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Rams-Raiders preseason preview: 12 players on either team to keep an eye on this week

There aren’t always going to be familiar names in the preseason, so become acquainted with these 24 players

Los Angeles Chargers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

If you want to watch the LA Rams take on the Las Vegas Raiders, starters against starters, then pay attention to the videos coming out of practices on Wednesday and Thursday. If you want to see the players who are competing just to make their respective rosters, then tune into the NFL Network this Saturday at 7 PM.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said as much this week, noting that while he and Sean McVay will work together to decide what the best mix of rosters would be for Saturday, practice is where they’ll be learning about the bulk of their starters for 2021:

“We’re looking at the Rams experience as a couple more preseason games,” Jon Gruden said of the two scrimmage days. “You might not see the starters in the Rams game as much as you’ll see them if you were at practice. Sean McVay and I will talk about that a little bit and try to come up with what we deem as the best thing for both of our teams. We want to see the best against the best, and we want to use the preseason game to see the guys that are inexperienced to see where they are in terms of their growth.”

As we see in most preseason games, the field will be manned mostly be players who won’t be on 53-man rosters or starting atop the depth charts in 2021. There are former first round picks who fell out of favor, mid-to-late round picks, and undrafted free agents galore though and oftentimes, they can be just as interesting.

Here are 24 names to keep in mind for Saturday.

Raiders

Nathan Peterman, QB

We know that Derek Carr won’t play, but Jon Gruden may want to protect backup Marcus Mariota as much as possible. He doesn’t really need to see Mariota to know what Mariota is going to bring, but it’s also true that Mariota has only attempted 188 passes (in games) since the start of the 2019 season and there was no 2020 preseason.

Peterman, the only other QB on the roster, should play the bulk of the snaps. Gruden has been a fan of Peterman’s for a while and though he doesn’t seem to have a future as a starter (Peterman’s career stat line: 52.6% completions, three touchdowns, 12 interceptions in four starts with the Bills), he could be prime for preseason action.

Andre James, C

James has to fills the shoes of Rodney Hudson, a player who was routinely called the best center in the NFL over the last five years, after Vegas traded Hudson to the Cardinals. There are hopeful expectations for the former undrafted free agent, but Gruden didn’t sound overly enthusiastic based on the first preseason game against the Seahawks. He said “Andre did a good job” but like I said, Gruden tends to be enthusiastic about players he likes.

Alex Leatherwood, RT

General manager Mike Mayock has oft been criticized for his first round choices and Leatherwood was considered one of the biggest reaches of all when he went 17th overall in April. However, Leatherwood’s been one of the standout rookies, not just in Raiders training camp, but all around the NFL. Praise has been off the charts and Mayock’s probably cashing in some pride on that pick already.

Malcolm Koonce, OLB

ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay were perhaps more split on Koonce as a draft prospect this year than any other player. Kiper loved him. McShay said that Koonce was Kiper’s most overrated prospect.

Early points to Team Kiper because Koonce has impressed some of his Raiders teammates, but patience will be key since he’s transition from a defensive end to an off-ball linebacker, a position he hasn’t played before. Saturday should give Koonce more chances to learn about it on the job, going against LA’s backup offensive players.

Damon Arnette, CB

Clelin Ferrell, DE

And now we reach the section where Mayock doesn’t cash in anything. Ferrell was the fourth overall pick in 2019, Arnette was the 19th overall pick in 2020, and today they are both listed as backups on the depth chart. Ferrell has turned out to be a less valuable edge rusher than Maxx Crosby, a player picked four rounds after him, and Arnette’s rookie season struggles led the team to sign Casey Hayward, Nevin Lawson, and Rasul Douglas in free agency.

On top of that, rookie fifth round pick Nate Hobbs has stunned everyone in camp by outright earning a chance to start at nickel.

The Raiders look to start Crosby and free agent Yannick Ngakoue in the regular season, with Carl Nassib as the next man up, so Ferrell needs to ball out against the Rams’ backups if he wants to show why Mayock and Gruden had such a high opinion of him two years ago. And if Arnette can’t lock down Trishton Jackson or J.J. Koski, he may not be long for the Las Vegas defense. That’s not meant as any offense to LA’s backup receivers, but those are the expectations of a first round cornerback: you should be able to cover them.

