The start of the preseason is right around the corner for the Raiders, as they’ll kick off the 2023 NFL Preseason against their old Bay Area rival, the San Francisco 49ers. While no one should get their hopes up over these August matchups, numerous players are looking to lock in a defined role — or a roster spot altogether. And stop me if you’ve heard this one before: most eyes will be on the defense for the Silver and Black.
Patrick Graham’s new and improved unit boasts several familiar faces, recently signed players, grizzled vets, and hungry young talent. We should expect to see a lot of the latter on Sunday afternoon in Allegiant Stadium. But a few, in particular, are more intriguing than others. Here are three names to keep a close eye on Sunday, as they all could play a part in the defense’s success in 2023.
Malcolm In The Middle?
Malcolm Koonce, DE
When the Raiders selected a pass rush specialist out of Buffalo in the 2021 NFL Draft, the jokes and misplaced hope flowed in abundance. Koonce was a third-round selection whom the previous Raider regime saw potential in.
Despite a minor increase in snaps during the 2022 campaign, one has to wonder if Dave Zeigler and Josh McDaniels are equally as high on the two-year pro. The defensive line needs to become a strength for Las Vegas, and Koonce can help in that regard.
The offseason saw the front office allocate resources via the draft and free agency to address that need. Even with all the new faces, Koonce should have his fair share of opportunities to make an impression on Sunday.
I mean, one of Mike Mayock’s third rounders has to stick. Right?
Nesta Jade Silvera Has A Chance To Make Noise For The Raiders
Nesta Jade Silvera, DT
Absences are unfortunate, but for some, they can create serious opportunities. Neil Farrell Jr. will likely step up and fill the nose tackle position in 2023. However, the LSU alum has missed most of training camp, barely being activated from the NFI list on Wednesday.
This could open the door for a certain seventh-round pick to take a bulk of the snaps come Sunday. Nesta Jade Silvera is a mountain of a human at 6-foot-2 and 315 pounds. The former Sun Devil may lack flash plays on tape, but he makes up for it at the point of attack using sheer strength and determination. NJS could earn a spot in the regular season rotation with a push in the preseason.
Everybody Loves Chris
Chris Smith II, S
The Raiders hope to have a starting safety duo for the foreseeable future. Trevon Moehrig and Marcus Epps have performed admirably this offseason by giving the defense some stability in the secondary. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the front office spent a fifth-round pick on Georgia safety Chris Smith II this past Spring.
Smith II may lack the raw counting numbers of his peers, but he makes up for it with a sky-high football IQ. Simply put, the former Bulldog “knows ball” and often sees plays unfold pre-snap. At worst, consider the young defensive back as injury insurance. That is as long as Smith shows he’s capable of the task when the “real” snaps begin.
*Top Photo: Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports