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Raiders UDFA profile: LB Josh Shirley once highly regarded, looking to return to form

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a recurring theme it seems with the Raiders late round picks and undrafted free agents in recent years. It seems the majority of them have at one time or another shown great talent, only to fall out of favor due to character concerns and/or troubling incidents.

In that regard, undrafted free agent linebacker Josh Shirley fits right into Reggie McKenzie's ‘type'.

This 6-3, 234-pound pass rusher was in three different programs during his five years in college. One of those transfers was by choice, the other was not.

A one-time Southern California high school elite defensive recruit chose to stay close to home and headed to UCLA. But before he could play a down for the Bruins, he was dismissed from the team for theft along with Paul Richardson who headed for Colorado and eventually became a round two selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

A player with Shirley's talent was still in demand and he headed to Washington to resume his college career. In his four years there, he was squeaky clean, even earning a spot on the Honorable Mention All-Academic Team his junior year.

What became concerning, however, were his dwindling stats.

He came out the gates with the Huskies as an elite pass rusher. In his redshirt freshman season, he appeared in all 13 games, starting 7 and posted 8.5 sacks, 12.0 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles. He followed that up with a sophomore season of 6.5 sacks, 9.0 tackles for loss and an impressive 6 forced fumbles.

After that season, despite being relegated mostly to a situational pass rusher, Shirley was regarded by many draft gurus as a potential future first round pick. All he would need to do was improve on his numbers or at very least, stay consistent. He didn't.

That season, though he appeared in every game, he didn't start any of them. His numbers dropped significantly to 3.0 sacks (all in the same game vs Illinois), 4.0 tackles for loss, and just 8 combined tackles (5 solo).

He wasn't going to get much NFL interest after a season like that. So, under the reasoning of wanting to play closer to home, he transferred to UNLV to finish out his college career.

Unfortunately, that didn't do much for his numbers either, as he put up just 2.0 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss and 20 total tackles (6 solo).

He will line up at outside linebacker in Raiders' camp, which they are hoping will bring out the best in him. At just 234 pounds, he is a bit light to play defensive end at the NFL level. The Raiders have depth overall at the linebacker spot, but the strong side linebacker spot behind Khalil Mack is wide open for the taking.

Much of his production came from being relentless in pursuit and never giving up on a play. It's hard to gauge how he will perform at the outside linebacker spot due to his having lined up mostly at the defensive end position throughout his college career. Though he played outside linebacker in the College Gridiron Showcase and did a decent job shedding blocks in the run game, with his coverage needing some work.

Shirley proved at least early in his college career that if in the right position/situation, he can make plays. If he can find his niche with the Raiders - namely outside linebacker - he might find his production again. He certainly will be given that opportunity. His ticket to making the team -- as is often the case with players in his position -- will be on special teams.