After what felt like a premature exit from the playoffs, due in part to a season ending injury to quarterback Derek Carr, the Oakland Raiders come into training camp as a real contender. With Carr locked down as the quarterback of the future and Marshawn Lynch agreeing to come out of retirement and join the team, hopes are high for players and fans a like. Here are a few things to look at over the coming weeks.
3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Tight End
Jared Cook vs. Clive Walford
Walford produced well for the Raiders last season, but the impact Cook has on the field cannot go unnoticed. Cook is a well-established veteran who is a threat both as a receiver and a blocker. He was a perfect addition to the Raiders offense and can push the younger Walford to work harder for this spot. Walford has a great opportunity to compete and learn from one of the top tight ends in the game today.
Gareon Conley vs. Sean Smith vs. David Amerson
The fight for the No.1 cornerback has to be the most open position on the team. The Raiders had a severe need at this position coming into the offseason. Gareon Conley was drafted to be the answer to this problem. Smith’s age and lack of quickness could be his undoing. Amerson has a legit shot at taking the spot if neither Conley or Smith are up to par. This is definitely a position to keep a close eye on.
3. Middle Linebacker
Marquel Lee vs. Ben Heeney vs. Jelani Jenkins vs. Cory James.
The middle linebacker position is open for the taking. Marquel Lee has the size to fill the role. He will need to learn how the Raiders defense is run before the role can be his. Henney was injured for most the of last year and Jenkins did not have the greatest of seasons. James, who has great speed and quickness needed in a linebacker, seems to be the leading contender for the position. Honestly, this group is nothing to brag about. The job will go to whoever can step up and produce as the season goes on.
Ready to Break Out: Vadal Alexander
The quarterback position is one of the more valuable, and expensive, positions on any NFL team. It only seems logical that you would want a solid offensive line that can protect your quarterback and provide great blocking for your running back as well. They have some lingering questions at right tackle. Enter Vadal Alexander. The former LSU Tiger was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. A mountain of a man, Alexander, with a bit of coaching, can fill the hole at right tackle and complete the Raiders line heading into the regular season.
Fantasy Sleeper: Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson has the ability to perform well once the season comes along. Falling in behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, who will receive a majority of attention by opposing defenses, Patterson can be a solid third option for Carr. Look for Patterson to line up in the slot, making him a great asset in deeper fantasy leagues.
Rookie To Watch: Obi Melifonwu
Watch for Melifonwu this upcoming season. The Raiders drafted Melifonwu, along with Conley, to rejuvenate the defense. He can easily become the No.3 Safety and will have the chance to learn behind Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson. Melifonwu can provide instant production for the defense.
The Raiders seem to have built themselves a solid team over the past few drafts. With a rising star at quarterback, young receiving core and young prospects on the defensive end, the Raiders are poised to make a run at the title. The Raiders will have a tough battle for the AFC West crown and should be one of the top teams in the league.