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Raiders first 53-man roster projection of 2018

Raiders Wire logo Raiders Wire 5/8/2018 Will Reeve Jr.

The dust has settled after the 2018 NFL draft and following nearly two months of free agency, leaving fans with a clearer picture of how this Raiders roster should come together under new coach Jon Gruden.

Here is a look at Oakland's first 53-man roster projection that sees a roster with far more depth in former areas of need, and upgraded talent at skill positions.

Offense

Quarterback

No. 1. Derek Carr

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Oakland has the luxury of being blessed with a franchise quarterback who is on pace to shatter all of the records in team annals by the time his career is over.

At just 27 years old, Carr was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2017 after Patriots QB Tom Brady dropped out to drop a pass, coincidentally, in the Super Bowl.

By making the team three straight times Carr becomes only the third quarterback in franchise history to accomplish the feat joining legendary QB Ken Stabler as well as Rich Gannon, who each earned four selections. In 2017, Carr amassed 3,496 yards on 323-of-515 passing (62.7 percent) with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 86.4.

Though Carr is on a historic pace, he does struggle mightily under pressure which makes Gruden and McKenzie electing to draft two offensive tackles all-the-more understandable. Carr has also proven to be a bit fragile in recent years so protecting him won't only elevate his level of play, but it also ensures the viability of the team overall.

No. 2. EJ Manuel

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Let's face it, the Raiders could do a whole lot worse than a former first-round selection backing up Carr, and that's currently where QB EJ Manuel should be entering training camp.

Manuel was selected by the Bills No. 16 overall in the 2013 NFL draft but was miscast as a franchise QB in the oft-frigid upper Northeast. During his time with Buffalo Manuel appeared in 28 games (starting 17) amassing 876 passing yards on 319-of-547 attempts with 19 touchdowns against 15 interceptions and a QB rating of 77.9.

The former Florida State product appeared in two games with Oakland in 2017 after Carr fractured three transverse processes in his back on a hit from Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris Week 4 of the season. Manuel went 11-of-17 for 106 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception for a QB rating of 57.5 in mop-up duty for Carr in a 16-10 loss to Denver.

With one week to get some starting reps under his belt, Manuel fared better in Week 5 against the Ravens, completing 13-of-26 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown for a QB rating of 82.1. Though Manuel will always struggle with his accuracy, he at least gives Oakland a fighting chance should Carr get nicked up in 2018.

Behind Carr and Manuel Oakland should retain the services of backup QB Connor Cook on the practice squad, and possibly Josh Johnson as well for scout-team reps against athletic QBs.

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Fullback

Keith Smith

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Gruden wasted little time in finding his legitimate fullback, trading away the uber-athletic FB Jamize Olawale and signing former Cowboys FB Keith Smith earlier this offseason.

Smith spent the previous four seasons with Dallas (2014-17), appearing in 47 games total and even playing 15 games at linebacker during his first two seasons in the NFL. During that span, Smith managed six tackles (five solo), but he did his real damage in his 32 games played at FB where he paved the way for the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and Darren McFadden.

Smith has been available for every game over the past two seasons for Dallas and should be part of the culture change on offense the team should experience.

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Running back

No. 1. Marshawn Lynch

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Beast Mode was in full flight during the second half of the 2017 season. But it was more than just the fact that running back Marshawn Lynch was able to get his legs back underneath him after one year of retirement, he also had to figure out facing the most stacked fronts in the NFL, according to RotoUnderworld, at 31 years old.

Lynch averaged 4.63 yards per carry on 135 rushing attempts for 625 rushing yards and five touchdowns over the final eight games of 2017 and should be well serviced by now having a legitimate fullback in Keith Smith to block for him and an upgraded offensive line.

"We're not going to have that," Gruden said per Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price Feb. 19. "No. I said to him [Lynch]: 'I need Marshawn Lynch. I don't need this part-time Lynch. I need full-time Lynch. . . . We need the real deal. If you're going to put those letters on the back of your jersey, man, you've got to back it up, Marshawn - right? We don't need another back, we need a feature back."

