The Las Vegas Raiders began the offseason with a glaring need for a right tackle, however, they’ve arguably created more questions than answers over the last month to solve that problem. Heading into training camp, Brandon Parker and Alex Leatherwood were the two favorites to fill the void, yet neither will even play for the team this year as the Raiders placed Parker on IR and cut Leatherwood. That certainly creates some uneasiness heading into the regular season, but it also signals that the coaching staff has confidence in rookie Thayer Munford.
The seventh-round pick finds himself in a unique situation for his draft slot, with a chance to become a Week 1 starter as a rookie. He’ll still have to beat out Jermaine Eluemunor, but Munford put together a solid preseason performance.
In two games, he only allowed four pressures — all four just being quarterback hurries — and earned a 72.3 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, to go along with a 61.8 mark overall. It was his run-blocking grade (49.6) that brought the overall figure down, but there were a few plays he can build on and it’s expected that a Day 3 pick will stumble a bit while getting their feet wet in the NFL.
Now, the question pivots to is Munford’s preseason tape good enough to win him the starting job?
Areas of Improvement
We’ll start with the bad and take a look at where he can get better.
Would like to see Munford gain more ground laterally with his 1st step but I do like how he sticks with the rep to ride the rusher's hip and force the rusher wide pic.twitter.com/3G7KzN5NJy— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 31, 2022
While pass protection was Munford’s strength during the preseason, there’s always room for improvement and this clip is a good example of what he can work on to perfect the craft.
It’s third and long and Jarret Stidham takes a five-step drop from the shotgun, so the offense is looking for some time to throw the ball down the field. Unfortunately, the protection breaks down and Munford was one of the culprits.
He’s going against a standup outside linebacker who is playing a wide technique, so he needs to cover more ground laterally on his 45-degree set to take away the outside lane. Also, his feet slow down after the first step which gives the pass rusher even more room to the outside.
Now, Munford does do a solid job with his hands to stay with the block and force the rusher deep and take a longer path to the quarterback, giving Stidham enough room to climb the pocket had the interior linemen not gotten beat as well. That prevented the right tackle from giving up the sack, but it’s certainly a rep that he’ll want to clean up for the future.
One tendency I noticed about Josh McDaniels during the preseason is he loves to run pin-and-pull concepts in the red zone. That puts the wide receiver and tight end on crack or inside blocks and the tackle in space typically, to put the offensive lineman on a defensive back. While that’s a size mismatch, it can be difficult for the tackle to break down and get a clean hit on the defender in the open field, especially since they are sacrificing athleticism to the DB.
That’s exactly what happens to Munford as his nose ends up over his toes, causing him to lose some balance and whiff on the block against the corner, No. 36. Luckily, Austin Walter reads the defense flowing too hard to the outside and cuts it back to score and negate the impact of the missed block.
If pin-and-pull is going to be a staple red zone concept for the Raiders this season, then the Ohio State product is going to need to work on breaking down and staying under control when blocking in space.
Another nice read by Walter but Munford loses at the POA pic.twitter.com/fRmiqwZCQ0— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 31, 2022
It’s late in the fourth quarter during this next clip and Las Vegas is trying to put the game on ice and run the clock out. They call inside split zone and end up picking up the first down, however, Munford is going to want this rep back.
He’s slow and deliberate off the ball and the defensive end, No. 97, is much more aggressive and physical at the point of attack. Also, while the tackle’s pads are down, he’s bending at the waist instead of the knees so he doesn't have a powerful base underneath him. That allows the defender to gain leverage and stand Munford up at the line of scrimmage, which, combined with No. 97 working taking away the A-gap, forces Walter to cut to the backside.
Another rep where the result of the play was positive for the offense, but that can change when the starters are in if the right tackle doesn’t improve at the point of attack.
Shifting gears, let’s take a look at where the Ohio State product excelled over the last month.
Compare this clip in pass protection to the one above. It’s third and long again so the offensive line is going to need to give the quarterback some time, even though the ball does end up coming out quickly since the Jaguars leave the short drag route wide open.
This time Munford uses a vertical set where he’s moving backward instead of lateral, and watch his feet. He gets off the ball and his kick slide is smooth and quick to reach the landmark and take the outside lane away from the edge rusher.
Munford also has great timing with his punch — something he’s pretty consistent with — and lands his hands on the rusher’s chest to prevent the pass rush move from ever starting. That helps give Chase Garbers a clean pocket to make an easy throw in rhythm and let the receiver pick up the third-down conversion.
Another rep in pass protection and watch the Ohio State product’s first step. He’s quick and gains a good amount of ground with it and keeps his feet moving to take the outside lane away.
With his punch, he gets his outside hand right on the V of the rusher’s neck, and look how that negates the rip move. Munford’s forearm ends up on No. 95’s bicep, pinning the rusher’s inside arm down and preventing the rip from happening. Also, the tackle gets his inside hand on the defender’s side so when they reach the quarterback’s level, the tackle can ride the defender’s momentum and give the quarterback room to climb the pocket.
A beautiful rep where the rookie shows off some improvement in just one week.
We’ll wrap up with another McDaniels staple in the run game, duo. The play call puts Munford on a double team with the guard against the defensive tackle, No. 97, where the offensive linemen are also working to/responsible for the inside backer, No. 53.
Munford does an excellent job of firing off the ball and kicking No. 97 inside to make the guard’s job easier. I like how his pad level is down and he gets his outside hand on the DT’s side while simultaneously keeping his feet moving through contact to generate some movement on the defender.
That being said, I do think Munford stays attached to the double team for about a half-second or a step too long, which allows the linebacker to cross his face and make the tackle. Any offensive coordinator will take a four-yard run on first and ten at the end of the day, but it’s that little detail that will turn this play from good to great for the tackle. He’ll start to get a better feel for the timing with more opportunities, especially seeing as this was his first game going against NFL speed.
While the seventh-round pick has shown plenty of promise to eventually take over as the starter, he’s still probably not ready to roll with the ones against the Chargers in a couple of weeks. He needs to get more consistent with his feet in pass protection, and his run blocking is not where it needs to be right now. However, the potential is certainly there and it’s easy to see why the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of Parker and Leatherwood, to eventually turn the reigns over to the rookie.