Oakland Raiders: 5 Veterans who won’t survive 2017 training camp

Lee Smith Oakland Raiders

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With free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead at which veterans will not be making the Oakland Raiders’ 53-man roster.

Can you smell it? Actual football is getting closer now that the 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone. And now that the 90-man roster is essentially set, it seems like the right time to start looking towards the future for this Oakland Raiders team.

By that, I mean it’s time to focus our efforts towards speculating on who will and won’t be on the 53-man roster when Week 1 of the 2017 campaign rolls around. I know it’s early, but speculation is essentially all we have at this point in the offseason. So instead of rolling your eyes at me, why don’t you join in on the fun?

In the next few months, everything surrounding this Raiders team will be about determining which players are worthy of making the final roster. OTAs will look to weed out the weakest ones from the herd, while training camp will provide the true test for who is worthy of sticking around through the start of the regular season.

Unfortunately, the Raiders can’t keep everyone. That’s why we’re here — to look at some notable names who likely won’t survive training camp in 2017.

So here are my predictions for five veterans who won’t make it through Raiders training camp. Whether due to incoming talent edging them out or a dearth of talent on their part, the end of the line is drawing nearer for these folks.

Cooper Helfet Seattle Seahawks

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5. Cooper Helfet, TE

I had no problem with the Raiders signing Cooper Helfet this offseason. They were in need of more options at tight end, especially following the loss of Mychal Rivera. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s got enough to crack the roster based on the current talent at the position.

After a few additional signings, tight end is one of the Raiders’ deepest positions. They currently have seven players loading up the depth chart, but are likely to keep only three or four. With Lee Smith, Jared Cook, Clive Walford, Ryan O’Malley, Gabe Holmes and Pharaoh Brown also vying for a roster spot, it’s going to be an interesting race.

More than likely, Helfet won’t be one of those names that sticks around come Week 1. His 2016 campaign ended after surgery to fix a cracked bone in his foot, which ultimately led to his release by the Seattle Seahawks. Even before that, he wasn’t a significant part of the team’s offensive gameplan.

Helfet is a capable pass catcher, but is limited as a blocker and doesn’t have overwhelming athleticism. Most of his value in Seattle came on special teams, which is where he’ll need to prove his worth if he wants to stay in Oakland. However, when the 53-man roster is set, I don’t expect to see Helfet’s name on the list.

Taiwan Jones Oakland Raiders

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4. Taiwan Jones, RB

Honestly, I’m a tad surprised Taiwan Jones is still around. I know the Raiders have made numerous attempts to carve out a role for the former fourth-round pick, but it becomes clearer and clearer every year that his value is waning.

Jones has played running back and cornerback for Oakland, and offers some value as a return man. When it all comes down to it, though, he’s a speedster without a clear-cut role or position. For some reason, the Raiders keep him around in hopes he’ll finally figure it all out. Unfortunately for Jones, I’m guessing this will be the year the experiment comes to an end.

The Raiders are more than set at running back right now. Marshawn Lynch figures to slot in as the starter, with youngsters Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington providing changes of pace. Then there’s rookie Elijah Hood, who should serve as Lynch’s apprentice as a power, short-yardage back.

So where does the one-dimensional Jones fit into the equation? It’s simple — he doesn’t fit anywhere. Unless the Raiders move him back to defense (unlikely), it appears there’s no more room on the running back depth chart for him. It’s been interesting watching Oakland try to find opportunities for Jones over the last six years, but it’s time to throw in the towel.

Denico Autry Oakland Raiders

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3. Denico Autry, DE

Realistically, Denico Autry was a nice find for the Raiders as an undrafted free agent. He’s hung around Oakland for the last three seasons, providing decent defensive line depth as a capable pass rusher. That, however, doesn’t make him a lock to secure a roster spot in 2017.

Last season, Autry was destroyed as a run defender while pitching in three sacks. Although he saw significant snaps, he was generally ineffective, feeding into the problems the Raiders faced along the defensive front in 2016. Oakland didn’t add much talent at defensive end this offseason, but I still believe Autry’s roster spot is in jeopardy.

Autry is set to make $1.797 million in 2017, but none of it is guaranteed. The Raiders can give him the ax without creating any sort of dead cap space. So if he continues to underwhelm during training camp and one of the younger options shows well, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mississippi State product was shown the door.

It’s been a good run for Autry, who overcame low expectations to emerge as a rotational defensive end in Oakland. Between his poor play last year and non-guaranteed deal, though, there’s a very good chance he doesn’t survive Raiders training camp.

E.J. Manuel Buffalo Bills

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2. E.J. Manuel, QB

Let’s be honest — this was a low-risk, low-reward signing from the get-go. Following the departure of Matt McGloin via free agency, the Raiders wanted someone to come in and compete with Connor Cook for the backup spot.

E.J. Manuel doesn’t exactly offer much upside, but brings an experienced arm to the Oakland quarterback room. He has 17 starts with the Buffalo Bills under his belt, and obviously offers some semblance of hope as a former first-round pick. With that said, we haven’t seen much from him in four years.

Manuel sports a 58.3 completion percentage and 19:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio on his career. His career passer rating of 77.5 isn’t horrible, but acts as further evidence of his unreliability as an NFL quarterback.

While I’m not sold at all on Cook as the unquestioned backup, he’s likely a better option than Manuel at this point. Chances are Buffalo’s embarrassing first-round reach underwhelms during training camp to the point where the Raiders simply decide to stick with two quarterbacks for the time being. When it’s all said and done, this may be the end of the road for Manuel and his NFL career.

Lee Smith Oakland Raiders

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1. Lee Smith, TE

Before you lose it, let me remind you that Lee Smith is a one-dimensional, aging tight end coming off a season lost almost entirely to a broken leg. While he may be their best blocking option at the position, I believe his average receiving skills and durability will cost him a roster spot.

Again, I want to reiterate that I understand what Smith brings to this team. He is an outstanding presence as a blocker, but doesn’t offer much upside in the passing game. In his 19 games (all starts) with the Raiders, he’s hauled in 18 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. That’s a whopping 5.5 yards per catch, and less than one catch per game.

Still, that value as a blocker has to be enough to keep him around, right? Not necessarily.

With Cook now in the mix, the Raiders have a true three-down starter at tight end. He’s the best receiving threat of the bunch, and offers above-average blocking skills. While he can be inconsistent at times, Cook is well rounded enough to make Smith expendable — especially considering his departure would save $3 million while creating zero dead cap space.

It’ll be a tough decision to make, but that’s life in the NFL. Smith is too limited as a receiver, and the Raiders have cheaper options to provide support behind Cook. When the 2017 regular season finally rolls around, the 29-year-old veteran won’t be on the Oakland roster.

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