The Oakland Raiders are a team on the rise in the AFC. Many experts are predicting that they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. There are multiple rookies that are in Raider camp that will make the 53 man roster and many more that will not. Despite the Raiders coming into training camp with a solid roster, as many as eleven rookies are projected to make the squad – seven draft picks and as many as four UDFAs! Here is a list of the young talent that has impressed this camp and preseason and most likely will be on the 53 man roster.
In the fifth round, the Raiders drafted running back DeAndre Washington. In Washington, Raiders management believes they have found an excellent complement to Latavius Murray. Washington has shown his speed, agility, and power during training camp and in Saturdays’ third preseason game and if Murray were to go down with any type of injury, Washington’s speed and agility will help the run game continue without missing a beat. Even with Murray carrying the bulk of the work, Washington will get plenty of opportunity to play and grow.
In addition to Washington, Jalen Richard, an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi, is making the most of his opportunity. The 5’8” stocky back could potentially be a potent special team’s player and third string back to increase the depth at the return game and running back positions. The Raiders have done well stockpiling young running backs in the past couple of years and Richard could be pushing Taiwan Jones for a roster spot. In practice and in Saturday’s preseason game versus the Titans, Jalen Richard has flashed speed and the ability to make defenders miss. He also offers some explosive ability in the return game and could be in line to be the primary kickoff returner. Initially, it seemed unlikely that Richard would make the team because he is similar in size and style to DeAndre Washington. Richard’s talent shone in training camp, however, and it would be a big surprise if he didn’t make the active roster.
The Raiders came into camp with four receiver spots fairly well set but with a fifth receiver position open for the taking. While one more preseason game remains, UDFA Johnny Holton is the most likely player to take that fifth receiver spot. Holton has rare speed and can really help the team stretch the field vertically if he were called upon.
Fellow UDFA K.J. Brent, a 6’4″ lanky receiver, has also had solid moments for the Silver and Black but hasn’t stood out quite as much or as consistently as Holton. Therefore, it seems more likely that Brent will secure a position on the practice squad versus the active roster.
Defensive end Jihad Ward has received high praise from the players and Raiders’ staff since he walked into the OTA’s in late spring. Like Muhammad Wilkerson of the Jets, Ward has all the physical traits (6’5” and 297lbs) to be a dominant force on the defensive line. Some eyebrows were raised when the Raiders drafted Ward out of Illinois early in the second round with experts expressing concerns that he was still a work in progress. However, in camp he has shown tremendous improvement skill and his size and strength make him difficult to block during training camp. With Mario Edwards Jr. still nursing a hip injury and Denico Autry struggling to make any impact, Ward has been a starter at DE since early in camp and figures to make a big impact this year.
In the seventh round, Raiders selected Vadal Alexander to provide depth to an offensive line that may be the best in the NFL. He was projected as a third round pick by some analysts due to his size, versatility and starting experience at football powerhouse LSU. Some feel that he fell all the way to the seventh because he will have difficulty moving well enough in the NFL to keep defenders away from the play and finish blocks. If Alexander develops his technique well enough to mask his lack of ideal footspeed and can use his size and wingspan more efficiently he could become one of the steals of the draft.
West Virginia’s Karl Joseph was selected as the Raiders #1 pick in 2016 and early returns are promising. Many analysts were concerned pre-draft that Joseph may not see any playing time due to an ACL injury he sustained early in the 2015 season. The Raiders took it slow with Joseph’s recovery and held him out of OTAs completely. This conservative approach has allowed him to only miss a couple of practices in Training Camp and the expectation is that he will be the starting strong safety week 1 – he’s been getting starter reps consistently in Camp and in games. He looks ready to step right in and be a force on the field and the Raiders are already very happy with this selection as he looks like the heir apparent to Charles Woodson as the leader of the secondary.
The Raiders are poised to have other impact rookies in addition to Washington, Richard, Holton, Ward, Alexander and Joseph. Shilique Calhoun and Cory James, the teams’ third and sixth round picks in the 2016 draft, respectively, are not in line to be starters at this point but both are set to contribute heavily on special teams and as defensive backups. Connor Cook, the teams fourth round pick this year and the final drafted rookie to be discussed in this piece, is going to make the team as the third QB and 2016 is set to be a developmental year for him with the team hoping he can be the primary backup to Derek Carr in 2017.
Like Richard and Holton, DT Darius Latham and DE/LB James Cowser are poised to make the squad after going undrafted. Latham and Cowser both have shown speed and the ability to disrupt on the defensive line and both have a decent chance to beat out more experienced competition to play for the Raiders this season.
The Raiders rookie talent pool is packed and while these are our best predictions, it’s going to be fascinating to see both which players make the team and then who really has an impact. Most years there is some player that few saw making the final squad. Who is going to be the guy no one saw coming this year?