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Youth in limbo: Jakorian Bennett, Byron Young among younger Raiders who must step up this offseason

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By: Ray Aspuria

Cornerback Jakorian Bennett impressed the Las Vegas Raiders coaching staff early in the 2023 season. But by seasons end, the 2023 fourth-round pick’s snap count decreased dramatically. | Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Return on investment of prior draft picks key to roster building in Las Vegas

There’s merit to the notion that since a new general manager didn’t have a hand in making selections in the drafts that preceded them, its easy for the new personnel lead to have no connection to said prospects.

That can be the case for Las Vegas Raiders general manager Tom Telesco.

He had no hand in the 2023 and 2022 Silver & Black draft classes as he was the personnel lead for the Los Angeles Chargers while Dave Ziegler was the GM in Las Vegas.

While he may not have any prior connected to the Raiders draft selections he inherits, he’s now closely vested in their progress and status as members of the roster. After all, he’ll be one of the key determinants on how long the previous draft picks remain in Las Vegas.

Thus, it’s vital youngsters like Jakorian Bennett, Byron Young, and Tyree Wilson, to name a few, step up this offseason. Telesco is a big proponent of the “build via the draft” mantra and the Raiders need to get more return on investment (ROI) on selections — be it early or late round picks.

Bennett and Young, in particular, are youth in limbo in Las Vegas. Both were mid-round selections, taken at positions of need, and experienced the peak and valleys of a rookie year in the NFL. Let’s take a look in detail on Bennett, Young, and other draft picks who need to move the needle this offseason.

Green Bay Packers v Las Vegas Raiders
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Byron Young, a 2023 third-round pick, finds himself in a suddenly loaded defensive tackle position in Las Vegas. The Raiders added elite talent in Christian Wilkins and re-signed capable veterans John Jenkins and Adam Butler.

2023 Draft

Bryon Young: The 70th overall pick of the class out of Alabama, Young arrived as run-stuffing defensive tackle prospect that had potential to be an end in certain formations/alignments. Young was only active for six games in his rookie year and was inactive from Week 8 on. He played a total of 99 snaps on defense and 13 on special teams racking up four total tackles. Las Vegas did bring in premiere free agent Christian Wilkins to the position group as well as re-sign productive veterans John Jenkins and Adam Butler. If Young doesn’t stand out or turn heads this offseason, hey may get lost in the numbers game.

Jakorian Bennett: Taken with the 104th overall pick out of Maryland, Bennett turned heads in the offseason and started the first four games as a rookie cornerback. He played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 1 and 3 and 91 percent in Week 2 before only playing 26 in Week 4. From there, his snap counts were varied before playing zero in the final three weeks of the season. Cornerback remains a need spot for the Raiders and Bennett can get back into the mix with another strong offseason. Confidence is easy to lose and hard to regain as an NFL cornerback but Bennett still has immense speed.

Christopher Smith II: A fifth-round pick (170th overall), Smith joined a Raiders team with veteran starters ahead of him at safety in Tre’Von Moehrig and newly signed free agent Marcus Epps. As such, his participation was rarely on defense (22 snaps) but he was a special teamer (191 snaps). Being a cog in Tom McMahon’s special teams units is a sure way to earn a roster spot, but Smith did arrive to the Raiders as an instinctive safety that’s willing to mix it up as a tackler.

Amari Burney: The Raiders depth at linebacker isn’t ideal and this sixth-round pick (203rd overall) has the size and speed to develop into a contributor. Burney did start one game and played in six total his rookie year as he finished with 15 total tackles. He was inactive from Weeks 1-6 and Week 11-13, but a good offseason can help the safety-turned-linebacker get into the defensive mix.

Nesta Jade Silvera: The seventh rounder (231st overall) has the build and mentality to be a nose tackle in the NFL but he was only active for two games where he registered snaps (and had two total tackles). He was inactive 12 games and didn’t play in the final three weeks despite being active. Las Vegas did load up at defensive tackle and like Young, Jade Silvera may be lost in the numbers game.

2022 Draft

Matthew Butler: Only active for the final two games of the Raiders’ 2023 slate, the fifth-round pick (175th overall) is part of a stocked defensive tackle position group. Still only 24, there’s time for Butler to make an impression, like the other young defensive tackles. But with big money tied into one DT and cheap productive veterans too, practice squad or cut may lie in Butler’s future.

Minnesota Vikings v Las Vegas Raiders
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images
Brittain Brown (38) may find himself as the odd man out in the Las Vegas Raiders running back room unless he makes an impression this offseason.

Brittain Brown: A seventh-round selection (250th overall), Brown arrived from UCLA in the same class as White. He missed all of 2023 after landing on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury and played on special teams his rookie season. At already 26 years old, Brown needs to make an impression or simply be camp fodder.

Lead By Example

The younger players don’t have to look far to find draft picks who have succeeded immediately or taken time to become productive Raiders. Dylan Parham, Zamir White, and Thayer Munford Jr. were taken in the third, fourth, and seventh rounds of the 2022 draft, respectively, and carved out playing time since being selected.

Parham is a mainstay on the offensive line at guard, White showcased what he can do at running back this past season, and Munford earned starting snaps at left and right tackle this past year. Each has an opportunity to earn more playing time this coming year. Ditto for 2023 picks Tyree Wilson (first round), Michael Mayer (second), Tre Tucker (third), and Aidan O’Connell (fourth). Each carved out roles and 2024 can create new horizons.

Products of the 2021 draft — edge rusher Malcolm Koonce, linebacker Divine Deablo, and Nate Hobbs — have developed into quality starters. Koonce, in particular, had a breakout campaign this past season with eight sacks.

Interestingly enough, two steadfast starters came from the 2019 and 2018 drafts — edge rusher Maxx Crosby (fourth round) and left tackle Kolton Miller (first round). That duo is the only remnants of the two draft classes. But both are tried and true examples of prime ROI.

Looking back on the 2020 draft class, with cornerback Amik Robertson signing with the Detroit Lions in free agency, none of the seven picks the Raiders made remain on the team.

Originally posted on Silver And Black Pride