Since day one of rookie mini camps, Conner Vernon has been making his presence felt in Raiders OTA's. During week two of OTA's head coach Dennis Allen pointed to Vernon as the standout undrafted free agent. That has to be great news for a player who is fighting for a roster spot.
"It was definitely a humbling thing just to see my play out here has been noticed, but it wasn't a thing that I took for granted," said Vernon. "I'm gonna use that as motivation and go from there. As much as what I've been doing now, I still got a long way to go so by no means am I satisfied with my performance so far in OTA's. I definitely got a long way to go."
The skills that Vernon showcased on the practice field thus far makes one wonder how a guy like him goes undrafted. That was a question people were asking even before the ACC record setting receiver set foot on the Raiders practice field . Vernon wondered the same thing.
"To go undrafted, yeah, it surprised me but it is what it is. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself and I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me. It just is what it is and I couldn't be happier to be here getting a shot at this and go from there. It is what it is, the past is the past, I'm not gonna sit and dwell on it. I'm just glad to be here now and really focused on how I can make myself better every day and help this team win"
This isn't, however, the first time Vernon has practiced with NFL players. The past two seasons he has attended a camp hosted by the Peyton Manning and Eli Manning and that experience has better prepared him for the stage on which he currently stands.
"I've worked out with Peyton a bunch actually," said Vernon. "Both last year [and this year]... He came down with a lot of his guys and Eli came down with his guys. It was quite the experience from those guys as well as the Mannings and just hope to take it and use it up here.
"Just how they work. They're run guys, joke around guys but when they step in between those lines, it's a different attitude. And really how they set routes up. I really paid attention to Welker and Victor Cruz, those slot guys because that's what I always figured I'd play in the league just from people telling me that ‘he's more of a prototypical slot guy'. So, I just really focused in on that and saw how they set stuff up and how they just related to their quarterback and just try to take in as much as that as possible.
"I wanted them to focus on their work and let them do their thing so I just took a lot of mental reps and really just paid attention to how they worked and how they set routes up. Those guys have been doing it for a long time so it was good to see."
That camp isn't just helpful for Vernon as an NFL player but it also is the kind of experience with a rival quarterback that the few others on this team have. But when Vernon was in the camp with Peyton Manning, he wasn't thinking about whether he would play against them, his thinking was he could be making an impression that might lead to teaming up with him.
"At that point the draft hadn't started yet so it was kind of like ‘this guy could be throwing to me or this guy could be throwing to me' so I just gotta kind of take away who they are for the second time and just look at them as normal quarterbacks or even the quarterback that could be throwing to you in a couple weeks.
"Those guys were quoted a few times talking about my ability, what they saw and what they were able to assess from those workouts we did. They just told me, again, 31 teams may not like you but you're only going to need one team to like you."
Unfortunately for Vernon, 32 teams passed on him in the draft. But as soon as the draft was over, he suddenly had plenty of suitors looking to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
"Yeah, I talked to a few (teams)," said Vernon. "As soon as the draft is over your phone starts blowing up but yeah I did receive a few calls and ultimately my decision was who and where would be the best fit for me at the time. A few of the teams that had called me had already drafted receivers in the draft. Oakland had only drafted Brice (Butler) at the time in the seventh round. That was just I felt like it was the best situation for me to come out here and showcase my stuff."
Thus far he has done well to showcase his talents. As a slot receiver, he is in direct competition with Jacoby Ford for playing time in the slot. And with Ford's injury history, there could be playing time to be had.
In Denver, they have the best slot receiver in the game in Wes Welker. So, while getting drafted to catch passes from Peyton Manning may have been great, the situation in Denver is not the ideal for a player like Vernon who is fighting to outplay his undrafted status.
The Raiders and Vernon are envisioning that scene following their bi-annual matchup with the Broncos, Peyton Manning approaching Vernon and wishing the Broncos had been that one team that took a chance on him. But they both know Oakland is a far better place for Vernon to get his career started.