The Las Vegas Raiders floundered to an abysmal 6-11 record in 2022. Head coach Josh McDaniels failed to mesh with incumbent quarterback Derek Carr, while the defense had more holes than Swiss cheese. Now, after a relatively successful offseason, all signs are pointing up for the Raiders — especially their rookie draft class led by Tyree Wilson.
Tyree Wilson Makes Preseason Debut For Raiders
As a result of the disappointing 2022 campaign, the franchise found itself selecting inside the top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Rather than moving up the board to find Carr’s successor behind center, McDaniels and Co. opted to sign veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and wait until Round 4 to take a rookie signal-caller.
Who knew that Aidan O’Connell was a potential long-term answer for Vegas? Well, if you ask general manager Dave Ziegler, everyone in the building did. But this article isn’t about the quarterback situation — lord knows we have covered that enough.
Instead, let’s highlight the player the Raiders chose at No. 7 overall — Texas Tech alum Tyree Wilson.
From the moment Wilson arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine last Spring, anyone with eyes could see how special his physical traits are. Although he did not compete in drills while nursing an injury, Wilson still showcased his otherworldly wingspan and professionalism in interviews.
Even without seeing Wilson at 100 percent, the Raiders decided early on that he would be the selection if available. Some were calling for the Silver and Black to look at Jalen Carter or Peter Skoronski — alas, neither guy could win the organization over the way Wilson did.
Once the powerful pass rusher was officially taken by Vegas, reports immediately surfaced about his pre-existing foot injury. The concern was not unfounded, as Wilson missed essentially the entire offseason rehabbing.
Raider Nation received incredible news early last week with Wilson returning to practice. It got even better on Saturday night when the first-year player made his preseason debut, logging snaps against in-game action for the first time as a Raider. And boy, did he make his presence felt.
The Rookie Pass Rusher Flashed Dominance vs. Cowboys
Wilson got credited with only one tackle in the contest, but raw counting stats don’t tell the full story. Often, the young lineman flashed the elite strength and length that made him an early Day 1 selection. On arguably his best snap of the night, Wilson walked his assignment back, even though he failed to finish the sack.
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) August 27, 2023
A few other plays showed his immense upside, but the failed sack attempt is the most notable. And depending on who you ask, it was either a positive rep or a concerning rep. As for me, it looked pretty damn good.
Sure, ideally, when a team drafts a pass rusher that early, he will be a finished product—or close to it. Wilson, for all his potential, is still far from what he “could be”. But on splash plays like this one, he checks off nearly every box—except the sack.
Wilson’s core strength is absurd, and his grip strength is even more stout. Combine that with his long arms, and it is easy to see how the former Red Raider finds his way to the backfield. He graded out as the No. 9 overall player on my 2023 Big Board, so I tend to lean into a more positive projection for Wilson.
Not A Perfect Debut, But Close Enough
Still, he must continue adding more polish to his pass-rushing sets. I likened his performance on Saturday to a bull in a China shop; Wilson was not in full control. But the reckless abandon he exhibits can make up for holes in technique, that is, against lesser competition.
The detractors will say, “If Wilson couldn’t finish a sack against third-stringers, why should we expect him to do so against starters?”
To that, I say fair. He isn’t perfect. His debut wasn’t spotless. The issues from his college tape showed up from time to time, primarily as a run defender. But you are lying to yourself if you don’t see the promise. Tyree Wilson is a big, giant ball of clay that needs to be worked into reaching his ceiling; anyone who watched his college tape knew this.
The presence of Maxx Crosby cannot be overstated, as he makes life easier for everyone on the defensive line. Veteran Chandler Jones has not been practicing the past couple of weeks while coming off a down year in 2022, but if he could turn back the clock one more time, it would be invaluable to Wilson’s development in Year 1.
Is The Glass Empty? Or Is It Full? Raider Nation Gets To Decide
All in all, the preseason debut brought optimism to those who operate under the “glass-half-full approach”. And it brought uncertainty to those who use the glass half-full approach”. Regardless of where you land, it is undeniable that Wilson still has work to do as a run defender and finishing sacks.
Both sides are justified in their stance, but for my money, I expect everyone to be on the Tyree Wilson hype train by the midpoint of the regular season. He has all the traits necessary to be a terrorizer and shouldn’t feel as much pressure as other highly drafted pass rushers—not with Crosby on the same side of the ball.
Fans have been quick to say Ziegler and McDaniels botched their first-rounder. Now, with a clean bill of health and a preseason appearance under his belt, it is time for Tyree Wilson to make those folks look silly.
*Top Photo: USA Today/Getty