Through nine games, the Raiders’ rookie class hasn’t offered much to the team. Only two draft picks have seen multiple starts and six of their nine draft picks have barely seen the field.
The only rookies who have seen any real time on the field have been third round defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, fifth round linebacker Marquel Lee, 7th round safety Shalom Luani, and undrafted linebacker Nicholas Morrow. Vanderdoes is the only current starter while Luani has seen time primarily on special teams.
“There’s some young guys that we need to continue to develop and that’s important,” Del Rio continued. “We will do that and we’ll get a little bit of a peak ahead.”
The draft class has been a dud so far in large part due to top pick Gareon Conley being out with injury since week three. He will be diagnosed next week to see if he can return shortly or be shut down for the rest of the season.
No rookie will get more of a look these two weeks than Obi Melifonwu who came off injured reserve to make his debut last week against the Dolphins, playing just seven snaps.
“We were excited,” said defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr of his second round rookie, “just [for him] to be there and to be available and to run and to sweat and to get knocked down and to coach him on the sidelines and see how he responds to the pressure, to see how he responds to the lights and the television and the coaching under the adverse situations. It’s good to see because you practice one way, but then you play and it’s an entirely different situation. The players are different under the stress. So, he’s cool, he’s collected, you can talk to him, he listens and it’s not too big for him.
It would stand to reason Melifonwu’s playing time will increase from here on out and if they look to further incorporate him into the game plan, the bye week is a great time to do it.
“I think as the games go, he’ll get more time and he’ll get more exposed to better players,” Norton continued. “I think the next time we play we have a pretty good match-ups for him. So, we’ll see how he plays in the big match-ups.”
Getting Melifonwu acclimated to the defense and Conley back on the field would breathe life into a secondary that has been among the worst in the league this season.
Aside from Melifonwu, and the other drafted rookies, there are other young players the team could evaluate and continue to develop over the bye week. Undrafted rookie linebacker Nicholas Morrow, for instance.
All of those players are on the defensive side of the ball. That’s because the Raiders focused on defense in the draft. But there is one young player who the team have been developing and incorporating more of late -- Johnny Holton.
The second year undrafted wide receiver had a 44-yard touchdown catch last week. It was just his second catch of the season. His other catch was a 64-yard touchdown.
That’s not a lot of catches, but last week he received more snaps (7) than Cordarrelle Patterson (6). That’s not a lot, but it’s the first time this season it happened which could suggest a shift that could continue after the bye.
Both Holton and Patterson are speedsters, but Holton is more of a natural receiver. He runs better routes and showed on his 44-yard TD that he will body up a defender to fight for the ball. While Holton has two touchdowns on two catches this season, Patterson has zero touchdowns on 14 catches.
Both players also stand out on special teams. Holton in coverage and Patterson as a kick returner, adding to their overall value on the roster.
What started as Holton being a raw phenom as a rookie with limited experience in organized football — he didn’t play high school football — has him looking like he’s ready to make a larger contribution. Derek Carr has seen his development.
“I remember one of the first balls I threw him, it didn’t go too well,” Carr said of Holton. “I don’t know if it touched his hands. Right after that day I was like, ‘Man, this poor guy has all of this juice, speed, and oh man, I don’t know.’
“The next day he just came out and started balling. Catching the ball and running routes, like double move routes. He wasn’t just a straight-line guy. We started seeing like, ‘Hey man, this guy has something to him.’”
“He ended up only have like two catches last year, but now he’s finding himself a little role where he can come in. He’s a good blocker. He can come in and catch deep balls. Today with some of the veteran guys getting a little bit of rest, he gets in there. I’m throwing him routes that I’m throwing to any of my receivers. I say that to say that from day one to what happened today, it would’ve been hard for me to believe, but he worked his tail off.”