Javin White, ILB

A graduate of UNLV, White was considered to be one of the biggest surprises in Las Vegas training camp last offseason. He didn’t get any preseason games to prove himself and ultimately ended up on the practice squad. It wasn’t long before he was activated for a game, but White only played 12 defensive snaps over four contests.

White may have been “a little overhyped” by the media but can he force himself back into the conversation for the 53-man roster? That may be difficult with the team moving former safety Tanner Muse to linebacker, drafting Divine Deablo, adding Darron Lee, and feeling good about a rebound from Cory Littleton. White needs to make the most of his opportunities on Saturday.

Karl Joseph, S

Not a Gruden or Mayock pick, but 2016 first rounder Karl Joseph was a huge disappointment with the Raiders, spent 2020 with the Cleveland Browns, and now he’s back with his original organization. Las Vegas likes 2019 first round pick Johnathan Abram and they’re very high on 2021 rookie second round pick Tre’Von Moehrig, so Joseph is not competing to start right now.

What he needs to do is play like a 28-year-old former first round pick who is schooling players that are five or six years younger than him on Saturday, giving the Raiders some important depth in an area where they don’t see to have a lot of it.

Amik Robertson, CB

A lot of people were high on Robertson as a fourth round pick in 2020 — and they still could be — but all the attention and snaps have gone to Hobbs. Players like Robertson could be auditioning for roles on other teams. If not this year, then down the line.

Divine Deablo, S/LB

Deablo had an interesting tweener skillset coming out of Virginia Tech and he has missed considerable time while recovering from injury. He may or may not get his chances this Saturday but if he does, he could turn into one of the more watch-able preseason defensive players in the league this weekend.

Matt Bushman, TE

There are no signs of Bushman making a 53-man roster this year but I thought he was one of the most intriguing tight end prospects in the draft this year. Bushman was all lined up to be Zach Wilson’s top target at BYU in 2020, but injury forced him to miss the entire campaign. He can make some highlight grabs though — it would not be surprising to see him make a play or two at some point in the fourth quarter, should he play.

Trey Ragas, RB

Well, you aren’t going to see Josh Jacobs or Kenyan Drake on Saturday, and you probably won’t see Jalen Richard or Alec Ingold either. There are only two other running backs on the roster: UDFA rookies Trey Ragas and B.J. Emmons. (Plus fullback Garrett Groshek, another UDFA rookie.)

Ragas was a four-year starter at Louisiana, rushing for 3,572 yards on 596 carries with 38touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 427 yards. His worst YPC average in any of those four seasons was 5.7. Ragas said he’s willing to do “everything somebody else don’t want to do” in order to make a roster.

“I just love football, I just love playing. I love competing,” said Ragas.

He will play a lot on Saturday.

And now, for some players you already know about probably...the LA Rams

Rams

Bryce Perkins, QB

Personally, I think Devlin Hodges is the quarterback here who has the most upside and arm talent, so if Sean McVay absolutely had to start anyone other than Matthew Stafford or John Wolford in the regular season, I think he’d go with Hodges.

Realistically, neither Perkins or Hodges have good odds of becoming NFL starters. The preseason isn’t just “their Super Bowl,” it’s potentially their final week in the league — every week. That’s the difficult nature of being third on the depth chart at virtually any position.

But I know many fans were very excited by some of Perkins’ plays last week and think he could develop into being more than a practice squad or backup quarterback. Well, this is as visible as Perkins will ever be and it may make sense to give him the first reps over Hodges this time, after Hodges started preseason Week 1 against LAC.

Playing with backups all around him and backups in front of him, will Perkins look like much more than a backup? The stand outs won’t be hard to spot.

Trishton Jackson, WR

J.J. Koski, WR

More than anyone else, I want to see Van Jefferson play against the Raiders. How likely that is, that’s unclear. But Jackson and Koski have had to wait longer than Jacob Harris or Tutu Atwell to finally get into a preseason game and I think both showed strong efforts last week against the Chargers. Which is more likely to make the roster? I think both have one clear objective to make that obvious: Who is doing the most on special teams?

Catching a pass from Perkins or Hodges isn’t going to do it. They need to prove valuable in the third phase — and we know that Harris and Atwell will probably be playing on special teams come Week 1.

That’s what makes this so difficult for Jackson and Koski, on top of everything else.

Kendall Blanton, TE

Why continually focus on Brycen Hopkins if nobody on the Rams seems to be? It’s funny how our minds give weight to a player based on draft status, but Hopkins was closer to being an undrafted free agent (like Blanton) than he was to being a high first round pick. At what point does being drafted start to feel like you’re not that much different than an undrafted free agent? I think the fourth round is certainly a place to start having that discussion.

Blanton has stood out more in training camp and knowing that the Rams must find a solid option at tight end three — though this is not a player who is expect to get many offensive snaps — he should force himself into the conversation this week. Like Jackson and Koski, he needs to prove why he can help in the third phase.

Bobby Brown III, DT

Earnest Brown IV, DL

Chris Garrett I, LB

How much do we really know yet about these three day three picks by the Rams? We seem to know more about Harris and Jake Funk, but it will be good to get a better picture of where the two Browns and Garrett stand in the pecking order.

With Justin Lawler showing out in preseason Week 1, it becomes even more apparent that Garrett is going to end up on the practice squad — I don’t think a team will waive one of their own players to pick up a seventh rounder who didn’t show out enough to earn a spot on LA’s roster.

I don’t expect either of the Browns to play a major role on the defense in 2021, but maybe they can change that conversation soon if either begins to stand out.

Raymond Calais, RB/ST

Okay, I’m just going to put it out there: Even if I think that Xavier Jones and Jake Funk have a closer resemblance to what a traditional running back “looks like” in terms of size and power, I find myself most intrigued by Calais when he has the ball in his hands. This is a fast player who is shiftier than the average fast player. The Rams aren’t looking for a back to replace Darrell Henderson, they’re looking for one who can complement him. Maybe Calais can do that.

At the very least, his experience with being on the roster last year and his prowess for returns could mean that Calais is steamrolling his way into being a lock for the 53. I would like to see him get more touches this week.

Corey Bojorquez, P

Yeah, he could make the roster over Johnny Hekker. He could. I think that’s a major risk to take — Hekker was the best punter in the NFL in the 2010s and at 31, he could still be the best punter over the next 10 years — but it’s ridiculous to think that Bojorquez isn’t with the Rams to compete for a job. If the Rams see the punters as comparable on the field, then they’ll have to consider whether or not they’re okay with Hekker’s $4.9 million salary.

Ernest Jones, ILB

Jones appears to be locked into a job on the roster, but can he elevate himself enough over the next three weeks to make McVay and Raheem Morris question if its smart to keep him off the field in the regular season? The team seems pretty happy with their top four ILBs: Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Micah Kiser, and Travin Howard. So it’s not going to be easy, but Jones is also an unknown to a large degree and that gives him a much greater perceived ceiling than most of those players.

However, we also don’t know what a healthy Howard can do in the regular season and McVay is protecting those guys for a reason.

Dont’e Deayon, CB

Please don’t leave our dear Dont’e Deayon off of the team this year. It won’t be easy for Deayon — it never is — as the team has Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long, and Robert Rochell seemingly locked into the final roster, with Terrell Burgess potentially competing for time in the slot too. But Deayon is a spark plug and a team/fan favorite and it would be encouraging to see him come up with a pick-six on Saturday — even if it’s against Peterman, a player who threw three pick-sixes in his short career as a starter.

Tremayne Anchrum, OL

If it’s o-line optimism that you seek, Anchrum could be your guy. Max Pircher is too young and inexperienced. Bobby Evans has struggled, when we’ve noticed Bobby Evans. Alaric Jackson learned some tough lessons in his first NFL contest. But Anchrum seemed to do well last week and while we shouldn’t expect any backup offensive lineman/former seventh rounders to show out when they step onto the field, there are reasons for hope.

Players like Austin Corbett, David Edwards, Joseph Noteboom all took time to develop their games and land in the positions with the Rams that they currently have, while Brian Allen seems to be on his way to joining them as much-improved. Anchrum may not start in 2021, but he could be the guy on the roster with the best odds to become a starter in 2022.