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Raiders give Ishmael Zamora NFL opportunity despite animal abuse incident

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The 6’4 receiver was suspended for three games in 2016 after a video surfaced of him kicking and repeatedly striking his dog with a belt

If it wasn’t for a breakout 2016 season, Ishmael Zamora may very well have found himself out of football altogether. At the very least, he would’ve been returning to Baylor for his junior season rather than joining teammate K.D. Cannon in declaring early for the NFL Draft.

His reputation off the field was greatly sullied after a video surfaced prior to the 2016 collegiate season that showed Zamora viciously kicking and beating his dog with a belt. He alleged in court that he was frustrated with his dog during potty training and simply let his anger get the best of him.

The video was turned into authorities by a fellow Baylor student after she received it on Snapchat. The fallout was severe for Zamora—he was suspended for three games, forced to pay a $500 citation and complete 40 hours of community service and an anger management course. His dog was also released to an animal-friendly home.

Luckily for Zamora, NFL teams have proved time and time again that character concerns may be overlooked in favor of a players potential impact on the field.

In Zamora’s case, potential is the operative word. He doesn’t have a long resume of success in college, but he did excel playing as an outside receiver for the Bears in 2016, amassing 63 catches for 809 yards and eight touchdowns.

His huge 6’4, 215 pound frame is all the more impressive when you consider that he was a standout track athlete in high school, winning the Texas state championship in the 5A 110-meter hurdles in 2013, according to Baylor’s website.

Signing undrafted free agents is all about capitalizing on value and that is exactly what Reggie McKenzie is trying to do with Zamora, who would’ve very likely been picked in the top five rounds had it not been for the video.

Measurables

Height: 6-4

Weight: 204

**Wasn’t invited to NFL Combine as a result of animal abuse charges.

Stats

2016 -- 63 rec, 809 yds, 8 TD’s

2015 – 9 rec, 132 yds, 2 TD’s

Awards

None

Strengths

He is a huge target on the outside, but possesses the athleticism of a much smaller receiver. According to Baylor 24/7, Zamora clocked in the 4.4 range in the 40 yard dash at his pro day. Zamora doesn’t just possess speed though, he also exhibits several other desirable traits—fluid hips, excellent leaping ability and ball tracking skills—that aren’t usually found in players his size.

When he was plugged in as a mainstay in the Bears’ offense, he showed the Big 12 what he could do, often dominating the conferences smaller, less athletic corners.

Though Baylor plays the spread offense, the program has produced several receivers that have become worthy NFL talents. Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman have both flashed superstar potential, while Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams have both been serviceable in their years in the league.

Weaknesses

Much too reliant on his size and natural athletic chops. Typical Raiders prospect whose measurements and testing are off the charts, but hasn’t resulted in enough production in college.

Route tree is extremely underdeveloped and he is a liability as a blocker. Often looks unfocused, doesn’t come down with balls in traffic and hasn’t quite found out how to fully use his size to his advantage.

NFL.com’s draft profile of Zamora called Moritz Boehringer his pro comparison which, as it stands, isn’t saying all that much. If you’ll recall, Boehringer was the first German citizen drafted to the NFL in 2016 because of his huge frame and outstanding potential. As great a story as that draft pick was, Boehringer spent 2016 on the Vikings’ practice squad and still hasn’t seen a regular season NFL snap.

The Raiders’ practice squad might be best case scenario for Zamora in 2017 as he tries to distance himself from his past and acclimate his skills to the nuanced NFL game.

What he brings to the Raiders

It is really tough to predict what Zamora will bring to the Raiders. Was his 2016 season an indication of what is to come, or was it just a case of a great athlete dominating lesser competition at the college level?

With the Raiders’ wide receiver group pretty full at the moment, the team has time to let Zamora slowly transition into the league, possibly by spending one or two seasons redshirting on the practice squad.

With Michael Crabtree nearly on the wrong side of 30, the team will need someone to step into a starting role across from Amari Cooper sooner rather than later. Zamora has the size to dominate on the outside in the NFL if all the chips fall into place during his development.

Unfortunately, Zamora will inevitably bring a cloud of controversy along with him to the Bay. As we’ve seen with Ray Rice and Joe Mixon, the publicity that comes with video evidence is often damning and impossible to escape. Of course Zamora’s video concerns animal abuse rather than domestic violence, but parallels exist in the lack of compassion and poor judgement exercised in all three cases.

Furthermore, Zamora hasn’t publicly made a strong effort to work with animal rights groups or repent for his actions outside of the court ordered punishments he received.

Michael Vick was forgiven for his digressions in animal care after he served a prison term and voluntarily worked with many animal rights groups. Then again, he was also a former first overall pick and a generational talent.

As is so often the case in the NFL, the Raiders will have to decide if Zamora’s talent is great enough to allow him to escape from the shadows of his past.