Fans should expect Beast Mode to be hungry early and often in 2018.

No. 2. Doug Martin

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It remains to be seen what version of former Buccaneers RB Doug Martin the Raiders will get this season.

Martin has rushed for more than 1,400 yards twice in his career, but in the other four seasons, he never topped 500 yards rushing. His best season came as a rookie in 2012 when he racked up 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. However, over his previous two campaigns, Martin has managed just 2.9 yards per carry which means he is certainly destined for a backup role.

Fortunately, for Oakland, that is something that Martin is perfectly comfortable with.

"Yeah, I have been the lead back for most of my career, but what enticed me in coming here is the potential for this team . . . Marshawn [Lynch] is a great back. He's definitely made his mark here in the league.

Whatever role that they want me to play, I'm willing to play. I'm not sure how many carries I'll be getting or how many carries we'll be splitting, but whatever I need to do to help this team, I'm going to do it," Martin said during a media conference call March 15.

No. 3. Jalen Richard

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One year after being dubbed one of Pro Football Focus' most explosive players overall, running back Jalen Richard put the ball on the turf eight times in 2017.

But Richard is still the far superior option over his fellow RB DeAndre Washington after he put up a campaign where he could not manage three yards per carry. Richard offers some elusiveness and explosion that Lynch and Martin may be lacking at this stage of their careers, as well as the ability to help Oakland out on kick and punt returns as a backup option.

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Tight end

No. 1. Jared Cook

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While he is not a good blocking tight end by any stretch of the imagination, Jared Cook can pluck a football out of the air with the best at his position in the NFL.

After struggling to remain healthy and be consistently productive for much of his career, Cook remained available and appeared highly comfortable with Carr en route to one of his best seasons overall as a professional. Cook amassed 54 receptions (86 targets) for 688 yards (12.7 yards per reception) and two touchdowns in 16 starts during an atrocious season on offense for the team in 2017.

If Cook remains in his wheelhouse and proves at least somewhat serviceable blocking when called upon, he should retain the No. 1 slot on the tight end depth chart fairly easily.

No. 2. Lee Smith

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Understanding Cook's limitations, Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie surprised some by re-signing TE Lee Smith very early this offseason. But Smith offers the blocking ability Cook lacks and can be a sneaky good receiver when asked to leak out into patterns.

Smith is winding down his career but should serve a vital role in Gruden's two and three tight-end sets that he destined to run in 2018.

No. 3. Derek Carrier

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Wide receiver

No. 1. Amari Cooper

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While it is true that wide receiver Amari Cooper had his worst season as a professional in every way in 2017, he is still one of the most explosive and best route-running wideouts in the NFL and will still be just 24 years old this season.

Over the course of his first two seasons, Cooper was on a historic pace after amassing 155 receptions for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, Cooper's hands betrayed him in 2017 as he posted the worst on target drop percentage rate in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and only caught 50 percent of the passes thrown his way overall.

With Gruden's more precise system and Cooper's drive to work tirelessly at his craft, fans shouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see the former Alabama product bounce back in a big way in 2018.

No. 2. Jordy Nelson

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Both Gruden and McKenzie's ties to Green Bay were heavily discussed during the coach's introductory press conference Jan. 9, but it was still surprising to see the duo go after a 33-year-old wideout in Jordy Nelson this offseason.

That isn't to say that it wasn't a good move by the front office, because it was, but it was certainly unexpected. Oakland decided better than to move forward with the enigmatic Michael Crabtree, releasing him only to see him almost immediately land with the Ravens on a new three-year deal.

However, Crabtree was also plagued by drops, is nearly Nelson's age, had difficulty getting separation on his routes and got himself suspended one year ago. Which made his release bordering on inevitable given his salary cap figure, and Nelson quite the nice addition.

