LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Will it be out with the old, the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock old? Or in with the new, players more appealing to the Raiders’ new braintrust of general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels?
Two players celebrated by the previous regime, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, and defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell, appear on the bubble as the Raiders move to trim their roster from 80 players to 53 by Tuesday.
So, while it’s grand that the Raiders finished off a 4-0 exhibition season at Allegiant Stadium on Friday, beating the New England Patriots 23-6, the most important aspect of preseason, picking a roster, looms. With Leatherwood and Ferrell likely involved prominently.
McDaniels delivered coachspeak on the two players Saturday morning, several hours after the victory over the Patriots, his former team.
On Leatherwood’s preseason performance, McDaniels said: “Alex played a lot of football. He was basically out there every day and durable. … Alex took a lot of reps … Like I said, we’re going to use the next few days here to sort it out. But certainly he’s in the mix in all those conversations. We feel like we do have some quality there. So, having tough decisions to make because you feel like you’ve got a lot of guys competing for them is a good problem to have.”
On Ferrell, who missed time in camp because of an undisclosed injury, the coach said: “He’s a physical guy, and we obviously want to put a tough, physical defense out there on the field, and Clelin has demonstrated the ability to do that in more than one spot. He set the edge a handful of times last night, which is a good thing to see. He was involved in the pass rush some, dropped into coverage actually a couple of times. There’s a lot of things we ask those guys to do.”
The Raiders used several offensive line combinations in the exhibition season, and none seemed overly effective. Plus, Leatherwood’s pass-blocking deficiencies were exposed several times. The team’s surprise first-round pick, 17th overall, in the 2021 NFL draft, Leatherwood has struggled; last season, he allowed eight sacks and 65 pressures — the most by any lineman in the league — according to the website Pro Football Focus.
In the exhibition season, in 106 snaps, he’s allowed seven pressures and a sack. His overall preseason rating is 57.3, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2021, the Raiders’ O-line was ranked 28th in the league by the site, and Leatherwood had a 29.0 pass-blocking rating and a 44.9 overall rating.
Ratings for some of the league’s better offensive lineman are in the 80s and 90s.
As for Ferrell, picked fourth overall in 2019 out of Clemson – another surprise selection by Gruden-Mayock — his career seems to be on the decline. He had six tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 16 games, all as a backup, the past season. But with no starts.
In 2019, his rookie season, he had 11 starts and 15 the next season.
So where do they stand? And how much will contract or draft position mean in the makeup of the final roster of 53?
McDaniels said the goal is determining the best players who can help win games.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into trying to do the right thing for the team,” he said. And the roster undergoes changes throughout the season, based on injuries, performance and, well, other factors. So, “we’re going to do the very best we can in the next few days.”