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5 potential X-factors against Broncos

Time for the young bucks to step up

Indianapolis Colts v Las Vegas Raiders
Sam Webb
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

With the 2-7 Las Vegas Raiders taking on the 3-6 Denver Broncos as road underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook, the focus of my X-factors column will be on the young players on the Raiders’ roster for the last eight weeks of the season, and especially this week.

Las Vegas and Denver had hopes of being playoff contenders during the offseason, however, both hold records that are in the bottom quarter of the league just past the halfway point of the season. So, both squads' main focus should be on next year from here on out, meaning it’s time to see who can play and will be part of each team’s future plans.

Sam Webb

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders
Sam Webb
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The coaching staff finally took the training wheels off for Webb last week as his playing time went from 58 defensive snaps in three games combined to 62 against Indianapolis alone. As expected, the Colts picked on him with 10 targets and he did allow eight receptions, but he did a great job of limiting the damage with just 60 receiving yards yielded.

Only 18 of those yards came after the catch — 2.25 YAC per reception — and he notched two defensive stops in coverage which was good enough to tie for the top five among cornerbacks in Week 11. Webb also tacked on two pass breakups — tied for the most at the position — to earn a solid 67.1 PFF coverage grade that was in the top 30 among corners. Not bad seeing as it was his first game with a significant amount of playing time.

However, the Broncos’ receiving corps presents a new challenge for the Division II product.

Courtland Sutton is one of the best wideouts in contested catch situations in the league, and he’s currently tied for fifth among all receivers with 10 contested grabs this season. Luckily, Webb — 6’0” and 202 lbs — won’t be giving up too much size to Sutton — 6’4” and 216 lbs — and the rookie has good ball skills to help defend against any 50/50 throws in this matchup.

Then there’s Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, both of whom are banged up and questionable for Sunday but pose different threats than Sutton does. Jeudy primarily operates out of the slot and has become known for his shiftiness before and after the catch, ranking in the top 10 among slot receivers with 145 YAC. Hamler is a pure burner who can change the game with just one catch, as evidenced by his 23.6 yards per reception.

With Webb playing both inside and outside, and at left and right corner, he’ll likely lineup against just about every wide receiver that suits up for Denver this weekend. That will be a good litmus test to see how versatile he is, especially going up against a group of strong wideouts across the board.

DJ Turner

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars
DJ Turner
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, I’m taking a bit of a risk by listing Turner as an X-factor this week because there’s a good chance he doesn’t see the field much, if at all. He’s only participated in four offensive snaps this season, but with Hunter Renfrow on IR and Keelan Cole struggling, it’s time for the coaching staff to see what they have in Turner.

During the preseason, he was productive out of the slot with three catches on four targets for 60 yards and a touchdown, but where he really stood out was after the catch. He ranked eighth among inside receivers with 40 yards after the catch and was very efficient with 13.3 YAC per catch, second-best at the position. He also tied for the most missed tackles forced (five) as a slot receiver.

As far as the matchup goes, that’s a bit of a wildcard at the moment as K’Wuan Williams is the only nickel corner who has been targeted for Denver this season, and Williams just went under the knife and will be out for at least the next four weeks. So, who knows who the Broncos will trot out there this weekend, but that could be a great way for Turner to make a name for himself if given the opportunity.

Tre’von Moehrig

NFL: NOV 06 Raiders at Jaguars
Tre’von Moehrig
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s no secret that Moehrig has been struggling in 2022. He’s been asked to cover tight ends more frequently this season and went through a three-game stretch where he allowed six combined first downs and touchdowns on seven targets when guarding the position. The TCU product has found more success in the last couple of weeks, but the Broncos have an impressive up-and-coming tight end in rookie Greg Dulcich.

Dulcich missed the first five games of the year with an injury, but he’s been productive over Denver’s last four contests with 13 catches on 21 targets for 193 yards and a touchdown. While his receptions only rank 19th among tight ends during that timeframe, he’s been efficient as his yardage total ranks eighth and 14.8 yards per catch is good enough for third.

But beyond the tight end, Moehrig’s assignment will be tough on Sunday given the Broncos’ wideouts mentioned above, especially if Hamler plays. The second-year pro will play a hand in limiting explosive plays in the Mile High City, and improving on an abysmal 44.0 PFF run defense grade should be a priority for him as well.

Dylan Parham

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Dylan Parham
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the young bucks on the Raiders roster, Parham might have the least to prove to finish out the season as he’s been pretty reliable already.

He’s taken every offensive snap for the Silver and Black since the season opener while earning a respectable 61.9 overall grade from PFF and a 66.4 run-blocking grade. The latter ranks seventh among all qualifying rookie offensive linemen, however, Paraham’s pass blocking could use some work.

The Memphis product has allowed 25 pressures and has posted a 95.8 efficiency rating in pass protection this season, which is the fourth-most and ranks 71st, respectively, at his position. That could be problematic against Dre’Mont and DJ Jones this Sunday.

Those two have combined for 51 pressures on the year, as Dre’Mont has 34 and is tied for sixth among defensive tackles — three spots ahead of Aaron Donald — while DJ is 20th with 21. In other words, the Broncos have one of the best interior pass-rush duos in the league as they are one of three teams to have two players inside the top 20 for pressures at the position.

The good news for the Raiders is Parham had one of his best games of the season against Denver in Week 5, surrendering just two pressures and earning a 73.9 grade as a run blocker. But there is one big difference between now and then.

He lined up at right guard back in October but has since switched to the left side where he hasn’t had as much success. Hopefully, facing a team that he played well against last time will help him settle in at the new spot.

Neil Farrell Jr.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Neil Farrell Jr.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Farrell was a healthy scratch last week and head coach Josh McDaniels’ made it seem like that was for disciplinary reasons, stating: “We had three guys [who were inactive] on defense that I’d say just we’re going to keep that internally for us. We’ve handled what we had to handle and hopefully that will change going forward.”

That’s disappointing seeing as the rookie was coming off his highest-graded game as a pro with a 76.9 mark against the Jaguars. But it sounds like he’ll be back on the field this weekend which should make for an interesting one-on-one battle between a couple of young players.

Quinn Meinerz got injured in the season opener and missed Denver’s next four games, including round one against Las Vegas, but he’s been on a tear since coming back. Since Week 6, Meinerz has earned an impressive 79.2 run-blocking grade which is the sixth-best among guards during that timeframe. Conversely, Farrel is coming off a 75.3 performance as a run defender, and plugging up gaps was one of his biggest strengths coming out of LSU.

That makes for a very interesting one-on-one matchup and round one of an intra-division battle that we could be keeping tabs on over the next few years.