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3 biggest surprises from Josh McDaniel’s first depth chart

The Las Vegas Raiders are getting ready to play the NFL’s first scrimmage game of the ’22 season. This Thursday, the Raiders will be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars in Canton to kickoff the preseason.

While the Silver and Black get ready for their first contest this season, Josh McDaniels and the Raiders have released the team’s first depth chart.

A large percent of the listed starters were predictable, with the Pro Bowl pairing of Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow headlining the offense. On the other side, the All-Pro duo of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones lead the defense.

Not everything on this depth chart is predictable, though; In fact, some things are outright surprising. Those are the things we’ll be covering here – The 3 biggest surprises on the Raiders’ first depth chart of the ’22 season.

We’ll go over one unexpected move from each unit, discussing a surprise on the offense, defense, and special teams. That said, let’s get into it.

3 biggest surprises from Josh McDaniels’ first depth chart in Las Vegas

3. Alex Leatherwood is the team’s starting right tackle

It’s been a long week for the Raiders’ second-year offensive lineman.

On Saturday, Brandon Parker took over as the team’s starting right tackle, exclusively running with the first-team offense. Furthermore, rookie tackle Thayer Munford ran with the second-team offense, leaving Leatherwood with the third-team. For some members of the Raiders’ media, this spelled the end for Alex Leatherwood as a starter in Las Vegas.

As this depth chart shows, that isn’t the case.

After Saturday’s practice, when talking to the media, Leatherwood shared his thoughts on the situation.

“It’s just all about going in each day and just keep your head down and working. Make the main thing the main thing. Me do my work. They do their work. Just have fun, compete.”

Since [and including] Saturday, Leatherwood has looked sharp. The 23-year-old has retained great focus, never letting the outside noise distract him. After all, like Leatherwood said, he’s from ‘Bama, so the ’21 first-round pick is no stranger to competition.

It’ll be a marathon for the starting right tackle job between Leatherwood and Parker, but the second-year Raider has at least won the sprint. Now, Alex Leatherwood will try to hold onto that job moving forward.

2. Andrew Billings rise at DT

Andrew Billings is listed as a starter on this depth chart, but the chart is a bit misleading. The Raiders’ will be running a 3-4 base front, however, the chart caters to a 4-3 scheme. All the same, no one could’ve expected Billings to rise so high.

Now, another thing that’s important to note is Johnathan Hankins being last defensive tackle listed in the unit’s rotation. This will simply not be the case. The reason Hankins is here is due to him currently battling injury.

Will Hankins take over as the DT2 once healthy? It’s unclear, but even still Billings has far surpassed expectations – At least from Raider Nation.

It’s possible general manager Dave Ziegler saw this the entire way and decided to bet on him. After all, Billings was the first player the Raiders’ new regime signed, agreeing to terms with the defensive tackle well before the free agency period.

Billings was a fulltime starter for the Bengals in both ’18 and ’19, and opted out in 2020 due to Covid concerns. This was once a starting-caliber interior D-lineman, and if this depth chart means anything, it looks like Las Vegas believes he can still be that player.

For now, Billings holds down a high spot on the DT rotation.

1. Hunter Renfrow returning punts

Of all the surprises on this depth chart, this may very well be the biggest.

Let me explain.

It isn’t that Hunter Renfrow isn’t an adequate punt returner. Far from it, in fact. In 2021, Renfrow was the Raiders’ [punt] return man, and found loads of success. Not only did he lead the Raiders to a top-10 mark in yards per punt return, but had one of the season’s best plays when he broke up a fake punt by the Chargers in week-4.

The real surprise here is a combination of two things. For one, Las Vegas gave Hunter Renfow a two-year, $32 million extension this offseason.

One would think the Silver and Black would want to protect their $32 million dollar investment, especially when they signed a punt return specialist this offseason. Which brings us to the second point: There’s no need to risk Renfrow’s health returning punts, because the Raiders signed Darius Phillips.

Actually, Phillips – Who returned 25 punts in 2021 – was the first person Las Vegas agreed to terms with during the free agency period.

Put these two points together, and it’s a head scratcher. Of course, there’s always the chance it means nothing. The Raiders are heading into preseason, and Phillips will likely be the team’s punt returner while Renfrow watches from the sidelines. Perhaps this was just to give Phillips that extra motivation, with full intent to make him the team’s punt returner if he shows off in preseason.

Until then, Hunter Renfrow is the Raiders’ punt returner.

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