Though Nelson had a down year in 2017, that was largely due to having one of the worst quarterbacks in the game throwing to him in Brett Hundley. And he is just one season removed from winning the comeback player of the year award, has far better hands than Crabtree and is a tremendous red-zone option in his own right.

No. 3. Martavis Bryant

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Speaking of unexpected moves, the Raiders landing former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant was on no one's radar apart from those inside the front office. However, he will bring speed, size and game-breaking ability that should pair nicely with Cooper and Nelson.

"He's different. Let me tell you, he brings a different dynamic. He's 6-foot-4 and he plays it. He's 4.4, fast and he plays it," Gruden said during media availability Friday. "We like our receivers and we think Martavis will make you think twice about doing some things."

He was suspended for the entire 2016 season for a second violation of the league's substance abuse policy, meaning that Bryant doesn't come without risk. But the Raiders spent just a third-round pick in a trade with Pittsburgh to acquire a player that has WR1 talent if he is able to keep his act together. Which, from the sounds of his introductory press conference with Oakland, he fully intends on doing.

"I've had my difficulties in my past, but I've come a long way from that," Bryant said during his initial media availability. "It's all about keeping the right resources around me and continuing to stay on the right path. I'm going to make sure I get that done."

No. 4. Marcell Ateman

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Raiders Wire had former Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman pegged as the team's fifth-round target, but also mocked him to the team in the fourth round which should give fans some good insight into his talent level. Moreover, to see him slip to Oakland in the seventh round borders on highway robbery for McKenzie and Gruden.

Ateman amassed 1,156 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 13 games (10 starts) in 2017 and was part of the nation's most prolific pass-catching duo with James Washington. Their 6,398 receiving yards were 1,238 yards more than the first non-team duo in college football (Memphis' Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue, 5,700 yards).

Washington and Ateman helped quarterback Mason Rudolph to lead a team that finished as the first team in Big 12 history to have a 4,000-yard passer (Rudolph), a 1,000-yard rusher in Justice Hill and two 1,000-yard receivers.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Ateman will pair quite nicely with former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant, tight end Jared Cook and slot receiver addition Ryan Switzer in the red zone for the Raiders in 2018. And it's a rare event that sees any team land a player with Ateman's skill, athletic ability, and production in the seventh round of any NFL draft.

Slot - Ryan Switzer

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Former Cowboys wide receiver/kick returner Ryan Switzer was underutilized and miscast in Dallas but is poised to have a real chance to do some damage with the Raiders with Seth Roberts proving highly ineffective in the slot-receiving role.

"I liked Switzer a lot at North Carolina. My brother doesn't like Switzer. He took an 83-yard punt home against [Washington] last year. That's what he can do. We want a lot of competition for the punt returner job. Switzer is outstanding and can also return kickoffs. I think he's got some nasty quickness in the slot," Gruden said during media availability shortly after trading for the wideout.

Switzer notched his first NFL punt return TD with an 83-yard explosion against the Redskins and Gruden's brother, coach Jay Gruden, and he returned 29 total punts for 256 yards in 2017. He also had 24 kick returns for 600 yards for an average of 25 yards per try.

Though he seldom saw action with Dallas, Raiders Wire had Switzer as a target coming out of the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine after he posted 4.51-second, 40-yard dash speed to go along with his electric college tape.

Return man/emergency WR - Dwayne Harris

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Left tackle

No. 1. Donald Penn

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Times have been somewhat tumultuous for left tackle Donald Penn after he saw his iron-man streak come to an end late last season due to a foot injury which ultimately required season-ending surgery.

Shortly after it was announced that Oakland had signed veteran OT Breno Giacomini and Gruden and McKenzie drafted two OTs in Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker, Penn and his soon to be ex-wife were involved in a domestic violence incident that the two later denied saw any physical contact.

