With the Las Vegas Raiders rookies reporting to training camp yesterday, the time has finally come as the 2023 season is officially underway! The Raiders will likely be leaning heavily on their 2023 NFL Draft class, meaning expectations for guys like defensive lineman Tyree Wilson and tight end Michael Mayer will be high.
But, should fans proceed with caution this year? Let’s dive into our mailbag questions for the week and find out.
Q: What can/should we expect from Tyree Wilson this year?
A: This is a tough one because we still don’t really know what’s going on with Wilson’s foot injury. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to go once practice is underway, but there has been no confirmation over the last few months and I would think that is something his agent would want to leak if he’s cleared. Think about how many videos we see in June and July of players working out, especially ones who are coming off an injury and want to make a statement that they're “ready to go”, so to speak.
But, that is an assumption on my part so I’ll answer the question above as if Wilson is cleared.
[Editor’s note: the Raiders announced Wilson will begin training camp on the NFI list on Friday afternoon]
Still, I do think Raider Nation needs to be patient with their expectations for Wilson this year. He’s going to begin the year as Chandler Jones’ backup, and free-agent signing Jordan Willis may take on some of the third-down/pass-rush responsibilities off the bench early on in the season. So, I think the rookie’s immediate impact in year one will be against the run.
Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson tied for the Big 12 lead among edge defenders with 25 defensive stops (a tackle that results in an offensive “failure”) in 2022 while playing in just 10 games. His physical playing style will translate better to the ground game in the NFL too.
Also, the foot injury likely means his bend as a pass-rusher isn’t getting any better this year, and that was one of my biggest concerns about him coming out of college.
Last year, Aidan Hutchinson lead all rookie edges with 22 run stops while Travon Walker and Kayvon Thibodeaux tied for second with 17. For good measure, Jermaine Johnson II was next on the list with 15. Hutchinson started every game in 2022 while Walker missed two and Thibodeaux and Johnson missed three each.
So, given Wilson’s expected playing time and the figures above, I think floating around 15 defensive stops or impact tackles as a run defender is an ambitious but still realistic expectation for the No. 7 overall pick.
Q: What position do you think the Raiders still must address before the season starts, and do you have 3 viable targets you’d feel fit the best? Could be free agent, trade, or other.
Linebacker. Heading into the season, the Raiders’ crew is, for lack of a better term, bad. I don’t think they’ll make any moves anytime soon, but three guys I’d be interested in are Kwon Alexander, Rashaan Evans and Myles Jack.
Evans is more of a run-stuffer who could play a similar role to Denzel Perryman, just not at a Pro Bowl level. Alexander and Jack are more of the athletic/coverage types which Patrick Graham seems to covet at the position. None of those guys are coming off good seasons, hence why they’re still available, but they’re at least worth bringing into camp and seeing what they’ve got, in my opinion.
Q: Which CB do you have the most confidence in to establish themself as the best the Raiders have to offer?
A: I think Nate Hobbs is the easy answer because he’s the known commodity and has had some success with the Raiders already, but I’m going to go with Duke Shelley. To me, Shelley the résumé of a guy who is about to have a breakout campaign.
He was a sixth-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2019 and was primarily a special teamer as a rookie. The next year, the Bears drafted two more corners—Jaylon Johnson in the second round, Kindle Vildor in the fifth—so Shelley got pushed down the depth chart and then battled injuries in 2021 before getting cut at the end of Chicago’s training camp last season.
He then signed to the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad, got called up in Week 10 and went on to be one of the team’s best corners down the stretch of the season. On just 242 coverage snaps and nine games, he had 10 pass breakups which is insane ball production with that little playing time. For example, Amik Robertson had the most PBUs for the Raiders last year with six on 444 coverage snaps.
But the most encouraging part of Shelley’s body of work in 2022 was that his highest single-game PFF coverage grades came during four out of his five starts, and two of those marks were 88.3 and 90.5. So, I think he could really shine with a bigger opportunity in Las Vegas.
A: These three questions were basically the same so I lumped them together. I’ve gotten these types of questions a few times and I cringe every time I see it because no matter what answer I give, I’m bound to get yelled at by someone, lol! I’m sensitive guys, be nice!
I completely understand why Raider Nation’s confidence in Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler is low and to be honest, I’m not their biggest believer either. They tried to make a run at the playoffs and failed, they’ve completely fumbled the Josh Jacobs situation, and now the team is in rebuilding mode while the best player on the roster is 30 years old.
What I will say is let’s see how this year’s rookie class performs before we pull out our pitchforks and call for McDaniels’ and Zielger’s jobs. That doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s record will be good or even above .500, which is what everyone wants, of course. But if the Raiders can get three or four future starters from the draft class, then that will give me more hope moving forward.
Again, as someone who grew up a Raiders fan in the Bay Area during the 2000s and 2010s, I completely understand that isn’t what Raider fans want to hear; another rebuild. But unfortunately, that’s the reality and the most optimistic outlook I can give for this season. If this rookie class flops, trust me, I’ll be firing up some angry tweets right along with you!
That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. Thank you all for submitting questions and, as your weekly reminder, if you’d like to have your questions answered in a future column, tweet them at me, @MHolder95, email them to SBPQuestions1@gmail.com or look for our weekly call for questions on the site. The latter will publish on Thursdays throughout the season.