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Mailbag: Can Dalton Wagner be the 4th offensive tackle?

Answering your questions for the week

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Dalton Wagner
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve got the second week of the preseason for the Las Vegas Raiders coming up as the Raiders head down to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. There will be plenty of position battles to keep an eye on, including if rookie undrafted free agent Dalton Wagner can make the roster, as Wagner was the subject of a couple of mailbag questions.

Q: With Brandon Parker’s move to IR, who is the current front-runner for the 4th OT spot behind Miller, Eluemunor, and Munford? Do you think Wagner can take the spot, or is the uphill battle for the UDFA a little too much to ask for?

Justin Herron is still the front-runner for that third offensive tackle spot. I wasn’t thrilled with his performance against the 49ers, most notably getting beat badly in pass protection by Clelin Ferrell for a sack, but he was decent in the run game.

That being said, I do think Dalton Wagner has a chance at making the team. He outplayed Herron last week and I also could see the Raiders keeping five offensive tackles, especially since Eluemunor has the flexibility to play guard.

It’s definitely an uphill battle for Wagner to make the roster as a UDFA and I’d still expect him to be on the practice squad in Week 1, but it’s not out of the question.

Predict one surprise cut and one surprise player that makes the 53!

I’ll stay topical with this one, how about Eluemunor as the surprise cut and Wagner as the surprise player to make the team?

Maybe I’m putting too much weight into Eluemunor getting benched for penalties a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t get the sense that the coaching staff is sold on him. Despite how well he played last season, they only gave him a one-year, up to $3 million with incentives contract in the offseason.

If Thayer Munford ends up winning the starting job in camp, Eluemunor becomes expendable and Wagner is an intriguing project to work with given his physical traits, so they may not want to risk losing the latter on the waiver wire. We’ll see how this week goes.

Not hearing much about Chris Smith when there was some post draft hype he could push to start. Totally get that he's a later round rookie and a lot of that was hype, but I'm not hearing ANYTHING. No "made a nice play" or "smart, asks a lot of questions" stuff they always say. Anything?
Part two:
Which rookie not named Mayer has the biggest impact this year?

During minicamp and OTAs, I wrote about how Chris Smith II was impressing the coaching staff—and specifically, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham—with his football IQ and instincts. However, the hype surrounding him has been pretty quiet since then.

Another community commenter (J-Peg) mentioned that Q Meyers said on the Locked on Raiders Podcast that Smith II was making plays in training camp, but other than that, I haven’t heard much about his performance. According to Pro Football Focus, he did have a forced incompletion and a 72.0 coverage grade against the 49ers, but I definitely thought he blended in rather than standing out last week.

That being said, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Smith II this weekend and hope to see him make a few more plays.

As for what rookies will make the biggest impact, I’ll assume Tyree Wilson is off the table here too, so I’ll go with cornerback Jakorian Bennett. I’m a big fan of Bennett’s game yet I was still surprised to hear he’s been mixing in with the starters already. Obviously, that’s a good sign for how quickly he’s picking up the defense and his ball skills are really impressive, which the coaching staff has been emphasizing this year.

After reading your other article, is Adams and JG a match? Seems like Adams could thrive, but don’t know his numbers in short to intermediate areas. Gets open easy, find it hard to believe he won’t be a fit, but please tell me/show me, is he fit with JG or not?

The article you’re referring to is specific to the Raiders’ offseason additions—Jakobi Meyers, Michael Mayer and Austin Hooper—and their lack of after-catch ability. YAC isn’t Davante Adams’ calling card per se, but it is something he’s still good at.

Adams wasn’t efficient on intermediate routes last year, ranking 69th out of 81 qualifying receivers with 8.28 yards per route run (YPR), per Pro Football Focus. However, that seems to have more to do with Derek Carr than him as Adams was 28th out of 93 at 10.53 YPR in 2022 and 27th in 2020 at 11.20.

On short routes (zero to nine yards past the line of scrimmage) a year ago, the wideout was tied for 34th with 3.8 YAC per reception, but he was top five in the metric on screens at 10.6 YAC per catch.

Honestly, Adams is so good he’s a fit with any quarterback that can get him the ball. As you mentioned, he’s excellent at getting open so if he isn’t productive, I’m going to have a hard time believing that’s his fault. He’s earned that level of respect/benefit of the doubt, in my opinion. The tape will tell the truth of course, but on the surface level, he’d be the last person I’d blame if things aren’t going well offensively.

Any roster bubble players that could end up being traded for a 7th rounder or a pick swap?

Malcolm Koonce would be my pick. I like him as a pass-rusher but get the feeling the coaching staff doesn’t trust him enough as a run defender to give him significant playing time. With Jordan Willis and Tyree Wilson behind Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, the Raiders have a lot of edge defenders too, and Isaac Rochell had a good showing last weekend to make Koonce expendable. I could see another team being willing to part with a late-round pick to use him as a situational pass-rusher.

I have 2.
I am curious Matt, what is your honest opinion of the team this year and how many wins do you see them having?
Next offseason, will the tear down continue? What happens with Adams, Garapolo, Jacobs?
Maybe it was 3 questions.

I’m thinking about the same amount of wins as last year, in the six to eight range, if Garoppolo can stay healthy. To me, they have the talent on offense to point up points but the defense has too many question marks and is going to struggle.

To be honest, I’ve kind of battled back and forth on the tear-down question. I would think they’ve gotten rid of everyone they don’t want, but I could also see them trying to trade someone like Hunter Renfrow mid-season if they stumble out of the gate.

Then, it would be a little surprising but I could see Kolton Miller being on the trading block in the offseason to clear some cap space and add some high-value draft picks. To be clear though, that’s more speculative and I would still lean toward Miller being on the roster for the long haul, I’m just throwing out a potential option.

My gut says Garoppolo will be back for sure next season to serve as a mentor/stop-gap for a young quarterback at the least, and Jacobs is gone. For the latter, they’ve had two chances to pay him and haven’t so I’m not going to hold my breath that they’ll strike a deal a third time.

Adams is a little more complicated. I talked last week about how the structure of his contract makes it difficult for the Raiders to trade him—they’d take on a lot of dead money—but there is a world where he gets frustrated with the lack of winning and demands a trade. Still, I lean toward him coming back in 2023.