Oakland Raiders tight end Kyle Efaw at OTA practice 2012 (photo by Levi Damien)
An NFL rookie comes to his new team with few, if any guarantees. We have seen firsthand that draft picks as high as the third round can be cut before they ever see a regular season roster. Low round draft picks are cut all the time, and undrafted free agent signings are just hoping to hang on for a spot on the practice squad and most will never realize their NFL dream. Rookie tight end Kyle Efaw has much longer odds.
The former Boise State Bronco was on the Mackey Award preseason watch list heading into his senior season. He would finish the 2011 season with six touchdown catches and a spot on the All Mountain West Honorable Mention team.
Granted, Honorable Mention in the Mountain West won't exactly have NFL scouts placing you high on their draft boards. But he did grade out as a priority free agent.
Efaw, of course, was hoping to generate more interest-- enough to be a draft selection. But if not, certainly as an early phone call once the draft concluded. He would get neither.
The draft came and went still nothing. When your future is in the balance, it can make for a tense time.
"That was kinda crappy," said Efaw. "That night of the draft I just called my agent and he said there wasn't much interest so I kind of was thinking oh maybe I was done, you know, it was kind of up in the air... for a little while there I didn't know if I was going to get a chance or not... I was thinking ‘Where am I going to have to go work?' or ‘What am I going to do?'"
His agonizing over the very real possibility of never having his shot at the NFL would last about 24 hours before the Raiders came calling to offer him a tryout. Then the long odds began again.
"I just came in the rookie minicamp along with about thirty other guys or so... I figured I had nothing to lose. If it happened, it happened. If it didn't, I could go home and I don't know, I guess that would have been it. But there's nothing I could have done except play as hard as I could."
He made enough of an impression in tryouts to stick around for OTA's and mini camps. He is one of just five of those rookie tryouts on the roster. And throughout OTA's, offensive assistant coach Al Saunders has shown particular interest in his development. Saunders can often be seen sprinting downfield following a play with some words for one of his receivers. It can be hard to tell what the tone of Saunders' words are without hearing exactly what he says.
"It depends on if you're hustling or not," said Efaw of Saunders. "So if you're hustling and doing what you're supposed to be doing and playing as hard as you can, he comes down to encourage and he just brings a lot of good energy and it kind of gets you going a little bit. And if you're not, he going to come down and tell you you need to bring a little more and turn it up field and finish a play.
"Lately it has been [a good thing]. The first day or so I wasn't quite... every play I wasn't turning and running and so he would get on me a little but lately, you know, you don't want to disappoint your coaches and you want to give full effort on the little amount of reps I'm getting I'm usually running down field so it's usually good."
He has progressed from his first practices. He has gotten the playbook down and has shown some good hands in the receiving game. His primary area which needs work is as a blocker. He lacks the bulk of a solid blocking tight end and therefore must work extra hard on his blocking and footwork to compensate for it.
It appears he has shown enough potential so far that the coaching staff is willing to see if he can progress as a blocker in training camp. His philosophy is one that translates to any rookie hopeful given their window of opportunity.
"You can't control what they do. And you can't control whether they pick you. You can only control what effort you bring... study the playbook as much as you can while you're here so you know what you're doing out there and so you can play as fast as you can. Then if you're playing fast and running around making plays, they're gonna see that one tape."
As a tight end, he is in one of the more questionable position groups for the Raiders. He will have every opportunity to make this squad. And an opportunity is all he needs.