We’re only a few days away from the Las Vegas Raiders’ rookies reporting to training camp. In a way, this is the official start of their careers as the position battles are about to commence and the competition to make the 53-man roster heats up as the temperature in the desert rises.
So, what are the realistic best- and worst-case scenarios for every draft pick the Raiders made last April?
Tyree Wilson (RD 1: PK 7)
Best case: Win the starting job
After a disappointing first year in Las Vegas, Chandler Jones left the door open for Tyree Wilson to win the starting job as a rookie. In every season he’s played in at least 10 games, Jones set career lows in sacks (4.5), total tackles (38) and tackles for loss (three) last season. Meanwhile, Wilson proved to be a complete defender at Texas Tech and was drafted to be the 11-year veteran’s replacement, and that day could come sooner rather than later if the former Red Raider has a strong showing in camp.
Worst case: He doesn’t practice
Wilson has been sidelined with a foot injury since about mid-November and didn’t participate in the Raiders’ OTAs and minicamps. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to go for training camp, but no official word has been given on that front just yet. Obviously, missing more time would significantly diminish his impact at least early on in his rookie season.
Michael Mayer (RD 2: PK 35)
Best case: Become the No. 3 pass-catching option
To be honest, Michael Mayer has the highest floor and ceiling of anyone in Las Vegas’ 2023 draft class. Tight end is a relatively weak position group for the team so he should have little to no problems earning the starting job. The Notre Dame product’s biggest challenge over the next month-plus will be competing for targets.
While it will be difficult to supplant Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers as the offense’s No. 1 and 2 options, the third spot is up for grabs for Mayer. Hunter Renfrow is coming off a down year where he battled injuries, wasn’t productive and seemed to be a questionable fit in Josh McDaniels’ offense. McDaniels loves getting tight ends involved in the passing game so don’t be surprised if the rookie ends up seeing more balls thrown his way than Renfrow does.
Worst Case: Enters season as TE2
While yes, Mayer should win the starting job in camp, there is a world where he struggles and ends up being the second tight end in Week 1. His run blocking is still a bit of a work in progress as that’s what McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler have essentially said will be the point of emphasis in Mayer’s development. So, if the coaching staff doesn’t feel his blocking is up to snuff out of the gate, there is a world where he comes off the bench to start the year.
Byron Young (RD 3: PK 70)
Best Case: Wins a starting job
Like tight end, defensive tackle is another weak spot on the Raiders’ roster right now. Every player at the position will be vying for positioning on the depth chart, even at the top. Bilal Nichols and Jerry Tillery are penciled-in as the team’s projected starters heading into camp, but both are primarily pass rushers—who underwhelmed last year—and struggle against the run.
The rest of the defense’s DTs are also primarily specialists, either run defenders or pass rushers, but Byron Young has at least shown the potential to develop into a complete player. Young’s ability to play on all three downs could give him a leg up on the competition if he turns potential into production.
Worst Case: Buried on the depth chart
While Young was a third-round pick and Top 100 selection, he was slightly over drafted in the minds of many people in the NFL Draft community, including myself. He was a projected fourth-rounder so while that’s not a massive reach, it could be an indication that expectations should be lessened for him in year one.
Especially with a couple of second-year defensive tackles in Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler—who also have potential and have the advantage of some NFL experience—already on the roster, there’s a chance Young struggles to climb up the depth chart as a rookie.
Tre Tucker (RD 3: PK 100)
Best Case: Becomes WR4
After running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, Tre Tucker brings an element of speed to the Raiders’ receiving corps. He could easily fill a role as the offense’s deep threat alongside Adams, Meyers and Renfrow. That’s something the latter two especially lack and Tucker could become a seam-stretcher out of the slot for Las Vegas.
Worst Case: Special Teams only contributor
The rookie won’t be without competition for the role mentioned above. Philip Dorsett has made a career out of putting defenses on their heels, and DeAndre Carter can run too with a 4.44-second 40-time. Carter is also coming off a career year where had 46 catches for 538 yards and three touchdowns for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Tucker could still contribute as a returner and on special teams in general even if he doesn’t get many snaps offensively, but that might be his only significant impact if he doesn’t have a good camp.
Jakorian Bennett (RD 4: PK 104)
Best Case: Earns a starting job
You might notice a theme here, just about every defensive rookie has a chance to start for the Silver and Black...
