Late last season, a gem emerged among the Raiders' receiving corps. His name was Andre Holmes and he emerged seemingly from nowhere to start for the Raiders in place of the injured Denarius Moore. In doing so, the former undrafted free agent leapt past two drafted players and a former starter.
Holmes was an afterthought when he was signed in May of 2013 along with that year's crop of undrafted free agents. He came out of little Hillsdale College, spent a half season with the Cowboys, and a season on their practice squad before being cut. Then he signed with the Patriots but was cut before he could even attend a practice.
To make matters worse, after spending the entire off-season and training camp with the Raiders, he was suspended for the first four games of last season. It makes it all the more impressive that he was named the starter in week 12 last season.
"Years before, I didn't have game tape to look at," said Holmes. "I didn't even have practice tape. It's almost like starting from ground zero in a way. Now I have a standard, a foundation to build on, and that's so key for me to grow."
That foundation is a pretty solid one. He had 25 catches for 431 yards over just the final seven games of last season, four of which were starts. The 6-5, 208-pound receiver already had enough confidence in the coaches to be chosen over former starter Jacoby Ford, fifth round pick Juron Criner, and rookie seventh round pick, Brice Butler.
Now, for the first time in his career, he comes into the off-season being looked to as a top receiving target and will make a strong push to start. With James Jones as an odds on starter, the other starting wide receiver job is up for grabs. Holmes' primary will come from incumbent starters Rod Streater and Denarius Moore with Greg Little making a bid as well.
What Holmes offers is a unique combination of size and skillset. He presents and intriguing target for Matt Schaub, who enjoyed 6-3, 219-pound All Pro receiver Andre Johnson in Houston the past seven seasons. Now Holmes will be hoping he can be Schaub's new favorite Andre.
"He's a long-strider, big guy who can stretch the field vertically and go up and get the football," Schaub said of Holmes. "Obviously his height and his ability to adjust to it in the air, I think, are some of his strengths, as well as some of the intermediate routes - just being able to get to the top of his route and come out of his cut. I think he can be a guy who can stretch the field for us."
These attributes were enough to keep him around for two years in Dallas and generate interest from the Patriots but they never gave him the chance. Now he has been given that opportunity. If he can simply continue to perform as he did last season, the Raiders could be rewarded for their foresight and patience.
"In a way, you need an opportunity," Holmes said. "But in the last year I've seen so much growth in my game. I've been able to finish plays and catch everything that comes, even the easy ones. That type of growth, especially in being a pro, is really encouraging. And the chance to play, the opportunity, really helped also."
"Coming from years where I didn't get any playing time to a point where I'm getting a lot is a confidence booster. The key now is succeeding when you get your opportunity."