brice Butler, WR
Like Roberts, the third-year pro is battling for a roster spot at receiver. Butler has been a strong preseason producer, with standout efforts keeping him in Silver and Black over the years. A strong showing on Sunday would be well timed, especially in a head-to-head battle with others vying for a roster spot that’s become precious in an upgraded position group.
6) Benson Mayowa, DE
Mawoya started last week’s exhibition against Minnesota with Justin Tuck nursing an injury, and should do so again Sunday with Tuck still out. Mayowa should be the first end off the bench and active as a speed rusher on passing downs. This offers a chance to see him against top competition at end. The Raiders have also experimented with him at strongside linebacker as he continues to find a proper role in coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s defense.
5) Taylor Mays, S
The sixth-year veteran bounced around a bunch before landing in Oakland on Wednesday. Mays could fill a specific role as a safety in the box helping against the run, but doesn’t have much time to show what he can do. He’ll play right away, and must prove his worth on the practice field and in remaining preseason games, starting with the Cardinals at home to earn as roster spot. The release of Jonathan Dowling on Saturday could help his chances.
4) Roy Helu Jr, RB
The veteran free-agent signee is expected to make his Raiders debut Sunday night following his first real week of preseason practice. He missed roughly three weeks with a hamstring strain, but returned fully healthy on Wednesday. Head coach Jack Del Rio said he must earn a role, but he’ll likely be the team’s third-down back. He should get some carries against Arizona, and could also apply to be a secondary rusher behind Latavius Murray.
3) Sio Moore, LB
The third-year pro was in the news this week after Jack Del Rio said he was competing to be a role player after making 22 starts in his first two seasons. Moore started practicing this week after missing most of camp, though he wasn’t terribly active during portions open to the press. It will be interesting to see if he plays and how much. His play and his snap count will be important as this preseason winds down. Moore needs to make a positive on-field impression or risk falling further out of the mix despite real talent and potential.
2) Trent Richardson, RB
Trent Richardson watch continues, especially with his place on the regular-season roster tenuous at best. Richardson embroiled in a position battle with Michael Dyer, who bested him last week in touches and per carry production. Richardson must fare better, showing burst, power and vision in first-unit reps that should come once Latavius Murray exits the game. It’s now or never for the fourth-year man. He needs to produce when called upon.
1) DJ Hayden, CB
The Raiders’ 2013 first-round pick had a rough day in Minnesota. He got picked on by the Vikings, and struggled with the ball in the air. Hayden will be a prominent player at cornerback this season – the Raiders don’t have better options at this time – and a rebound performance against talented Arizona receivers would quell fan fears about his recent play. The team should look for outside help at cornerback after roster cuts, though a strong finish to the preseason that features quality plays on the ball could decrease the urgency of that search.