It’s finally here, the Las Vegas Raiders season is upon us with the Hall of Fame game against the Jacksonville Jaguars set to kick off at 5:00 pm PT
While it may only be the preseason and several starters won’t suit up on both sides, it’s our first taste of Raiders football since January and we’ll get our first look at the 2022 draft class, so there’s plenty to be excited about.
Jacksonville will be leaning on a handful of rookies as three were listed as starters on their first depth chart of the year. While Las Vegas doesn’t have any first-year first-stringers listed on their roster, they do have several young bucks who are looking to make their initial impression in the NFL a good one. And the best way to do that is to win some one-on-one battles against their classmates.
Thayer Munford vs. Travon Walker
How about a matchup between the No. 1 overall pick and a seventh-rounder?
Truth be told, there might only be a handful of snaps with these two squaring off as Walker is listed as a starter and Munford is third on the depth chart at right tackle behind Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker. However, I’d be surprised to see Colton Miller take many reps, if any, on the other side which could open up an opportunity for Munford.
The Ohio State product was one of Pro Football Focus’ top-graded offensive tackles in both pass protection and the ground game while protecting the blind side back in 2020. Now, he’s battling for playing time, and potentially a roster spot, and putting together some good tape against the top player in the draft class could go a long way towards those goals.
As for Walker, he’s looking to prove that his college production isn’t indicative of the numbers he’ll be able to put up in the pros. He only had 61 total tackles and 9.5 sacks in three seasons at Georgia which isn’t bad per se, but not what you’d expect from the top pick of the draft. Getting off to a hot start on national television should inspire the Jaguars’ fanbase that the team made the right choice.
Neil Farrell Jr. vs. Luke Fortner
To me, this is the most exciting rookie matchup of the night.
Fortner has performed well enough in the Jaguars’ camp to be listed as their starting center heading into the contest, while Farrell has a chance to move up the depth chart with the Raiders’ open competition at defensive tackle. Plus, these two were only drafted a round apart from each other.
The Kentucky product was one of PFF’s highest-graded centers in the country last season, coming in at No. 7 with an 85.0 mark overall, the best among SEC centers. Part of the reason for that is he only allowed five pressures all year and notched a 99.2 efficiency rating in pass protection. For comparison’s sake, those numbers were slightly better than Tyler Linderbaum’s — two fewer pressures and 0.1 points more efficient — who was the first center to come off the board in April.
But the ground game might be the most intriguing part about this matchup. Fortner ranked second among SEC centers with an 84.5 run blocking grade in 2021, while Farrell was first in the conference at his position with an 89.9 run defense grade. The latter’s grade was also third in all of FBS, and he led the SEC defensive tackles with 24 run stops a year ago.
As a pass rusher, the LSU product had 24 pressures last season which was tied for seventh among all SEC DTs, but that was the only year he posted significant numbers in that department. Proving that he can consistently get after the quarterback is likely one of his primary goals during the preseason, especially in the first game.
These two squared off in Lexington last season, with Farrell getting blanked as a rusher but posting a 72.4 run defense grade and recording two defensive stops. Fortner struggled a bit as a run blocker with a 61.7 mark but didn’t allow a single pressure en route to an 80.6 pass protection grade.
Dylan Parham vs. Chad Muma
At first glance, an offensive lineman against an off-ball linebacker may not seem like much of a one-on-one battle since they’d mainly be limited to facing each other on run plays. However, Muma rushed the passer 95 times last year and finished second among Mountain West LBs with 21 pressures, so we could see these two square off quite a bit.
Parham played his first season at right guard in 2021 and managed to lead the American conference at the position with an 84.5 grade in pass protection. He allowed just 10 pressures — no sacks — which was tied for the 10th fewest in the conference, but he registered the most pass-blocking snaps with 545.
The former Tiger was the top dog in the ground game with a 79.2 run-blocking grade, however, he’ll have his hands full with the former Cowboy.
Muma ranked second among all FBS linebackers with an elite 91.1 run defense grade in 2021. Part of the reason for that is he finished tied for second with 50 run stops and led the position group with 80 solo tackles as a run defender.
Fellow rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd is injured and not expected to play in the Hall of Fame game, so Muma should get some extra reps and will be looking to move up from the second string, where he’s currently listed on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Parham is in a similar situation, battling it out for one of the Raiders’ two open guard spots.