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Bubble watch: 5 players who need a strong performance against Cowboys

Cutdown day is a comin’ next Tuesday.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Amik Robertson
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders are set to wrap up the 2023 preseason this Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys which means the pressure is really on for the players on the Raiders’ roster bubble. It’s now or never for the five guys listed below as all of them are fighting for one of the last few spots available.

Dalton Wagner

Dalton Wagner looked sharp against the San Francisco 49ers, earning a 78.8 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus and surrendering zero pressures on 11 opportunities. However, it was a completely different story last weekend versus the Los Angeles Rams as his mark in the ground game dropped nearly 40 points to an ugly 40.1 while he also surrendered two pressures on 19 snaps in pass protection and was called for a penalty.

While Wagner can hang his hat on that strong performance, the problem is there isn’t a whole lot of margin for error when it comes to making Las Vegas’ roster as an offensive tackle.

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

With Kolton Miller, Thayer Munford, Jermaine Eluemunor and Justin Herron, the Raiders have four quality players at the position, and the latter three have all looked good this month. So, Wagner needs a strong performance in Dallas to convince the coaching staff that they can trade one of those three and roll with him as the fourth tackle, or it’s worth it to keep five tackles on the roster. Either way, that’s going to be an uphill battle.

Nesta Jade Silvera

The reviews from practice on Nesta Jade Silvera via the media, coaching staff and players like Maxx Crosby have been positive as he’s been described as violent and disruptive. That will certainly help his case to make the roster at the end of camp, however, the preseason games have been a different story.

Silvera has struggled to hold his ground against the run and that’s been reflected in his 50.2 PFF grade as a run defender. Also, he’s been quiet as a pass rusher with just one pressure on 26 opportunities.

Las Vegas has a lot of bodies in their defensive tackle room, creating stiff competition for a roster spot. Practice performances can only go so far as the ASU product needs to be productive against the Cowboys, especially since he started behind the eight-ball as a seventh-round pick.

Amik Robertson

Similar to the two positions discussed above, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room among the Raiders’ cornerbacks. A good case could be made for several players to fill out the depth chart and Amik Robertson is certainly in the mix.

Robertson hasn’t been terrible in the preseason so far, giving up four catches on six targets for 62 yards with a pass breakup thrown in the mix, but he also hasn’t done enough to beat out guys like David Long Jr. and Duke Shelley for a roster spot. Long Jr. and Shelley combined have given up fewer receiving yards (49) than Robertson, heightening the stakes this weekend for the latter.

The fourth-year pro is about to enter a contract year, making him more expendable for the Raiders if the coaching staff doesn’t see a clear role for him during the regular season. Even if he doesn’t end up making the Silver and Black’s roster, this Saturday will be important for him to show another club that he’s worthy of getting picked up.

Netane Muti

Similar to Wagner, Netane Muti is another guy who has put together two vastly different preseason performances. In the first week, he was PFF’s highest-graded offensive lineman—not just guard—with a near-perfect mark of 97.7. The second game was a 180-degree turnaround though, as he ranked 106th out of 134 qualifiers with a sub-par 52.8 grade.

NFL: AUG 19 Preseason - Raiders at Rams
Netane Muti
Photo by Tony Ding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Meanwhile, it’s looking like Greg Van Roten has won the battle as the team’s starting right guard which pushes Muti into a fight for a roster spot. Given Eluemunor’s, Jordan Meredith’s and Hroniss Grasu’s position flexibility, Las Vegas has plenty of options on how to approach their backup spots on the interior of the offensive line, adding pressure on Muti this weekend.

Drake Thomas

Unlike just about everyone else on this list, Drake Thomas has played pretty well in both preseason games. He’s PFF’s second-highest graded linebacker against the run (90.4), is in the top 10 with five defensive stops and has only allowed 13 receiving yards on four receptions.

The problem is, as an undrafted free agent, he can’t afford any slip-ups. The Raiders only rostered five linebackers at the end of camp last year, and I’d imagine Divine Deablo, Robert Spillane, Curtis Bolton and Luke Masterson have already made the team. That leaves Thomas to compete with Amari Burney, who the organization invested a draft pick in.

That could be hard for the NC State product to overcome, but he might force the coaching staff’s hand with another strong performance when the lights are bright.