Despite the impending competition and abundance of talent around him, Penn is still a Pro Bowl caliber LT that should hold down the starting job for at least one more season.

No. 2. Kolton Miller

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Penn may not want to get too comfortable at 35 years old this season, however, as Miller has already caught Gruden's eye as his replacement.

"We're going to start him off on the left side, get him comfortable over there," Gruden said during media availability Friday. "That's where he has recently played. We like him at left tackle. We think he's a prototype left tackle. He can bend, he's got the length that you're looking for, and he's a sharp kid."

Miller can play either tackle position and was projected as a third-round prospect by Draft Wire's Luke Easterling. However, most analysts had Miller pegged as the second-best OT in the 2018 NFL draft class behind only former Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey. And he is almost certainly the future blind-side protector for Carr.

No. 3. David Sharpe

No. 4. Brandon Parker

No. 5. Vadal Alexander

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Right tackle

No. 1. Kolton Miller

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While it may be too soon to dial in Miller on the left side of the offensive line - barring any off-field disaster with Penn - Miller should go into training camp as the leader in the clubhouse to start at RT.

That was a position the Raiders saw manned by Marshall Newhouse in 2017 to very poor effect. Newhouse had a difficult time in both the run and passing game and was quickly released this offseason before Gruden and McKenzie drafted two tackles in Miller and Brandon Parker in 2018.

Miller should be an immediate upgrade over Newhouse in every way, but will have to battle with a wily veteran to win the job during training camp.

No. 2. Breno Giacomini

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Oakland landed a gem at a needed position this offseason in OT Breno Giacomini. He is a player who can step in and start Day 1 if needed, and also is a Super Bowl champion. Which is something that has been in short supply in the Raiders' locker room in recent years.

Giacomini is entering his eleventh NFL season (Packers, Seahawks, Jets, Texans and Raiders), and has appeared in 94 career games (86 starts), including 53 starts over the last four seasons. Giacomini started all 16 games at right tackle for Houston in 2017 and should be pushing Miller to start along the right side straight out of the gate.

No. 3. Brandon Parker

No. 4. David Sharpe

No. 5. Denver Kirkland

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Right guard

No. 1. Gabe Jackson

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Not much to say about right guard Gabe Jackson apart from its undeniable that he is one of the best in the game at his position.

Between Jackson, his fellow OG Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson, Oakland has arguably the best interior offensive line trio in the game.

No. 2. Vadal Alexander

No. 3. Jon Feliciano

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Left guard

No. 1. Kelechi Osemele

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Both left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson are the tone-setters up front for this bruising offensive line.

Osemele brought a certain nastiness that was needed into the offensive line meetings when he joined the Raiders in 2016. He is not only arguably the best LG in football but Osemele is another Super Bowl champion (2012 with Baltimore).

No. 2. Vadal Alexander

No. 3. Jon Feliciano

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Center

No. 1. Rodney Hudson

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Kidney stones couldn't even stop center Rodney Hudson from finishing out a season that had grown pointless near the end of 2017.

That is not only because of the fact that Hudson is incredibly tough, but he believes in leading by example. His outstanding play and indomitable spirit make him one of the most important, unsung players on this team.

No. 2. Jon Feliciano

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Defense

Nose tackle

No. 1. Justin Ellis

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No, Raiders defensive tackle Justin Ellis isn't going to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. But that isn't what he's going to be asked to do as a nose tackle in new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's defense.

Jelly, as he is affectionately known by teammates, will be expected to eat up the blocks of centers and guards thus plugging running lanes while also creating pass-rushing lanes for his teammates. And that's precisely what Ellis has proven to be very good at during his career.

No. 2. P.J. Hall

No. 3. Maurice Hurst

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3-tech defensive tackle

No. 1. P.J. Hall

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This is the DT position that will look to work past opposing lineman to get after the quarterback, and few can do it better from his position than former Sam Houston State DT P.J. Hall.