Barring a late veteran signing, the Raiders’ collection of corners is a handful of solid players but no one really stands out from the pack. That leaves the door open for Jakorian Bennett to turn some heads and win a starting spot.
Also, while he was primarily an outside corner at Maryland, Bennett did take nearly 180 snaps in the slot over his last two years in college, per Pro Football Focus. That versatility only increases his odds of cracking the starting lineup.
Worst Case: Buried on the depth chart
The former Terrapin will be battling with a few hungry veterans like Amik Robertson and Tyler Hall for positioning on the depth chart, not to mention Duke Shelley, Nate Hobbs, David Long Jr. and Brandon Facyson as well. All six corners will enter camp ahead of Bennett, creating an uphill battle for him over the next month. Again, that’s a mountain he can’t climb, but there’s also a chance he never leaves the base camp.
Aidan O’Connell (RD 4: PK 135)
Best Case: Wins backup QB battle
Unless Jimmy Garoppolo fails his pre-camp physical or gets injured in camp, Aidan O’Connell won’t be the Raiders’ Week 1 starting quarterback. But, he can beat out soon-to-be 38-year-old Brian Hoyer, who has thrown just 65 regular-season passes since 2018, for the backup job. O’Connell was impressive as a junior at Purdue and has the potential to be a long-term solution under center, making him a good candidate to fill the QB2 role as a rookie.
Worst Case: QB3
I thought about the possibility where the former Boilermaker flops over the next month and Chase Garbers shines during the preseason. But unless Hoyer also plays terribly, I can’t see Las Vegas realistically cutting a fourth-round pick after just a month of full-speed practices.
The Raiders have done that before—Tyler Wilson in 2013—but I don’t think the team’s brass will consider replicating that terrible strategy. At worst, O’Connell will make the team in September.
Christopher Smith II (RD 5: PK 170)
Best Case: Earns a starting spot
Would it be extremely rare for a fifth-round pick to become a Week 1 starter? Absolutely. Is it out of the realm of possibilities for Christopher Smith II during training camp? Absolutely not.
It’s been well-documented that Tre’von Moehrig struggled last season. While he’s given the valid excuse of having to learn two different defensive systems in two years, there’s a chance Moehrig just isn’t a good fit in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme.
The Raiders only brought in Jaquan Johnson during free agency as competition at free safety—assuming Marcus Epps plays strong safety—and Johnson has primarily been a special-teamer during his career. So, the door is open for Smith II to become a first-stringer as he was an All-American last year at Georgia and was widely considered a draft steal.
Worst Case: Backup role
As referenced above, Graham’s scheme can be difficult and complex for young players to pick up and learn. That could cause the former Bulldog to play a little slower over the next month and make him not ready for regular-season action when the bullets really start to fly.
The reason why he slid in the draft was due to his poor athletic testing numbers as he was reliant on instincts in college. So, if the latter takes some time given the new system, he could struggle to see the field as a rookie.
Amari Burney (RD 6: PK 203)
Best Case: Special teams contributor
Even though the Raiders' linebackers are pretty weak, to me, Amari Burney has the lowest ceiling and floor in year one out of any of the team’s 2023 draft picks. Graham rarely uses more than two linebackers and Burney is not a good run defender, so it’s not like he’s going to be the one coming off the bench when the offense brings an extra blocker in the game.
The team’s brass drafted him knowing he’s a project as a former safety, meaning they likely aren’t expecting much from the Florida product this season. However, his speed could make him an excellent contributor on special teams while he grows his skill set on the second level of the defense.
Worst case: Cut
Burney would definitely make a good candidate for the practice squad given the reasons mentioned above. But, as a sixth-round pick, the threat of not making the team at the end of training camp is very real.
Nesta Jade Silvera (RD 7: PK 231)
Best Case: Backup DT
Nesta Jade Silvera was someone who kind of surprised me when I watched him on film. He’s quick as hell off the ball and can be a good penetrator against the run. He also has some potential to grow as a pass-rusher. As mentioned above, none of the Silver and Black’s defensive tackles should feel safe over the next month as every spot on the roster is up for grabs.
Worst case: Cut
I could pretty much copy Burney’s ‘Worst Case’ section and paste it right here for the former Sun Devil. Silvera will have an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster as the team’s last pick of the draft.