Raiders rookie Tyree Wilson

The Curious Case Of Tyree Wilson: Continue At Edge Or Bounce Inside?

When the Las Vegas Raiders were up to pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the team couldn’t look past a bendy, 6′ 6″ athletic machine whose wingspan measured 86″. Sin City’s roster already featured a pair of All-Pros at both edge spots, but passing on an edge rusher with such God-given traits felt impossible. And so, with the seventh-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Silver and Black turned in their card to select Tyree Wilson.

But Wilson’s rookie campaign wasn’t the sunshine and rainbows Raider Nation hoped it would be.

In 17 contests, the first-year Raider totaled 3.5 sacks and a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Wilson’s 493 snaps were the third-most on the team at his position, eventually getting overthrown by former third-round pick Malcolm Koonce.

Wilson’s pass rushing grade of 50.4 ranked ninth lowest among all edge rushers league-wide with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps. His win percentage against opposing blockers was just 6.4%, creating a sack or pressure on only 4.7% of snaps.

It was far from the season the organization, fans, and himself had hoped for.

The curious case of Tyree Wilson: Stay outside or move inside?

Wilson’s rookie campaign fell far short of expectations, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Texas Tech alum entered the NFL with a nagging foot injury, and as the season went on, his performances improved.

Throughout the first 12 games of his career, while going through the adjustment period of playing professional football in addition to continuing to heal, Wilson posted an abysmal 4.2% win percentage while forcing pressure on only 2.9% of snaps. His last five contests were much different. In this timeframe, Wilson more than doubled his win percentage, which rose from 4.2% to 9.5%. Instead of forcing pressure on 2.9% of snaps, he did so on 7.3%.

Maxx Crosby’s numbers in this timeframe, for example, stood at an 11.5% win percentage and an 8.6% pressure-per-snap percentage. That equates to 2% more wins than Tyree, and 1.3% more pressures per snap—two comparable stat lines.

The problem is, while Tyree Wilson undoubtedly improved a great deal, another young player in the Raiders’ edge unit took all the spotlight.

Malcolm Koonce had always been productive when given snaps, but was never given many snaps. In 2021, for example, Koonce posted an incredible 27.3% win percentage. His pressures per snap percentage was an equally impressive 13.6%. For reference, both of these numbers stood taller than Maxx Crosby’s, who finished the ’21 season as an All-Pro. This was on a mere 25 pass rushing attempts, however.

In 2023, Koonce totaled 344 pass rushing snaps on his way to a massive season. The 25-year-old posted a win percentage of 14.2% – comparable to Crosby’s 15.5% – and earned a pressure on 9.1% of snaps; the highest mark on the team among all defensive linemen.

It seems most likely that Koonce will start opposite of Crosby in 2023. Where does that leave Wilson?

Koonce dethrones Wilson at edge; now what?

If you use your seventh-overall pick to select a player, your vision is that the selected player will become a starter eventually. That vision has become much cloudier with the ascension of Koonce—at least at an edge spot. It is possible, however, that Tyree could see ample playtime at defensive tackle in the near future.

On the surface, this is an adequate solution. Malcolm Koonce continues starting at edge, and Wilson, the Raiders’ 2023 first-round pick, gets to join Koonce, Crosby and Christian Wilkins on the defensive line as an interior pass rusher.

But as is oftentimes the case, there’s much more to this than what’s on the surface.

A 6′ 6″ athletic edge rusher with an 86″ wingspan would only drop out of the top-5 in an annual NFL draft if their skillset was unrefined. Naturally, for seventh-overall pick Tyree Wilson, his skill set has a long way to go.

Truth be told, Wilson is as raw as they come. His pass-rush sets leave much to be desired and his get-off time is notably worse than most, if not all, of his teammates.

But that’s the beauty of Wilson. As he became healthier and more familiar with NFL action down the stretch, his win rate and pressure-per-snap percentages skyrocketed. Can you imagine what he can do in the future as he continues to build up his technical skill? And, to make it an even sweeter deal, who better to mentor a young edge rusher than Maxx Crosby?