"Hall is an inside rusher. He's a potential three-technique, outside shoulder of the guard, which is a critical part of this defense that we're going to run here. With Paul Guenther, we like his production, we love his measurables. The only thing he isn't is he's not tall, but this man is extremely powerful.

I believe he did 38 bench presses, 39" vertical. The man can run. We need an inside pass rusher, which I think I've said that since I've been here. Somebody that can disrupt running plays and penetrate, and this guy can do that, so we're really excited to get him," Gruden said during media availability during the draft.

Hall stands six feet tall and weighs 308 pounds, and had 36 lifts in the bench press at his pro day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds, and his vertical leap was measured at 38 inches. Hall also had a 9-foot-8 broad jump. Overall, Hall played in 56 games totaling 284 tackles (160 solo), 86.5 tackles for loss, 42 sacks, nine forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, four interceptions an amazing 14 kicks blocked in his four seasons.

Behind Hall, the Raiders will feature a first-round talent to rotate in at the position in former Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, who the team was able to steal away from the field in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft due to a heart condition that will require yearly testing.

No. 2. Maurice Hurst

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"To get those two guys, we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft," Gruden said during media availability Friday of former Michigan DT Maurice Hurst and Hall.

Hurst has been fully cleared for football after being diagnosed with a heart condition that will require yearly evaluation, which is something for fans to get extremely excited about. Over the past two seasons, Oakland has seen the interior of its defensive line get zero push against opponents while attempting to rush the passer, and no one did that better from Hurst's position in college football in 2017.

The former Wolverines DT racked up 13.5 sacks, 32.0 tackles for loss, 130 tackles (67 solo), three passes defensed, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles in his 40 games with the team.

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Defensive end

No. 1. Khalil Mack

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No one has amassed more quarterback pressures since 2015 than Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, according to PFF, and that certainly doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon with the pass-rushing additions that Gruden and McKenzie brought onboard.

Mack is currently in a holding pattern and hasn't participated in early voluntary workouts as he seeks to land a deal in the neighborhood of $65 million guaranteed, but is under contract and will be a force as soon as he shows up to camp Day 1.

The former first-round selection has proven to be able to rush the passer, drop in zones when called upon effectively and play the run in a balanced fashion during his four NFL seasons to date, which makes him arguably the best overall defender in the NFL.

No. 2. Arden Key

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Rookie defensive end Arden Key will have to battle veteran DE Tank Carradine for starting reps, but the safe early bet is to expect to see plenty of the former LSU product opposite of Mack in 2018.

"Arden Key can do the one thing that very few people can do in this draft, and that's rush the passer, and we're happy to get him in the third round," Gruden said during media availability during the NFL draft.

It was some poor decision-making while in college that saw the Raiders rookie's draft stock fall.

"Everybody knows, talent-wise, if we're just talking talent, top five pick, automatic," Key said during a media conference call Friday. "I'm not the guy that the media portrays me to be . . . I was honest. I spoke up on the mistakes I made and the plan that I need.

Now, it's not a surprise or 'what kind of plan do we need to set for this guy?' This is the plan we need to set for this guy, and this guy will follow the plan. That's it. The main thing is [to] get me going," Key added.

The new Raiders DE finished his career at LSU with 129 tackles (58 solo), 24.5 tackles for loss, 20.0 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 31 games played.

No. 3. Tank Carradine

No. 4. Mario Edwards Jr.

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SAM linebacker

Bruce Irvin

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In a 4-3 defensive front, the SAM linebacker will often serve as the team's primary run stopper on the strong side as well as the team's fifth defensive lineman. And that's precisely the role for outside linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Though Irvin is almost certainly destined to see plenty of snaps at DE in 2018, he doesn't possess a strong enough base to effectively set an edge when asked to come out of a stance against stronger tackles.

