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Raiders rookie linebacker making a push for roster spot

Updated August 25, 2023 - 3:16 pm

The Raiders wrap up their preseason schedule against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Saturday. At stake is extending the NFL’s longest preseason winning streak to seven.

But even more is at stake for the rookies trying to make the final 53-man roster, which will be decided on Tuesday. A handful of players will be making a final push. Chief among them is linebacker Drake Thomas, an undrafted free agent from North Carolina State who is the club’s leading tackler in the preseason with 13.

Thomas went undrafted mostly because of his size. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, he is decidedly undersized as an NFL middle linebacker.

But there is no questioning his football skills coming off two straight 100+ tackle seasons at North Carolina State and an impressive showing so far with the Raiders.

From the first day of camp to now, he’s proven himself to be a fast, physical, instinctual defensive and special teams disruptor. In the process, he’s put himself firmly in the discussion for a spot on the final roster.

His chances of making the team increased when second-year linebacker Darien Butler suffered a season-ending injury against the Rams, although Thomas has been clearly pushing on the door throughout.

“He just has a knack of finding the ball, and he’s a tough kid,” said Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. “So, really given himself an opportunity to compete, and that’s why he’s here. That’s why we liked him after the draft, and we’ll continue to try to see if he can progress.”

Tyree Wilson is a different kind of rookie. The seventh overall pick in last April’s NFL draft, he’s a player the Raiders are counting on for this season and the foreseeable future.

Wilson injured his foot last November at Texas Tech and was just recently cleared to begin practicing with the Raiders 10 days ago. Of those workouts, the majority were limited to light work during positional group periods, although he did participate in some team drills over the last three practices.

“He’s long. He’s explosive. He’s fast,” said Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler. “Now, he just needs to learn how to play from a technique standpoint at the NFL level and understand he’s still learning the scheme and what the calls mean.”

The question is, has he done enough in practice that the Raiders are comfortable putting him on the field against the Cowboys? Even if in limited snaps?

Another highly touted rookie, tight end Michael Mayer, a second-round pick, made his NFL debut last week against the Rams and could stand to get more snaps ahead of the season opener against the Broncos on Sept. 10.

In addition, several other rookies — including wide receiver Tre Tucker, linebacker Amari Burney, safety Christopher Smith, defensive linemen Byron Young and Nesta Jade-Silvera, cornerback Jakorian Bennett and quarterback Aidan O’Connell — all could get extended playing time against the Cowboys.

Among the undrafted free agents, keep an eye on defensive lineman Adam Plant, guard McClendon Curtis, tackle Dalton Wagner, cornerback Azizi Hearn and safety Jaydon Grant.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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