The 2021 Las Vegas Raiders had an impressive debut last week against the Seattle Seahawks, due in large part to the contributions they received from rookies like Trey Ragas and Nate Hobbs among others. This weekend, the Raiders and their first-year players look to continue that momentum in the team’s second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Los Angeles will be another tough test for Las Vegas, though. What the Rams lack in first-round picks, they make up for with quality draft picks in the middle rounds and undrafted free agent signings. That should make for some fun rookie battles on Saturday.
Nate Hobbs vs. Tutu Atwell
If this game was a boxing match or UFC fight, this matchup would be the main event.
The Rams surprised a lot of people in the NFL Draft community when they spent a second-round pick - their first of the draft - on Atwell. Not that he wasn’t deserving of being an early Day Two selection, the team just has a lot of depth at wide receiver and several holes elsewhere on the roster. Nonetheless, Sean McVay now has another weapon and speed demon on the outside to play with.
Atwell has 4.32 speed and was one of the best deep threats in college football, averaging 16.6 yards per catch in his career and 12 touchdowns on routes 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. The Louisville product primarily lined up in the slot for the Cardinals, but saw a near 50/50 split between the outside and inside in his preseason debut with the Rams last week. Either way, we should see Atwell and Hobbs square off at least a few times on Saturday.
Hobbs was the Raiders fifth-round selection and has been transitioning to nickelback after almost exclusively playing outside in college. The slight position change is seemingly going well as he’s been one of the biggest surprises in training camp and is trending towards being a Week One starter. An impressive performance against Seattle last week where he registered a sack, allowed just one completion on two targets for five yards and a passer rating of 56.3 is certainly helping his cause as well.
Of course, the natural question about this matchup is if Hobbs can match Atwell’s speed. Well, the Illinois product was clocked at a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time at his pro day, so this should be a really fun battle to watch.
Jimmy Morrissey vs. Bobby Brown III
It was a rough NFL debut for Morrissey against the Seahawks. Pro Football Focus gave him a 9.1 pass-blocking grade which means he was getting beat, and getting beat quickly. However, the silver lining is he only pass blocked five times so it could have been just a few bad reps, and he did earn a respectable 68.7 grade as a run blocker.
Morrissey is fighting to make the roster as a backup and/or for a spot on the team’s practice squad, so he needs to bounce back this weekend. Unfortunately, he draws a tough matchup against Brown.
The Rams’ fourth-round pick tips the scale at about 325 pounds and has a killer bull rush as a pass rusher. Last week, nine out of Brown’s 15 snaps came at nose tackle, so he’ll be up close and personal with Morrissey for the majority of the game. For comparison’s sake, the center is about 305 pounds, meaning his strength and more importantly, his pass blocking technique will be put to the test again.
Brown can also be a force against the run so this will be a huge test for Morrissey.
Malcolm Koonce vs. Alaric Jackson
For the second week in a row, Koonce finds himself in a notable rookie battle. Last week, he went up against the Seahawks’ offensive tackle, Stone Forsythe, and struggled to win on the edge. This time around, the pass rusher will have a much more favorable matchup against Alaric Jackson.
Coming out of Florida, Forsythe was prowess as a pass blocker, whereas Jackson, who comes from Iowa, was more known for his run blocking skills but had some technical flaws in pass protection. In his preseason debut, the former Hawkeye surrendered three pressures on 36 reps so hopefully, Koonce can take advantage of the opportunity.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how the game against Seattle seemed to be moving a little too quickly for the Buffalo product, and the best solution for that is more reps. The more experience he gets at the NFL level, the more the game will slow down for him, and the sooner he can start reacting instead of thinking. That makes these preseason bouts like this one extremely important for Koonce’s development.