However, if he's able to work off of the line of scrimmage a bit more, Irvin should be able to be extremely impactful against the run while also seeing more free runs at opposing quarterbacks given scheme confusion and the presence of Mack opposite of him as well as Hall and Hurst in the middle.

No. 2. Shilique Calhoun

No. 3. Marquel Lee

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WILL linebacker

No. 1. Tahir Whitehead

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Gone are the days of the Raiders relying upon the services of Cory James at WILL linebacker, as the team released the former sixth-round selection after two seasons with the team in favor of former Lions LB Tahir Whitehead - who is a decided upgrade over James in nearly every way.

Though James was good against the run, the WLB position requires a player that not only has the speed to roam the field but also instinctually does so against the pass. James simply lacked the instincts to do so effectively, and Whitehead should offer Oakland a nice upgrade at the position in 2018.

No. 2. Nicholas Morrow - subpackage/nickel LB

No. 3. Marquel Lee

No. 4. Azeem Victor

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Middle linebacker

No. 1. Derrick Johnson

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Much of Raider Nation is still beside themselves that McKenzie elected to poach another rival linebacker in ex-Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson on a one-year deal, rather than look to find a way to sign 2017's starting MLB NaVorro Bowman to a long-term deal.

That is largely due to the fact that Johnson will be 36 years old Nov. 22 and has torn his Achilles tendon twice over the course of his 13-year career. However, Johnson is still a decided upgrade over Bowman in coverage as he posted the best numbers in that respect in 2017 for any qualifying LB, according to Pro Football Focus. For context, Bowman finished No. 19 in coverage and was followed closely by Nicholas Morrow, who finished ranked No. 21.

Just a few weeks removed from having ESPN laugh the Raiders out of the building as having the second-worst linebacking core in the game, the combination of Whitehead, Irvin and Johnson is looking pretty good right about now. That is especially true when considering Johnson's coverage abilities and the upgrades Gruden and McKenzie have instilled on the defensive front as well as in the secondary.

No. 2. Tahir Whitehead

No. 3. Marquel Lee

No. 4. Azeem Victor

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Cornerback

No. 1. Rashaan Melvin

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Speaking of things that Oakland's defense did horribly in 2017, they quite possibly boasted the worst secondary in the NFL last year. Gone are the disappointments that were cornerbacks David Amerson and Sean Smith, enter the new cast of characters that will be led by a top-20 CB in the NFL, according to PFF, in Rashaan Melvin.

In addition to his overall PFF grade of 85.7, Melvin posted equally proficient grades in coverage (84.9), as well as against the run (81.2) in 2017. Over the course of his four-year career, Melvin has appeared in 37 games (21 starts) amassing 138 tackles (115 solo), one fumble recovery, three forced fumbles, 21 passes defensed and three interceptions.

"They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that's happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I'm just excited to be here, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player," Melvin said during his introductory media conference call in March.

No. 2. Gareon Conley

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It's time for the Raiders' first-round selection from one season ago, cornerback Gareon Conley, to show exactly why fans should be excited about his return.

But first, the rehab continues for the second-year DB as he is still limited to just lifting and taking mental reps during this stage of voluntary workouts as he recovers from season-ending shin surgery. For much of 2017 Conley was unavailable for what the team originally thought were shin splints, but after several months of being unable to return to 100 percent Conley was shut down and opted for surgery. Which implies that his shin injury was more likely a fracture that was masquerading as splints all along.

When he was on the field for his two games, Conley looked impressive at the position. He appeared poised, focused, instinctive and athletic. All traits that should see him and Melvin battle it out for No. 1 on the depth chart all training camp long.

No. 3. Shareece Wright

No. 4. Nick Nelson

No. 5. Dexter McDonald

No. 6. Antonio Hamilton

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Free safety

No. 1. Marcus Gilchrist

a group of football players on a field: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Though Oakland hasn't entirely let go of the notion that free safety Reggie Nelson can still play professional football, they were smart in picking up an upgrade at the position this offseason in Marcus Gilchrist.

