Backups and role players on the Raiders to watch out for this season
The Oakland Raiders are stacked when it comes to starters. They have one of the best quarterbacks, the reigning defensive player of the year and names like Amari Cooper, Marshawn Lynch, Karl Joseph, Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson just to name a few. But a good football team is about more than just the starters. That’s why general manager Reggie McKenzie puts so much emphasis on the late rounds of the NFL Draft and undrafted free agents. That’s where you can find cheap depth to turn your team from good to great.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some backups and role players who could make a big difference for the Raiders in 2017.
I am putting these three together because the big time impact they can have is all the same: Interior pass rush. All three can help in the run game as well, but the big impact comes in the passing game. The Raiders are trying to build a rotation on the defensive line that can give opposing offenses nightmares. The start is getting these three do what the coaches know they can: terrorize interior linemen. One of these guys could end up being a starter but for those that don’t, they will still see playing time and will play a very important role.
Noticeably absent is Jihad Ward. He is another guy brought in for similar reasons but after a very poor rookie season, it’s hard at this point to expect a massive turnaround. There is still plenty of hope that he will develop into a good player and maybe even a starter but that hope rests further in the future than 2017.
Marshawn Lynch is the big name in the backfield that everyone wants to talk about this offseason, but don’t be lulled into thinking DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are just backups. They will get plenty of playing time this season as they offer completely different skill sets to what the starter, Lynch, brings to the table. From the passing game to the return game to the run game, these two offer a variety of skills that can be used throughout the game. Though they are not starters and they will likely not see as many touches as Lynch, their impact on the offense should not be underestimated.
If you consider the slot corner a starting position (as I do) I think there’s a legitimate chance that Gareon Conley ends up a starter, which is why he isn’t in this with Melifonwu.
Melifonwu is on this because I don’t expect him to be a starter but I do expect him to play a major role on this defense. Specifically, Tight End Assassin. Reggie McKenzie mentioned in a recent interview that one of the strategies behind his draft picks was to be able to create favorable matchups. Naturally, that brings two issues to mind: The inability to cover shift receivers and the inability to cover tight ends. While Conley will handle shifty receivers, Melifonwu will likely spend much of his rookie year following tight ends around. And given how big of an issue tight ends were last year, that’s a massive impact to have.
There have been a shocking number of Raiders fans this offseason who have expressed to me their desire for the team to part ways with Lee Smith. In my mind, that means these people don’t understand the role that Smith plays. Because asking the Raiders to cut Lee Smith is asking the Raiders to cut a player who is the best in the league at what he does. That’s just not something smart teams do unless they are forced to because of cap or other reasons.
Again, much of the offseason talk in recent weeks has been about Marshawn Lynch and if you do understand Lee Smith’s role, you understand how big of an impact he will have on Lynch’s success. Smith is a nasty blocking tight end who offers scheme versatility and the kind of edge that causes opposing players to do stupid things because they are so angry. Though he won’t be flashy, Smith will play a huge role for the Raiders in 2017.