The Las Vegas Raiders and their rookies looked sharp in the Hall of Fame game, cruising to a 27-11 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, the second preseason game brings a new challenge with the Minnesota Vikings coming into town, and the young bucks will get their first lesson in how the NFL is a week-to-week league.
Last Thursday’s performances won’t mean much if the rooks don’t put together another strong outing on Sunday. For some, winning the individual matchups below could be the difference between making the 53-man roster or getting cut, while others are looking to prove they’re worthy of some playing time when the games start counting.
Matthew Butler vs Ed Ingram
Butler is one rookie who is looking to earn some extra reps next month. Defensive tackle is one of the weak spots on Las Vegas’ roster, especially with Bilal Nichols on the PUP list, so the team could really use someone to step up and separate themselves from the pack.
The Tennessee product had a rather pedestrian start last week with just one tackle and one pressure on the evening, but he has an opportunity to stand out against some quality competition.
Last season at LSU, Ingram led all SEC guards with an 82.6 PFF pass blocking grade and allowed just 11 pressures — two sacks, one QB hit and eight hurries. That should make for a great matchup with Butler, whose athletic ability gives him a lot of upside as a pass rusher.
Ingram wasn’t as strong in the running game, dropping down to No. 13 in the conference with a 68.6 grade and that’s where Butler could have a slight advantage. He ranked ninth among SEC defensive tackles with a 76.4 mark against the run and had 21 run stops which were tied for the fourth-most. That should make for an interesting battle in the trenches between a couple of former SEC linemen.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for a matchup between two college teammates, Ingram and Neil Farrell Jr.
Justin Hall vs. Akayleb Evans
After only taking three snaps on offense during the Hall of Fame game, Hall will certainly be looking to make a name for himself against the Vikings. The Raiders have an open competition for the last three to four roster spots at wide receiver, and he might be the most prolific player of the bunch after the catch.
The Ball State alum racked up over 2,200 yards after the catch in five seasons and averaged 7.2 YAC per reception. That’s something that should serve him well in Josh Mcdaniels' offense that likes to use a lot of screens and shorter passes, however, Hall still does need to prove himself as a deep threat.
He only caught 20 of 53 targets on passes thrown 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage during his five seasons in Muncie. Now, part of that has to do with the quarterback play, but Hall still needs to prove he can win deep as that’s where a few of the other wideouts on the roster have an advantage over him.
As for Evans, he has a similar chip on his shoulder as a smaller school prospect, having played at Tulsa for four years before transferring to Missouri. He did have a fairly successful transition to the Power Five, allowing just 271 yards in coverage and ranking tied for 13th among SEC corners with a 15 percent forced incompletion rate. The former Tiger also held wideouts to just 84 YAC on 25 receptions to spice up the matchup.
Granted, Evans is a natural wide corner and Hall has primarily operated out of the slot, so the one-on-one battles between these two might be somewhat limited. But both guys have experience playing in the opposite spots and will be looking to show off some versatility to their respective coaching staffs though.
Zamir White vs. Brian Asamoah
White was one of the biggest standouts for the Silver and Black last week, and that’s saying something as the entire team played really well. He racked up 33 yards after contact and force three missed tackles on ten carries in addition to rushing for four first downs. Adding to that, he showed growth as a receiver with three catches on four targets and 23 receiving yards.
With the Raiders’ crowded backfield, touches are going to be at a premium this season so stacking up strong performances in the preseason is going to be crucial for the former Bulldog. And doing so against a quality linebacker like Asamoah could go a long way.
The Oklahoma product ranked fifth among Big 12 backers last season with a 73.0 run defense grade and notched 20 defensive stops against the run. He was also a very sure tackler with only four misses and tied for the third-best missed tackle rate (8.2 percent) in the conference at the position. That should make for an interesting strength-on-strength matchup between him and White.
However, the passing game might tilt in Asamoah’s favor. He had the third-highest coverage grade (73.9) among Big 12 linebackers and finished in second with an additional 20 defensive stops in coverage last season. Meanwhile, White only caught eight passes and is still working on that part of his game.
All-in-all, this should be a pretty even battle between third- and fourth-round picks.