The Las Vegas Raiders are two games into the Josh McDaniels’ era and so far, there has been very little to complain about. After Sunday’s 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Raiders are now 2-0 in the preseason and have played from ahead for the majority of both contests.
Of course, the wins don’t count or mean much but it is important for a new regime to get off to a good start and build confidence throughout the locker room and within the fanbase. Las Vegas has certainly done that as serval players have looked sharp over the past two weeks, including a few standouts from yesterday.
WINNER: DJ Turner
To me, Turner was the Raiders' biggest winner from the afternoon. It’s been brought up a few times already, Las Vegas has an open competition to fill out the depth chart at wide receiver and he made the strongest case out of any of the contenders.
The Pittsburgh product had three catches for 58 yards, leading the team in receiving yards by 30. On one of those three grabs, he showed off some nice yards after the catch skills with the speed to break a few angles while also tight roping the sideline to put together a 34-yard touchdown catch. Those are the types of plays that will stand out in McDaniels’ system that likes to use a lot of short to intermediate passes.
But what made Turner’s day even more special was he also turned in a nice punt return. He was able to find a crease and pick up 26 yards to put the Raiders in better field position at their own 43, setting up a field goal drive. The return game is another area where the Silver and Black are looking for someone to step up, so the second-year wideout made a strong case to stay with the team next month.
LOSER: Vernon Butler
Butler was in a very similar situation as Turner heading into the game, but the former had almost the exact opposite result.
It’s been well documented that Vegas could use some support at defensive tackle, that’s part of the reason they signed the former Bill in the offseason, but he’s done little to nothing to prove he’s the answer. After logging just one tackle and one pressure on 16 snaps against the Jaguars, he managed to come up with nothing — no tackles or pressures — in 19 reps against the Vikings.
But it’s not just that the seven-year veteran isn’t showing up on the stat sheet, he’s also not pulling his weight on the underappreciated parts of the game too. Butler was a big reason why Minnesota averaged 5.2 yards per carry as he struggled to hold his ground against the run, creating wide rushing lanes for the backs to exploit. That led to a sub-par 53.3 PFF run defense grade on the afternoon, pushing him further down the depth chart.
WINNER: Austin Walter
A week after leading the team’s running backs with 6.1 yards per rush, Walter did it again on Sunday with 4.3 yards per clip. Of his 30 total yards, 24 came after contact and he forced two missed tackles, bringing his preseason totals up to 54 and four which is impressive considering the Raiders have a crowded backfield and he’s only had 15 carries.
The former Jet was running hard all night and caught the attention of the broadcast booth, as Matt Millen, Beth Mowins and Rich Gannon gave him several shoutouts. However, it was his play on special teams that might have been his most significant contribution. Walter notched one tackle in three snaps on the kickoff team and earned a 73.2 special teams grade from PFF, logging another three reps on kickoff returns.
While it might be an uphill battle for him to make the Raiders’ roster, his tough running and contributions on special teams could catch someone else’s eye around the league.
LOSER: Amik Robertson
The reports about Robertson coming out of training camp have been almost all positive. Beat writers, the coaching staff and other players have all been singing his praises, so it seemed like he had turned the corner. However, Sunday told a different story.
Robertson didn’t play in the Hall of Fame game so this weekend was his 2022 preseason debut, and he allowed two catches on three targets for 32 yards in addition to getting flagged for defensive holding. That led to an ugly 29.4 coverage grade, but what might be even more concerning is he also had another missed tackle. Struggling to make plays in the open field was a big reason why he got benched last season, and seeing him whiff in his first game back isn’t exactly a comforting sight.
All is not lost for the 2020 fourth-round pick as the coaching staff will likely place more weight on what they see on the daily than one bad outing, but Robertson certainly didn’t help his case this weekend.
WINNER: Thayer Munford
Preseason or not, it’s not often that you’ll see a seventh-round rookie get reps over a first-rounder from the year before. However, that was the case for Munford against the Vikings as he got the start and Alex Leatherwood worked with the second/third teams.
The Ohio State product made the most of the opportunity as well. He allowed just two pressures — both just QB hurries — and earned the third-highest pass blocking grade (75.9) on the team behind Alex Bars (86.8) and Lester Cotton (81.0).
Munford does still have some work to do as a run blocker, earning a slightly below-average 59.6 mark in that realm, but that is an improvement over his 47.2 outing from the week before so he is taking a step in the right direction.
Between getting the start, holding up in pass protection and making strides in the run game, this was certainly a performance he can be proud of and use as a building block for the rest of camp.
LOSER: Kenyan Drake
In fairness to Drake, he lands on this week’s loser list less because of anything he did or didn’t do and more because of the play of the other backs around him.
As mentioned above, Walter had a strong performance and Brittain Brown stood out as well with 14 carries for 54 yards and scored one of the team’s two rushing touchdowns. While Zamir White had a pedestrian outing on Sunday, he at least was a standout last week and Ameer Abdullah played so well in Canton that he got a rest day against Minnesota. Meanwhile, Drake has only 11 total touches for 41 total yards and has almost gone unnoticed in the team’s two preseason matchups.
Assuming that Josh Jacobs, Brandon Bolden and White already have their roster spots firmly in place, that could leave Drake as the odd man out, especially if Abdullah’s stock keeps rising. If there’s any running back that McDaniels is trying to showcase and shop during the preseason, it’s the one whose contract was restructured in the offseason to create just a $1.1 million dead cap hit if he’s dealt after June 1st.