Football fans should always take training camp news with a grain of salt. Teams are going 7-on-7 or 11-on-11, and even with pads, it is hard to gauge the success of each unit. While players can still show out in these controlled environments, nothing can replicate the atmosphere of game day. Still, a strong showing carries weight with the coaching staff. The Las Vegas Raiders are no exception to this.
One of the resounding themes from Raiders training camp has been this year’s rookie draft class. And specifically, how they have been dominating through practice. The Silver and Black selected nine players during the 2023 NFL Draft. With some added undrafted rookies, there could be plenty of opportunity for the youngsters. Do the recent inklings out of camp insinuate a stellar rookie campaign for the team’s most recent draft class?
Before we jump the shark, let’s pump the brakes and assess what it means for the Raiders in 2023 — and beyond.
The Raiders welcome several new members to the offense
On the offensive side of the ball, Vegas could see the emergence of two key playmakers in tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Tre Tucker. Second-rounder Mayer is regarded as one of the steals of the draft. Many draft analysts had him labeled as the best tight end in the class.
As Week 1 of the NFL season draws near, it looks increasingly likely that Mayer will challenge for the TE1 spot. Of course, this is assuming he impresses during the preseason. Speaking of tight ends, the Raiders recently cut a veteran at the position.
Former first-round pick O.J. Howard was cut from the roster early in camp. The dismissal of Howard shows how much the staff likes what Mayer has brought to the table so far. Jesse Merrick of KSNV News 3 Las Vegas shared footage of the young pass catcher going through drills at training camp. Seeing him make a few snags in traffic bodes well for his chances of getting ample snaps in the regular season.
Sure, Mayer has had a few “welcome to the NFL” moments while blocking against Maxx Crosby. But that seems like par for the course against the two-time Pro Bowler. And ultimately a sign of respect from his Raiders teammate.
What’s up with Tre Tucker?
Tre Tucker left Raider Nation scratching their heads when he came off the board in the third round. Yet, he is beginning to illustrate his potential as a weapon for Vegas this season. Tucker has reportedly been handling kick-returning duties through training camp. Many fans even wondered if the speedster would replace Hunter Renfrow in the offense.
The jury is still out on the latter, but the former Cincinnati wideout has been making plays through camp, and his impact is undeniable. He is already handling some special team’s duties, highlighting his potential to claim more snaps later in the year.
Then there are the defensive rookies for Vegas…
On the defensive side of the ball, enough cannot be said for Jakorian Bennett’s play throughout training camp. In layman’s terms, Bennett looks like the absolute real deal. The fourth-round pick out of Maryland has established himself as a contender for one of the two starting cornerback spots, especially considering Brandon Facyson has been out with an undisclosed injury. It seems likely that the newly signed Marcus Peters will command one of those starting spots, with Nate Hobbs sliding into the nickel.
But as for the opposite end of the field, Bennett has looked at ease with his coverage skills. He boasts the speed to make up for any mistakes against opposing wideouts, setting him up to contend for a starting role in Year 1.
Perhaps more impressive is his disciplined mindset. He never hangs his head, even when it comes to being bested by the more veteran players on the team. Struggles will occur as he transitions to the NFL, but Bennett facing a stacked group of pass catchers only benefits him in the long run.
So what if he gets beat by Renfrow, Jakobi Meyers, or Davante Adams? In his own words, “You’re going to make a mistake; learn from it.”
Final Verdict: Something or Nothing?
Training camp storylines can easily be overblown, which rings true for both the positive and negative narratives. Reports about the Raiders rookies are encouraging nonetheless, and it speaks to how Vegas could be comfortable handing any rookie a sizable workload in 2023.
However, we would be remiss not to acknowledge these developments are happening in a controlled environment. Over the next few weeks, the Raiders will square off with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in preseason action. It will be imperative to show that their success in practice can translate to games.
It is unfair to expect these newcomers to be ready to elevate the team to postseason play. But, if the rookies can continue proving themselves this offseason, the sky is truly the limit.
*Top Photo: Fan Nation/Raiders Today