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Raiders defensive depth chart relying heavily on rookies

With the first preseason game approaching on Saturday, the Raiders released a depth chart that has the defense relying heavily on rookies.

According to the depth chart, two rookies will be starting for the Raider defense in Eddie Vanderdoes and Marquel Lee, with two more rookies on the second string in Obi Melifonwu and Gareon Conley.

Vanderdoes was the Raiders third-round pick and is slotted in as the starting defensive tackle ahead of the injured Jihad Ward, who is still recovering from offseason foot surgery. Vanderdoes tore his ACL in 2015 while at UCLA. He returned in 2016, but his productivity declined. As a sophomore, he posted 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. But after his injury and return to the field in 2016, he had just 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Vanderdoes has been productive in training camp, giving the Raiders reason to believe he could return to his high level of production.

Marquel Lee is filling the need at middle linebacker, where the Raiders are thin. Potential starter Ben Heeney is on the non-football injury list, and last year’s starter Perry Riley remains a free agent. That leaves the rookie Lee and second-year player Tyrell Adams at middle linebacker. Lee was selected in fifth round by the Raiders after leading Wake Forest with 105 tackles last season.

The two second teamers were the Raiders first two draft picks in the 2017 NFL draft and both have missed time at training camp.

Melifonwu has missed the last three practices for an undisclosed reason. The safety was plucked in the second round out of UConn. He’s behind second-year strong safety Karl Joseph on the depth chart.

Conley was placed on the non-football injury list at the start of camp. But despite not practicing yet, the rookie is second at left cornerback behind David Amerson. Once healthy, Conley should be the biggest impact among the rookies. The first-round pick was one of the best cornerbacks in college football last season and may fit the Raiders perfectly.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders have no rookies among the starters, but three rookies are providing depth at offensive line. That unit has been mixed up due to the hold out of left tackle Donald Penn.

The Raiders have flipped Marshall Newhouse from right tackle over to the left side and plugged Vadal Alexander in at right tackle.

Penn allowed just one sack last season, as he helped the Raiders lead the NFL in allowing just 18 sacks all season.


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