Las Vegas Raiders: 3 players under the most pressure ahead of 2024 training camp

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Sportsnaut

After mandatory minicamp, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce told his players to decompress, but he encouraged them to continue working toward improvement while away from team facilities.

NFL players have the liberty to spend their off time as they please, but a few guys may go light on leisure and heavy on work before training camp. 

This year, a few players from the Raiders’ 2023 draft class will have a chance to earn starting jobs, but if they don’t earn those spots in the summer, they may be stuck in backup roles for the foreseeable future. 

Let’s take a closer look at three players who need strong performances at training camp a lot more than their Silver and Black teammates.

Related: Why the Las Vegas Raiders may be stingy with extensions in the 2024 offseason

Quarterback Aidan O’Connell

Aidan O'Connell
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders have a legitimate quarterback competition between Gardner Minshew and Aidan O’Connell.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler confirmed that the Raiders have an even battle between the two signal-callers, though he also said star wideout Davante Adams “loves” O’Connell, who showed more of his leadership qualities in the spring.

With that said, Fowler’s ESPN colleague, Paul Gutierrez, noted that Minshew and O’Connell struggled with accuracy at practices through mandatory minicamp. 

Minshew has served as a spot starter and backup quarterback for three different teams in five seasons. This offseason, the Raiders signed him to a two-year, $25 million contract. He’s not under the same pressure as O’Connell to win the job though.

Entering his second season, O’Connell should approach this battle as his one shot to be an NFL starter. 

Middle-round quarterbacks rarely get a second opportunity to compete for the lead position. Across the league, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, and Brock Purdy are the only starting quarterbacks who were selected after the third round of their draft classes.

So, O’Connell, whom Las Vegas selected in the fourth round of the 2023 draft, must make the most of his shot to beat out a veteran for the spot.

O’Connell has a bit of an edge over Minshew with a year of experience playing with Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker, and Michael Mayer, but if he doesn’t win the job now, the Raiders will likely draft or sign a starting-caliber player to immediately take over the offense in 2025.

Related: Where does Aidan O’Connell land in Sportsnaut’s NFL QB Rankings?

Defensive tackle Byron Young

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders beat reporters have said very little about Byron Young’s growth through the spring, which leads to uncertainty about his second-year development.

Moreover, we should pay close attention to how general manager Tom Telesco invested in the defensive tackle position.

The Raiders signed Christian Wilkins to a four-year, $110 million contract. They also re-signed John Jenkins, who’s going into his age-35 term, and Adam Butler, who turned 30 in April.

Wilkins is one of the league’s best defensive tackles. Jenkins and Butler earned their extensions with quality performances on the interior of the Raiders defensive line. 

But with Matthew Butler and Nesta Jade Silvera competing for spots in the rotation, Young should approach training camp with a little more urgency than his peers.

Remember, Las Vegas selected Young in the third round of the 2023 draft. Former Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler selected Butler (fifth round) and Silvera (seventh round) on Day 3 of the 2022 and 2023 drafts, respectively.

Pierce made it clear that a player’s draft status won’t factor into the team’s roster decisions. 

Therefore, Young must earn his snaps with a strong showing through the summer in order to crack a crowded rotation. As a rookie last year, he only played 99 defensive snaps in six games, logging four tackles.

Because of the Raiders’ depth at defensive tackle, Young may have to battle for a spot on the team’s initial 53-man depth chart.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders: 5 roster moves to make before 2024 training camp starts

Cornerback Jakorian Bennett

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Las Vegas Raiders
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

As a rookie, Jakorian Bennett had a shot to prove himself in a starting role, but he didn’t fare well in a sink-or-swim situation.

Bennett appeared in 14 games, starting in four, and allowed a 102.5 passer rating and a 68.4 percent completion rate in coverage. 

In 2023, Bennett opened the year as a starter and finished it on the bench as a special teamer, but he’ll get another chance to carve out a role on the boundary opposite Jack Jones.

The Raiders have yet to sign an established veteran cornerback. They didn’t draft one until the fourth round (Decamerion Richardson) and double-dipped at the position for M.J. Devonshire in the seventh round.

Heading into training camp, seventh-year veteran Brandon Facyson seems to have the early edge on Bennett for the lead position, according to The Athletic’s Tashan Reed

“Facyson has a sizable advantage in experience — he’s going into his seventh season while Bennett is headed into his second — and received more first-team reps in the practices open to reporters,” Reed wrote.

Unless the Raiders sign a veteran or one of the rookies makes a push for the open position, Bennett has a one-on-one battle with Facyson that he could win this summer.

On the flip side, if Bennett doesn’t make a second-year leap, he could eventually fall behind Richardson and Devonshire on the depth chart.

Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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