Tyree Wilson: Setting the edge vs playing inside

When playing inside, many traits that make Tyree such a sensational edge prospect are nullified. The bendiness he possesses at 6′ 6″ matters little. His near mind blowing 86″ wingspan can’t be used to help set the edge. And then there’s his [much] less than ideal weight of 276 pounds for an interior defensive tackle who stands 6-foot-6.

For reference, the 6′ 4″ Christian Wilkins weighs north of 310 pounds. John Jenkins is over 325 pounds, and Adam Butler is about 300. Wilson has a few inches of height on each player and still is well under the weight of each.

All things considered, it doesn’t make much sense for a player of Tyree Wilson’s build to spend frequent time on the interior of the defensive line. His strengths are minimized, and there’s no glaring positive to latch onto when justifying the move.

Additionally, it’s important to go back to Wilson being as raw as they come at edge. The second-year Raider still has much to learn at the edge position. He’s still building his skill set and practicing the fundamentals.

Tyree Wilson isn’t a Clelin Ferrell-type who’s fundamentally gifted but lacks explosive ability. He’s the exact opposite: All the natural ability you could ask for is there, but the fundamentals still need to be learned at edge. Acknowledging this is imperative because, to understand that fact is to understand it’s impractical to have Wilson learn an entirely new position while he still has a long way to go in learning his primary, natural position.

But it isn’t just how traits Wilson possesses are better used at edge. It doesn’t even stop at Wilson still needing to build more skills at his natural edge position, let alone other positions. It’s the overall importance of having a third reliable edge rusher.

The power of the third edge rusher

The starting edge rushers are important, of course, but the first rotational edge rusher on a depth chart is nearly of equal importance. There’s a reason the Raiders chose to add Tyree Wilson despite having Crosby and Chandler Jones.

Yes, part of selecting Wilson was envisioning him taking over once Chandler was done playing football. The other part was making sure the defense didn’t miss a beat when one of the starting edge rushers needed to step off the field.

And that happens much more often than fans realize.

In 2023, the Raiders third most-used edge rusher saw the field 43.51% of all defensive snaps. That number is well-worth putting emphasis on when pointing out that Crosby played 95.41% of all defensive snaps.

The year prior, in 2022, the team’s third edge rusher played 43.83% of all defensive snaps. For reference, that percentage was higher than any defensive tackle not named Bilal Nichols. Two years earlier, in 2020, Las Vegas’ third and fourth edge rushers both saw over 39% of total defensive snaps.

And if not Tyree Wilson as the Silver and Black’s first rotational edge rusher, then who?

The depth at edge

If we were to take away Tyree Wilson, Janarius Robinson and Elerson Smith become the next edge rushers up to bat. If we combine Robinson and Smith with the four other edge rushers on the team’s roster behind Crosby and Koonce, the six come together for 1 total career sack.

None of that sounds ideal for players who will play north of 40% all defensive snaps.

And who’s to say that Wilson can’t leap Koonce as time goes on, just as Koonce leaped Wilson? The plan upon drafting Tyree was to keep him as the third edge rusher until Chandler Jones hung up his cleats as is. This was always how the situation was going to happen; how the plan was always mapped out.

And if Tyree does manage to dethrone Koonce, then the Raiders still have that dynamic third edge rusher. The team manages to have not one, not two, but three pass rushers from the edge who pose a legitimate threat to opposing offenses.

The rise of Koonce gives the Raiders a fantastic problem to have, especially if Tyree remains at edge. Either he or Wilson will earn the starting job opposite of Maxx Crosby while the other rotates in frequently and causes havoc. All-in-all, it is truly a win-win situation for the Silver and Black.

Hopefully Wilson can build on the promising end of his ’23 campaign. If he can, opposing quarterbacks will be up all night on game day against the Raiders.

*Top Photo: Getty Images

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