The preseason didn’t end the way the Las Vegas Raiders had hoped. After putting up 34 points in their first two contests of the month, Will Grier and the Dallas Cowboys gave the Raiders their first preseason loss of the Josh McDaniels era, 31-16.
For some players, the forgetful outing couldn’t have come at a worse time as their performance could cost them a spot on Las Vegas’ 53-man roster with cutdown day steadily approaching on Tuesday. But there were a handful of standouts in the other direction where a few guys built their case to stick around in Sin City or land elsewhere.
WINNER: Kristian Wilkerson
Throughout the preseason, Kristian Wilkerson’s play has been fairly volatile. He’s been productive with 17 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown in all three games combined, but he’s also had his fair share of drops. In a way, this weekend’s game was the perfect encapsulation of how this past month has gone as he let one pass slip through his hands early on and then exploded for 122 yards on 10 receptions.
The latter led the Raiders by nearly 100 yards and by seven catches as Wilkerson was easily the team’s most productive pass-catcher of the night. He’s also laid a couple of nice blocks in the preseason, giving the coaching staff something to think about when it comes to the last wide receiver spot on the roster.
The four-year pro is still probably a long shot to make the team, but he at least earned a spot on the Raiders’ practice squad if he doesn’t land on someone else’s roster.
LOSER: David Long Jr.
To be honest, I may have jumped the gun a bit by listing David Long Jr. as ‘safe’ during my 53-man roster projection after the Rams game. He struggled on Saturday, missing a couple of tackles that led to big gains, bringing his total up to three misses in the last two games. That played a big part in him allowing 40 yards on just two catches.
Those missed tackles make me unsure about Long Jr.’s status with the club, and he got quite a bit of playing time throughout the evening so it seems like the coaching staff wanted to see more from him. Also, he didn’t take any snaps on special teams during the preseason which isn’t ideal for a player who is projected to be a backup.
WINNER: Damien Williams
With Josh Jacobs signing a one-year deal Saturday morning, Damien Williams was likely auditioning for another club in Dallas and he put his best foot forward.
Williams led the team in rushing with six carries for 54 yards which comes out to an impressive average of nine yards per tote. He also showed great vision and agility to find a cutback lane and score Las Vegas’ only touchdown of the evening on a 24-yard scamper. He had a similar run to begin the third quarter that went for 20 yards and, honestly, Williams has looked better than Zamir White over the last two games, in my opinion.
But the Raiders aren’t going to give up on their 2022 fourth-round pick just yet, which will probably push the veteran back out. That being said, he put together some quality tape to pad his résumé if any team needs a back or has someone go down during the season.
LOSER: Jaquan Johnson
Coming into the weekend, Jaquan Johnson was on pretty thin ice. He had given up 18.5 yards per catch and had a couple of missed tackles in the first two preseason games to put him on shaky grounds. While that figure did drop to 14.0 in Dallas, he lost the tight end in coverage against a play-action pass near the goal line, leaving his man wide open for a touchdown. Also, he allowed completions both times he was targeted and missed another tackle.
Those are the types of mistakes you can’t afford to have when you’re fighting for a roster spot. While Johnson was known as more of a special teamer when the Raiders signed him in the offseason, he only had one assisted tackle on special teams during the preseason, so he hasn’t given the coaching staff a ton of reasons to make the team over the past month.
WINNER: Tyree Wilson
If you just looked at the box score, then you might think Tyree Wilson’s debut as a Raider was underwhelming as he only played 13 snaps and recorded one tackle. However, that doesn’t come close to telling the full story.
.@Raiders @tyreewilson77 made his #RaiderNation debut last night and he did some flashy things…Definitely caught my attention. @CrosbyMaxx & @chanjones55 & Tyree. It’s time to make life miserable for all QB’s. It’s time. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/GaUuyIDC8O— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 27, 2023
As seen in the breakdown from Brian Baldinger above, Wilson had a couple of nice pass rushes, using power to collapse the pocket. On one of the reps, he managed to push the offensive tackle past the quarterback/to the other side of the center to show just how physically dominant he can be, and his tackle came on a nice play against the run.
So, while he was still on a pitch count, there were plenty of encouraging reps from the No. 7 overall pick against the Cowboys. It was a long-awaited debut, but one that fans should get excited about as we saw a lot of the traits he showed off at Texas Tech come to life in the pros. That’s a good way to build momentum heading into next month.
LOSER: Jordan Meredith
I do think Jordan Meredith has done enough to make the roster, but the Cowboys game certainly wasn’t his best showing. The Raiders had a third and short on their first drive of the game, and Meredith got driven into the backfield which helped lead to the defensive stop for Dallas. On the very next drive, he was flagged for holding in what was a very rough start to the evening for him.
Again, Meredith’s versatility and performance in the first two games of the preseason are enough for him to earn a roster spot, but he did have a chance to slam the door shut on the position battle and failed to do so.