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Raiders preseason: Winners and Losers against Rams

Position battles are starting to get sorted out

NFL: Preseason-Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Drake Thomas
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders are rolling right now with their second preseason victory over the Los Angeles Rams this past weekend as they’re now outscoring opponents 68-24 in the games that don’t count! We’ve got one more preseason contest to go and a little more than a week until cutdown day (August 29), adding more significance to this week’s winners and losers list.

Winner: Aidan O’Connell

Aidan O’Connell was balling out for the second week in a row. Say what you want about the competition level, but the fact is he’s now 26 of 36 (72.2 completion percentage) for 304 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions in the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, he has yet to record a ‘turnover-worthy play’ and is the highest-graded qualifying quarterback (93.1) so far for PFF.

Last Saturday in particular, a couple of things that stood out to me about O’Connell’s performance were his 14.3-yard average depth of target (ADOT) and how used his legs to pick up a first down. He was pushing the ball down the field while still keeping the offense on schedule by picking and choosing when to take his shots, and he had a nice scamper on third down when nothing was open to move the chains.

It’d be hard to argue that another quarterback has played better than the Purdue product this month, which could speed up his timeline to see the field for the Silver and Black if he keeps this pace up.

Loser: Brian Hoyer

Also for the second week in a row, Brian Hoyer lands on the loser’s list. The only difference is that this time it was a result of his actual play.

The pressure was on after O’Connell shined and Hoyer sat against the 49ers, and the latter looked every bit like a 38-year-old quarterback on Saturday. He completed just 54.5 percent of his passes, threw a terrible pick-six where he couldn’t get the ball over a linebacker’s head, and was a statue in the pocket on a play that led to a coverage sack.

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Rams
Brian Hoyer
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Hoyer’s biggest—and really only—competitive advantage over O’Connell is that he’s experienced and, in theory, could keep the offense afloat if Jimmy Garoppolo has to miss time. However, with how well the rookie has played, there might not be a need for the old veteran and his roster spot could be used to keep someone else at another position.

Winner: Drake Thomas

Leading the team in tackles is impressive on its own but having seven more than anyone else is an outstanding level of production, and that’s what we saw from Drake Thomas on Saturday. He finished with 12 total tackles, 11 of which came on 29 defensive snaps, meaning he was flying around the field and making the play nearly 40 percent of the time.

Thomas also finished the contest with three defensive stops, per PFF, tied for sixth among linebackers for the week. He’s earned a 90.4 run defense grade so far in the preseason as that’s third-best at the position, and he’s only allowing 3.3 yards per catch in coverage. It also helps that he’s been contributing on special teams, where he logged the other tackle referenced above.

In what has always been considered a tight and wide-open position battle for the Silver and Black, the undrafted free agent is doing just about all he can to stand out and help improve the team’s linebacking corps.

Loser: Matthew Butler

Defensive tackle is another competitive position battle in Las Vegas and unfortunately for Matthew Butler, he’s going in the opposite direction as Thomas.

Butler has yet to record a pressure on 30 pass-rush snaps this month and currently holds an ugly 49.6 PFF run defense grade. For the latter, this past weekend was a major struggle as his 45.3 mark was the worst among all Raider defenders.

Between starting training camp lower on the depth chart and being unproductive, it’s hard to make a case that the second-year pro should still be on the roster in September.

Winner: Jermaine Eluemunor

It was kind of surprising and eye-opening to see Jermaine Eluemunor get so much playing time against the Rams with 42 offensive snaps. That means the coaching staff wanted to see more from him and to his credit, he answered the call.

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders
Jermaine Eluemunor
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Eluemunor pitched a shutout in pass protection with zero pressures allowed and an impressive 75.4 PFF grade as a run blocker. Also, he played exclusively at left tackle so, even if he loses the starting right tackle job to Thayer Munford, the seven-year veteran at least showed that he’s capable of filling the swing tackle role on the team.

His performance over the weekend should erase any doubt that he might be on the chopping block, which—hand up—I admittedly became skeptical of over the last few weeks. However, Eluemunor proved me and all of his doubters wrong this past weekend.

Loser: Netane Muti

A week after putting together an outstanding performance in the first preseason game, Netane Muti had a 180-degree turnaround in the wrong direction.

With Dylan Parham out, Muti got to start at left guard and went from earning an elite 94.4 run-blocking grade during the previous week to posting a 50.8 mark in Los Angeles. He got beat for at least one tackle for loss that I noticed in the ground game, and surrendered a quarterback hit after allowing zero pressures the week before.

All is not lost for Muti, but it doesn’t help that the two guys he’s competing for playing time with—Greg Van Roten and Alex Bars—both looked sharp. Van Roten was working with the starters and earned an 82.8 PFF grade in limited action while Bars didn’t allow a pressure on 25 opportunities.

That heightens the stakes for Muti as he enters the last week to prove himself to the coaching staff.