The Oakland Raiders open the 2017 preseason Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, and since the Silver and Black will once again be taking the field, they've released the first unofficial depth chart of the year.
Now, before you look at the depth chart, it's important to stress two things: one, this depth chart is fluid, and will undoubtedly change in the coming weeks, and two, let's remember to emphasize unofficial.
It's unrealistic to think that this is how the roster will look a month from now when Derek Carr and Co., open the regular season against the Tennessee Titans, but all the same, the release of the depth chart means that we're inching closer to meaningful football.
With that said, here are five observations from the Raiders first unofficial depth chart.
1. Marquel Lee is the man in the middle
Heading into Training Camp 2017, one of the biggest questions for the Raiders was who would line up at middle linebacker.
After the team elected not to re-sign veteran linebacker Perry Riley, Jr., there was a job to be won as the man in the middle, and as of now, it looks like rookie linebacker Marquel Lee is going to get first crack at the opportunity.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie selected Lee in the fifth round (No. 168 overall) of this year's NFL draft, and with Lee in the middle, and Cory James manning the weak side, there appears to be a youth movement afoot in Linebackers Coach Sal Sunseri's group.
2. Who will be QB 2?
Last season, following the season-ending injury to Derek Carr, Raider Nation saw firsthand the importance of having depth at the quarterback position.
With Matt McGloin heading to Philadelphia this offseason, the Silver and Black brought in EJ Manuel to compete with Connor Cook for the right to back up Carr, and as of now, it looks like the veteran signal-caller is slightly ahead of No. 18, at least on paper.
Throughout training camp, Head Coach Del Rio has made sure to emphasize the fluidity of this position battle specifically, saying that both men will get a chance to work with the second unit, and even following the Raiders preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, I expect that to be the case.
The backup quarterback battle likely won't be officially won until the preseason concludes, and even though Manuel is currently QB 2, he's going to have put together some quality performances over the next month to keep it that way.
3. Marshall Newhouse is protecting Carr's blindside
With Donald Penn currently on the reserve/did not report list, Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice has had to get creative with what to do with his group.
The initial solution – at least heading into Phoenix – is to have veteran lineman Marshall Newhouse line up on the left, with second-year tackle Vadal Alexander on the right. The rest of the Raiders offensive line is a mirror of what the team trotted out last season with Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson manning the interior, but understandably all eyes will be on the tackles Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
With 56 starts under his belt, Newhouse certainly has the experience to handle whatever is thrown at him, particularly at the most-scrutinized position on the line.
If Donald Penn does indeed return, the offensive line rotation will no doubt change, but as of now, Newhouse and Alexander are your starting tackles.
4. EV4 earns the nod at defensive tackle
Eddie Vanderdoes attended UCLA, a school that is academically on the quarter system, and because of that, even after the Raiders drafted him in the third round (No. 88 overall) of this year's draft, the athletic defensive lineman was unable to participate in most of the Silver and Black's Offseason Workout Program.
Even though Vanderdoes wasn't allowed to hit the field with his teammates, he stayed in shape, and studied the playbook, and it looks like that hard work has paid off, as he's listed as the starting defensive tackle on the Raiders defense.
The former UCLA Bruin – along with defensive tackle Justin Ellis – will be asked to not only be space eaters in the middle of the defensive line, but to provide some interior rush as well, hopefully alleviating pressure from Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in the process.
An exclusive look at the 2017 roster.
Throughout his career at UCLA, Vanderdoes showed the ability to do both those things, and if he can translate that to the NFL, it will spell good things for the entirety of the Raiders defense.
5. Patterson and Richard are set to handle the return duties
The Silver and Black signed Cordarrelle Patterson this offseason to add a spark to the special teams units, and so far, the explosive wide receiver has been as advertised in that regard.
Not only running routes out wide, but in particular in the return game, I've been struck by how smooth the big man runs. After he gets the ball in his hands, Patterson really does look like he's gliding, and before you know it, he's 60 yards down the field.
Kick returns are a difficult thing to replicate in practice, so I'm excited to see Patterson get work Saturday returning kicks, as well as running back Jalen Richard, who will once again be tasked with returning punts.
Another player you should keep an eye on? Wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, a speedy, shifty player who will likely get a chance to show what he has in the return game as well.