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Raiders looking for strong contributions from undrafted free agents

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Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

In any given year, a team will add around twice as many undrafted free agents as players they had drafted. But the odds of any of those players making the team, let alone becoming a major contributor are much longer than those upon whom the team used a draft pick. But the Raiders in recent years haven't played favorites with their draft picks.

"We're open minded," said Jack Del Rio about the team's penchant for giving UDFA's a shot. "Anybody that comes in with us, we're gonna give them a thorough evaluation and a solid look."

The main area on the team that bears out this ‘open minded' philosophy more than any other is the wide receiver position, In fact, since the new regime took over, undrafted receivers have played major roles in the offense and continue to do so.

Obviously the two starters are anything but undrafted -- both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree were chosen in the top ten of the draft. But after that, it's anything but former top prospect players.

Last season outside of Cooper and Crabtree, every receiver on the team was undrafted. Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, and Rod Streater.

Streater was the first UDFA receiver of the new regime to break out and was at one time the team's leading receiver. He was expected to be the third receiver last year behind Cooper and Crabtree, but an undisclosed illness put him behind in camp, and Roberts jumped up and took the third spot, putting up 32 catches for 480 yards and 5 touchdowns - several of those TD's were of the late game heroic variety.

Meanwhile Holmes was relegated to role player as a big red zone target, pulling in 14 catches for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Streater left as a free agent (Chiefs), while the rest of the receiving corps returns along with 2015 7th round pick Andre Debose who returns from an Achilles injury that had him out all last year. But Debose is expected to be used primarily as a return man, leaving an opening in the receiving corps and with no free agent additions or draft picks used on the position, there are only other undrafted free agent receivers on the roster to fill that final receiver spot.

Thus far, those receivers are Max McCaffrey, KJ Brent, Johnny Holton, and Jaydon Mickens, along with several other receivers who tried out for the team at rookie minicamps in the hopes of earning a UDFA contract.

Wide receiver is certainly not the only position where undrafted free agents have carved out a roster spot with the Raiders. Some others include former tryout QB Matt McGloin, and defensive lineman Denico Autry among them.

The Raiders' ability to find these guys is a tribute to the scouting department, who Del Rio said are "fighting for their guys that they believe in" and who they believe were talented enough to have been drafted. But when it comes to the qualities the team looks for in those undrafted guys, it's all about the intangibles.

"We want to add tough minded people to our organization," said Del Rio. "Guys that are hungry, that love football, so that would be one. Obviously you're always looking for size and speed and talent and things like that, but some guys that maybe don't get drafted they have that grit. They love ball and they're gonna give it all they have and some of those guys continue to develop and maybe for whatever reason didn't get the opportunities that some others did during their collegiate career, so they get here and all of a sudden they take off."

These undrafted players know with most teams they are behind the eight ball from the start, fighting an uphill and often times futile battle against drafted players. Where they choose to go is wholly dependent on where they think they have the best chance of cracking a regular season roster.

In that regard, this philosophy feeds on itself. You give undrafted free agents a legitimate shot of making the team and that leads to more of them wanting to come to the organization.

"I think it's a positive thing," Del Rio said of the perception of the team based on their penchant for employing undrafted free agents. "I think agents understand that when they're dealing with us that that is the case."

So far, the team added 18 undrafted free agents, putting the roster at 88 players. That gives them room to add two players who are currently trying out for the team during rookie minicamp, bringing to their undrafted rookie count to 20 or 22% of the offseason roster. That's a lot of opportunities to break into the NFL.