Raiders Training Camp: Thayer Munford Jr. or Jermaine Eluemunor? Why not both?

Raiders Training Camp: Thayer Munford Jr. or Jermaine Eluemunor? Why not both?

The Raiders arrived at training camp with only a handful of players entrenched as starters. Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams are the franchise cornerstones for each side of the football, while Kolton Miller spearheads the offensive line and Divine Deablo holds the fort down at linebacker. But a battle between Jermaine Eluemunor and Thayer Munford Jr. is dominating the discussions.

Jermaine Eluemunor Finds A Home With The Raiders

Right tackle is another position fans and analysts believed was a forgone conclusion for Las Vegas entering training camp. Jermaine Eluemunor, a former fifth-round pick of the Ravens, spent 2017 and 2018 in Baltimore before the franchise traded him to New England.

Eluemunor only saw 29 snaps in his first season with the Patriots, but he found the field more often in Year 2. The London native posted respectable grades via Pro Football Focus as both a run and pass blocker, splitting action evenly as the swing tackle in Josh McDaniels’ offense.

Interestingly enough, the ascending lineman beat McDaniels to Vegas. The long-time Patriots assistant stuck around in New England for the 2021 season, along with front office executive Dave Ziegler, while Eluemunor signed with the then-Jon Gruden-led Raiders.

Elumunor started a few games at right guard, putting up pedestrian PFF grades. However, with the eventual firing of Gruden and the hiring of McDaniels (and Ziegler), he witnessed a career year in 2022. The 6-foot-4 bowling ball started all 17 games for the Silver and Black.

Now reunited with his former coach from New England, Eluemunor buoyed the run game with Miller and Josh Jacobs. The 28-year-old was also as an above-average pass protector for Derek Carr. Eluemunor was flagged ten times on the year, though; not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the sixth-year player.

An Unexpected Battle Breaks Out At Raiders Training Camp

Given the rapport Eluemunor built with the offensive line in 2022, many — myself included — did not foresee a positional battle at right tackle. The 28-year-old spoke earlier this week about the difference in expectations when entering training camp as an expected starter.

“Yeah, it’s been dope. This is the first training camp in my career I’ve been able to come in as a starter, but then that adds more pressure.” Eluemunor continued, “In this camp, it’s more about solidifying my spot than it is earning it.”

He went on to talk about the depth of talent on the roster, “But then also we have talented guys in the room. Thayer [Munford], Brandon [Parker], even Justin [Herron], all of them can play right tackle also.”

One of those guys is making a charge for Eluemunor’s spot, if you believe reports from training camp. Thayer Munford Jr. has been taking first-team reps the past few days, and based on the reviews from beat writers, the former Ohio State Buckeye is making things interesting for the Raiders.

Is Thayer Munford Jr. A Real Threat To Eluemunor?

Munford was a seventh-round pick at last year’s NFL Draft. He saw a fair amount of playing time as a rookie, even spot starting on two occasions at right tackle. The first came in Week 3 vs. the Titans when Eluemunor kicked inside to right guard, and Munford flanked him. The other was in Week 11 when Miller missed the game, forcing Eluemunor over to the blindside.

Munford held up remarkably-well for a rookie thrown into the fire. He showed flashes of high-end play at right tackle, allowing only one sack in 369 snaps. Even so, after the success of Eluemunor in 2022, it would take an amazing training camp to supplant him as the starter.

By the sound of it, that is exactly what Munford is doing.

On Friday, the 23-year-old lineman got asked about the first-team reps, and if it feels like he is making a move into the starting lineup. “Yeah, I think I am. But also at the same time, it also comes down to the competition that we got in the room,” Munford said to reporters.

He continued by saying, “Every day is a tryout. We go against [Maxx] Crosby every day, and that itself is already a game.“ When questioned about what it’s like going against Crosby, Munford replied, “It can be frustrating, of course, but at the same time, we know who Maxx [Crosby] is. We know who we’re about to go up against every day, like it’s nothing new.”

A reporter pointed out how “different” Munford both looked and sounded this year. They asked what changes led to this refreshed outlook. The Raider lineman offered a personal reply, “I take the mental thing a lot more serious than others because last year I was in a dark place by like Week 6 because it was just a lot for me. So me taking the time, giving everything to God, taking my time to God, that actually like helped me push through the day. It helps out a lot.”

Why Should The Raiders Have To Choose? Start Them Both!

It is clear to see that Jermaine Eluemunor and Thayer Munford are both wise beyond their years. They have faced adversity, conquered it, and now find themselves in a heated battle for the starting gig at right tackle. But I say the Raiders don’t have to pick between the two. Instead, they both should be in the starting lineup.

Whether Eluemunor sticks outside or moves to guard, he is too valuable of a piece to leave on the bench. From a leadership standpoint to an availability standpoint, these traits are hard to find in 300+ pound players. And it bears repeating that he has extensive familiarity within the McDaniels system.

That being said, Munford deserves the right tackle spot if he continues outperforming Eluemunor. It is rare for a seventh-round pick to see such drastic improvement, making the Buckeye product a true outlier. Munford has experience at right guard in college, so perhaps he takes reps there if the team sticks by Eluemunor.

Either way, Alex Bars should not start while either of these two sits. No disrespect to Bars, but the play he put on tape last season falls well below starting-caliber. The former Bear ranked dead last in run-blocking (via PFF) and posted the 14th-worst pass-blocking grade. Simply put, he is not better than Jermaine Eluemunor, nor Thayer Munford. Not even on their worst days.

There are still several practices, and even a few preseason games to iron out the starting lineup. Keep a close eye on Munford in particular, as he is making a beeline for the right tackle gig. Even if Eluemunor relinquishes the role to Munford, I expect the veteran to start over Bars at guard. But ultimately, who knows? McDaniels and Co. don’t always use sound logic when making these decisions.

*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal

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