We’ve waited over seven months to watch the Las Vegas Raiders play football and while this Sunday will just be a preseason game, we finally get to scratch the itch and get our first idea of what the 2023 squad looks like.
The Raiders are taking on former Bay Area rival the San Francisco 49ers in what should be a good test for the Silver and Black’s young players. Below is a look at three key matchups that could impact the depth chart moving forward.
In full disclosure, it's difficult to predict who will play and how many reps everyone will get in the first preseason game, but the players listed below are either projected second-stringers or in a position battle and should get at least some playing time this weekend.
Trey Lance vs. Luke Masterson
While Brock Purdy is healthy and the presumptive Week 1 starter in San Francisco, Trey Lance still finds himself in a position battle as Sam Darnold has reportedly been pushing for the backup role. Lance certainly is the more talented player, but he needs to put together a strong performance to gain the early lead in the competition.
The 2021 No. 3 overall pick’s biggest competitive advantage is his ability to make plays with his legs, and he proved to be shifty in college by forcing 40 missed tackles as a runner, per Pro Football Focus, during his last full season. That will put a lot of stress on Raiders’ linebacker Luke Masterson, who missed 10 total tackles at a 17.5 percent rate in 2022.
That’s one of the biggest areas of improvement for Masterson this year as he looks to solidify his spot on the depth chart behind Divine Deablo and Robert Spillane. The team recently brought in veteran backer Darius Harris, adding more pressure for the second-year pro to perform.
Masterson will also be looking to show how much he’s grown in coverage after posting an ugly 29.2 PFF coverage grade a year ago, while this will be Lance’s first contest since the broken ankle that forced him to miss the majority of last season.
Danny Gray vs. Jakorian Bennett
Gray is looking to carve out a bigger role in the 49ers’ offense after having a disappointing rookie season. Despite being a third-round pick, he barely saw the field during the regular season and only hauled in one of six targets for 10 yards. However, Kyle Shanahan’s offense can take a year or two for wide receivers to pick up, and the SMU product has turned some heads during training camp, according to Kyle Posey of Niners Nation.
So far, Gray is using his speed to stretch the defense horizontally. Shanahan is the king of high-low concepts, and Gray has little to no problems running away from defenders. Gray has consistently caught 20+ yard passes during camp, and that was no different today.
As for Bennett, this will be his first opportunity to show Raider Nation what he can do in silver and black. He was a feisty press corner in college who allowed a meager 44.4 completion percentage when targeted last season, the seventh-best rate among Big 10 cornerbacks.
Both Gray and Bennett are projected to get reps on the inside and outside, so this will also test how versatile both players are.
Drake Jackson vs. Thayer Munford
With Samson Ebukam now in Indianapolis and Nick Bosa holding out, Drake Jackson is the 49ers’ top pass rusher for the time being. Obviously, that will change when the reigning Defensive Player of the Year reports to camp, but that doesn’t affect how significant this matchup will be.
Jackson should get at least a few reps on Sunday as he’s expected to step into a bigger role after being more of a situational pass-rusher a year ago. He’ll need to show that he can be more productive than last year after only picking up three sacks, 16 pressures and a 6.5 pass-rush win rate during the regular season.
In a somewhat similar situation, Thayer Munford has played his way into the Raiders’ starting lineup at right tackle. He earned the promotion after Jermaine Eluemunor was benched for committing too many penalties in practice, and the second-year veteran continued to hold the spot down for at least a few days after the switch.
Munford fared well in pass protection during the regular season last year with just 11 pressures yielded and a PFF pass-blocking grade of 71.0, however, Jackson’s speed off the line of scrimmage and quickness could give him trouble on Sunday.