During Raiders OTA's last week, the one name that kept coming up over and over again was that of undrafted rookie wide receiver Joe Hansley who has clearly been making quite an impression on his teammates and coaches since he arrived last month.
The Colorado State product wasn't a priority free agent signing by the Raiders. He was invited to rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. And since the moment this 5-9, 168-pounder took the field, he has earned his shot.
Day one of Raiders' OTA's, there were a couple of plays that stood out. One was a play in which Hansley went up the left sideline where Connor Cook put the ball in the air for him. Hansley was in double coverage and still adjusted toward the sideline, showing great concentration to haul in the pass over his shoulder with both defenders draped all over him.
Hansley continued to impress in the second week of OTA's. Enough so that Jack Del Rio mentioned him specifically as standing out among the team's young hopefuls for his hands. Derek Carr also mentioned Hansley by name.
"You see Hansley always working the corners with his route-running abilities; really good," said Carr. "Really good routes. Very impressive."
The following day's practice was not open to the media, but Raiders team site writer Eddie Paskal noted that Hansley's playmaking continued.
Hansley made a handful of impressive plays Wednesday, operating from both the slot and out wide, and it seemed like he ended up with the ball in his hands every time he lined up.
Listed at 5'9", Hansley is no doubt on the smaller side for an NFL wide receiver, but he's shown throughout OTAs that he has the quickness and versatility to make up for what he might lack in size.
Then last week new Raiders long snapper Andrew East did an AMA session with fans where he was asked which undrafted rookie looked the best, and he responded by simply saying "Joe Hansley is unreal."
As you might imagine, Hansley has a lot of people rooting for his NFL success. So even though he may not be reading his press clippings, it's pretty much impossible for him not catch wind of the good things that are being said about him.
"I've heard a little bit here and there from friends back home that are keeping up with the Raiders, but other than that I try not to look too much into it so early," Hansley told me this week. "I just gotta keep making plays."
And keep making plays he did, including the catch of the day in the team's first minicamp practice Tuesday. He took a pass from Matt McGloin on a deep out, plucked it out of the air, turned up field and streaked down the left sideline for a long score.
There is a receiver spot up for grabs for the Raiders and it will likely go to one of the several undrafted rookies the team signed this offseason. Most specifically, the team is in need of a slot receiver - a position at which Hansley could be an ideal fit.
"I'm best suited for the slot," said Hansley. "That's where they've had me, that's where coach Moore's put me. I think that's where I do best, just because of the match-ups and stuff like that."
"I got great hands, I can catch anything that comes at me, and I think I'm a good route runner that can get open. It's no secret that I'm not the biggest guy, I'm not the tallest, I'm really not the fastest, but I think I got good technique and savviness on the field that can get me open."
That savvy football acumen comes from being a third generation football player. His grandfather Terry played running back in the NFL, his father Todd played the same position in college at Indiana. Joe followed in their footsteps, playing RB in high school before being moved to wide receiver fulltime at Colorado State. He averaged 34 catches for 460 yards in four seasons at Colorado State.
Along with his receiving duties, Hansley has been fielding punts - another position the Raiders have a need, especially since they lost Andre Debose to injury for a second-straight season. Hansley returned 21 punts last season at Colorado State, two for touchdowns, and a total of 43 punt returns over four seasons, with 3 returned for TD's.
"With Joe Hansley he proved it in college, he was a good punt returner," said Raiders special teams coordinator Brad Seely. "We evaluated him as a punt returner and thought he was very good and so we're happy to have Joe."
Seely also pointed out that slot receivers make for great punt returners in the NFL because they have great change of direction and hands.
As is often the case with undrafted roster hopefuls, versatility is the key to their making the roster. It increases their value if the team feels like they can have one roster spot used to fulfill more than one position. That's been Hansley's MO for some time now.
"In high school I was kind of a do-it-all type guy, they just put me on the field wherever because I was an athlete," Hansley continued. "I played running back, I got the ball handed to me probably twenty plus times a game."
"I think I can be used in a lot of ways in the offense. I'm versatile, I can come out of the backfield and run an option route or get a jet sweep, or even punt returns and stuff like that, just reading blocks as a running back helps you with the return game as well."
Thursday Hansley and the other roster hopefuls have one last shot to give the Raiders coaches something to think about during the 6-week break before training camp. Hansley has put himself in a great position at this point.
"It means a lot if they're recognizing the work I'm putting in," he said. "Anything that they can recognize that's positive in my game that they like to see is going to be beneficial in the long run."