Over his career, Gilchrist has played in 107 games with 82 starts, totaling 426 tackles (330 solo), 11 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, four sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

In 2017, Gilchrist amassed 56 tackles, one interception, six passes defensed, one sack and one forced fumble while posting a solid Pro Football Focus grade of 77.2.

"There were a couple of other teams that were interested, but ultimately I chose this [Oakland] to be my first visit. I have ties here on the coaching staff with [assistant head coach/special teams coordinator] Rich Bisaccia.

He was the guy that helped bring me in when I was in San Diego as a rookie. He was there for two years, and I kept in constant contact with him when he was in Dallas. It kind of made it a little bit easier for me to come here first," Gilchrist said during a media conference call Mar. 15.

Behind Gilchrist, Nelson should still be considered as having the edge over second-year safety Obi Melifonwu. That is because Gruden value veteran players who he knows what to expect from and Melifonwu remains a mystery with his own injury history.

No. 2. Reggie Nelson

No. 3. Obi Melifonwu

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Strong safety

No. 1. Karl Joseph

a group of baseball players playing a football game: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

Perhaps miscast as a strong safety at his size, Karl Joseph simply kept balling out in 2017 despite the fact that the rest of the secondary he was a part of was in shambles.

After missing four games as a rookie, Joseph was available for 15-of-16 contests in 2017 amassing 78 tackles (57 solo), one sack, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble, four passes defensed and one interception. Apart from improving in his traditional statistics Joseph also posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 80.8, which was an improvement of 5.3 points from the year prior, per PFF.

No. 2. Obi Melifonwu

No. 3. Reggie Nelson

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Kicker

Eddy Pineiro

a person wearing a football uniform: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

No, this isn't a typo. After all, it wasn't as if kicker Giorgio Tavecchio set the world on fire last season when Sebastian Janikowski was out of commission due to a back injury. And if all things are equal by the end of training camp, former Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro has a very good chance of winning the job.

Pineiro was incredibly accurate during his time with the Gators, connecting on 88.4 percent of his field goal attempts.

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Punter

Johnny Townsend

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports © USA TODAY Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland saved $2.9 million and themselves the heartache of having to eat another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty due to a special teams players' shenanigans by releasing punter Marquette King this offseason. However, the move also forced the front office into finding King's heir apparent in the 2018 NFL draft.

Which is precisely what Gruden and McKenzie did with the fifth-round selection of former Florida punter Johnny Townsend.

Townsend kicked a career-long punt of 70 yards against Georgia in 2017 and recorded 27 punts of over 50 yards throughout the season, including six over 60 yards. Proving that he was is not just a big leg, Townsend notched 27 punts inside the 20-yard line during his final collegiate season as well.

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Punt returner

No. 1. Ryan Switzer

a baseball player holding a bat on a field: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

The punt return duties should be Switzer's to lose in 2018. And there really isn't much debate to be had on this topic.

Switzer has incredible change of direction, elusiveness and tremendous top-end speed. All of which makes him the perfect weapon on punt returns.

No. 2. Dwayne Harris

No. 3. Jalen Richard

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Kick returner

No. 1. Dwayne Harris

a group of football players playing a football game: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

The kick return position should feature a nice battle between Switzer and Harris, with Harris ultimately winning out.

Harris is a bigger-bodied WR that can more easily handle the rigors of returning deep kicks in the end zone. And when healthy, Harris has already proven that he's one of the best in the game at doing just that.

No. 2. Ryan Switzer

No. 3. Jalen Richard

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Long snapper

a man wearing a uniform: USA TODAY © USA TODAY USA TODAY

The time had come for the Raiders to move on from Jon Condo after an extensive run with the team, and they elected to pick up free agent long snapper Andrew DePaola to replace the fan favorite.

DePaola is solid at his position and younger, making the move wise by Gruden and McKenzie.

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