With the Las Vegas Raiders’ playoff hopes virtually over at 5-7, the Raiders’ last five games of the season should give younger players a chance to prove themselves heading into next year and beyond. Below is a look at six guys who need to finish the campaign strong to potentially earn a bigger role down the line.
With just 116 snaps during his first two seasons combined, Malcolm Koonce is finally getting an opportunity to see the field in 2023 with 296 snaps during the team’s first 12 games of the campaign. So far, he’s done a good job of capitalizing on the increased playing time as a pass-rusher with 29 pressures and a 17.0 percent win rate, via Pro Football Focus. Both figures rank second on the team behind Maxx Crosby and the latter is good enough for 16th among edge defenders league-wide.
That’s encouraging but Koonce does have some work to do as a run defender, currently owning a sub-par 56.0 PFF grade in that department. Showing growth against the run should be a point of emphasis for the third-year pro as doing so could give him a chance to enter training camp next summer as a starter for the first time in his career.
It’s no secret that Tyree Wilson has floundered during his first NFL season. He’s been more bad than good and struggled to make an impact as a pass-rusher and against the run, logging just nine pressures in 12 games and a 47.6 PFF run defense grade.
That’s partially due to spending the offseason rehabbing instead of training, however, Wilson does need to step up during these next few weeks to justify the organization’s investment in him. Also, building up some confidence heading into year two will be paramount for the No. 7 overall pick.
Michael Mayer is another first-year player whose production has been underwhelming so far this season. His 22 catches, 251 yards and one touchdown all rank fourth or tied for fourth among rookie tight ends this season. Granted, that’s not entirely his fault as he’s received 31 targets, 55 fewer than Sam LaPorta, 33 fewer than Dalton Kincaid and 13 behind Luke Musgrave, who hasn’t played since Week 11. Also, as Marcus Johnson pointed out on the latest episode of ‘Tape Don’t Lie’, Mayer has been getting open and just hasn’t seen the ball come his way.
So, it will be crucial to get the Notre Dame product the ball more often and for him to continue to show growth as a run-blocker to round out the campaign.
Unlike all of the other players on this list, Jack Jones is in an interesting spot seeing as he just joined the Raiders less than a month ago. He hasn’t seen the field much in Las Vegas with just 52 defensive snaps during his two games with the team. However, that will likely change moving forward now that Marcus Peters is no longer in the equation.
Jones has drawn two targets with the Silver and Black and allowed two catches for 19 yards, but how he finishes will be more important as cornerback projects to be one of the team’s biggest offseason needs. That means the front office will be paying close attention to the position for the rest of the year, evaluating who’s worthy of staying on the field in 2024.
Thayer Munford Jr.
Over the last two seasons, Thayer Munford Jr. has had a few opportunities to take command of Las Vegas’ starting right tackle spot. However, he’s failed to win the job outright, largely due to his struggles in pass protection. The 2022 seventh-round pick has surrendered 17 pressures including four sacks this season, per PFF, with 14 and three coming in the last three games he’s played in.
With Jermaine Eluemunor being an impending free agent, Munford has a chance to be a starter for the final two years of his rookie contract, but he needs to finish strong to discourage the front office from bringing in another option in the offseason.
A strong argument could be made that Luke Masterson has had the best season out of anyone on this list. He’s earned impressive grades from PFF across the board with an 88.1 mark overall, 82.6 against the run and 82.0 in coverage. However, he’s also received limited playing time with just 157 defensive snaps on the year and no more than 44 in a single game.
Given how Divine Deablo has struggled this year, Masterson should be in line for some more playing time to round out the campaign. If he continues to play at a high level with more opportunities, he’ll have a good chance to walk into next year’s training camp as a starter.