Now that OTAs are underway for the Las Vegas Raiders, we’re one step closer to the start of training camp. This also means several players are beginning to build their cases for playing time and/or emerge as future stars for the Silver and Black. So, who are the Raiders' top five breakout candidates for 2023 as camp slowly approaches?
As a rookie, Tre’von Moehrig looked like a future star. He rarely left field and only allowed 158 receiving yards in coverage, per Pro Football Focus, en route to a 71.0 PFF grade that ranked just outside of the top 25 among qualifying safeties. However, those numbers got flipped upside down in year two as he surrendered 354 yards and earned a 54.1 PFF grade that was in the bottom 15 of the position.
The good news is this will be Moehrig’s second season in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s system that asks safeties to do a lot. Learning two defenses in consecutive years is a daunting task for a young player, especially when one system is much more complicated than the other.
Also, the Raiders brought in Marcus Epps this offseason who can take some of the box responsibilities away from the 2021 second-round pick, allowing Moehrig to play more of the deep safety role that he excelled in as a rookie.
Divine Deablo has had a frustrating career so far and it’s not his fault, per se. As a rookie, he didn’t see the field much defensively until the end of the year when he made five starts in the regular season and then one more in the playoff game. Then he only played in eight games this past season after a forearm injury put him on injured reserve for the rest of the campaign.
In limited action, Deablo has looked good as a run defender with 24 defensive stops against the run, per PFF, in 16 career games (including playoffs), and he’s earned PFF grades of 71.8 and 71.1 in that department. That’s where he can really stand out on the Raiders’ defense this season with a clean bill of health and Denzel Perryman now suiting up for the Houston Texans.
The Virginia Tech product does have more work to do in coverage, but if he can stay on the field for all 17 games (or more) and continue to be a quality run defender for Las Vegas, he’ll cement himself as the team’s best linebacker.
Including Dylan Parham on this list is kind of taking the low-hanging fruit seeing as he struggled as a rookie and was Las Vegas’ top pick a year ago. However, it’d also be remiss of me not to include him.
Parham’s biggest issue last year was in pass protection as he allowed 55 pressures and earned a PFF pass-blocking grade of 48.8. Those figures were the second-most and 13th-worst, respectively, among qualifying guards last season.
But part of the problem was the coaching staff had him playing three different positions—left and right guard and center—and kept shuffling the rest of the offensive line, so it took him a while to build continuity with his comrades. That combined with picking up a new playbook and adjusting to the NFL was just a recipe for disaster.
Now that Parham seemingly has a defined position at left guard and has more professional experience, he should be able to bounce back and put together a strong campaign in year two.
This might be a bit of a hedge as Luke Masterson is the second linebacker mentioned. However, he did end 2022 as a starter for the Raiders and the front office let Perryman walk in the offseason while only bringing in Robert Spillane to compete for the first-string reps.
Masterson was also pretty productive against the run when called upon last season. In the six games where he played in at least 30 defensive snaps, he racked up 19 tackles and eight defensive stops on run plays. He just needs to become a more consistent tackler after posting a 17.5 percent miss rate a year ago and improve upon his 29.2 PFF coverage grade.
Last season, Josh Jacobs led the Raiders with 339 rushing attempts while Brandon Bolden and Zamir White tied for second with 17 each. That split just isn’t sustainable in today’s NFL where most offenses feature at least two running backs, a system that was made popular by the New England Patriots.
Josh Mcdaniels' offenses have historically relied on a running back by committee approach which is part of the reason why he added four to the roster last year, including White who was the team’s fourth-round pick and second player drafted overall. I’d expect McDaniels to return to form this season and be more communal with the touches out of the backfield.
Also, the gigantic elephant in the Raiders' front office is Jacobs’ contract extension. It seems like he’s destined to play on the franchise tag this year, in which case it would make sense for the team to start to groom White to take over as the lead back.