ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) The rebuilding job that turned the Oakland Raiders from a three-win team to the first playoff berth since 2002 centered around a core of high draft picks led by Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, and several key free agent signings.
Those stars got plenty of help from players who arrived in Oakland with much less attention.
The Raiders feature 19 players who entered the league as undrafted free agents, including key contributors such as running back Jalen Richard, receiver Seth Roberts and left tackle Donald Penn.
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”It’s just testament to this organization and the staff upstairs to find guys that are somewhat overlooked,” Richard said. ”They give those guys a chance, and they turn out to be good players and give depth to the team.”
The undrafted Raiders have accounted for 15 of the team’s 46 touchdowns and play key roles at almost every spot on the field, from skilled positions to the trenches to special teams – even quarterback.
Oakland’s commitment to keeping the best players regardless of draft status can be personified by backup quarterback Matt McGloin’s spot on the team. He came to Oakland on a tryout after being passed over by all 32 teams in the 2013 draft, was impressive enough to get a contract and an invitation to camp.
He wasn’t expected to stick around with Oakland having traded for Matt Flynn and drafted Tyler Wilson in the fourth round that offseason to go with returning quarterback Terrelle Pryor. But McGloin beat out Wilson for the No. 3 quarterback spot, moved up the depth chart when Flynn was cut, and even made six starts as a rookie in place Pryor. He’s stuck around ever since.
”We have so many of these young guys that are creating their own stories,” coach Jack Del Rio said. ”Their desire and their effort, their energy, it’s healthy for the team to have that around. We let guys earn their way and these guys that have come in, no matter how you get here, once you get here take advantage of the opportunity.”
Despite entering the season with the most talented roster in Oakland in years, the Raiders kept four players from this year’s undrafted class on the original 53-man roster, including Richard and defensive tackle Darius Latham.
Richard finished second on the team with 491 yards rushing, added 29 catches for 194 yards, scored three touchdowns and was the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner as he moved ahead of fifth-round pick DeAndre Washington on the depth chart.
Latham has been a rotation player on the line alongside Denico Autry, who joined the team two years ago.
”You’re always behind the eight-ball in a sense,” Latham said. ”The only thing you can do is take advantage of any plays that you get.”
Among the other key undrafted players are Roberts, who has 38 catches and five TDs; receiver Andre Holmes, who has three TD catches and is a key special teams player; and fullback Jamize Olawale.
General manager Reggie McKenzie said credit for finding these players goes to his scouts, who identify possible targets before the draft and keep in close contact throughout the draft so the team can pounce as soon as the draft ends.
Then, having a coaching staff filled with good teachers helps those players develop. When they have this sort of success, it is even more gratifying for McKenzie than hitting on a first-round pick.
”You expect to have good players early in the draft,” he said. ”But to have some of those later round guys and free agents not only make it but produce in years two, three and be warranted of that second contract. That’s what it’s all about.”
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