Tick, tick, tick. The countdown continues toward the Raiders 2017 season opener. We hit 95 days which means we profile the man wearing the number 95 as well as the best to ever wear it in Silver & Black.
DE Jihad Ward
Ward was the team’s second round pick in 2016. His rookie season was rough to say the least. He consistently looked overwhelmed and lost. He couldn’t get off of blocks and couldn’t get consistent pressure either.
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity either. Despite his ineffectiveness, he was given 13 starts which led all interior defensive linemen on the team.
The 6-5, 296-pounder didn’t have a lot of production coming out of Illinois either. He was a raw physical talent the team thought had a good deal of upside — a term typically reserve for a player who has yet to perform at a high level. Drafting players with ‘upside’ can be a high risk/high reward proposition.
It take time to develop raw prospects like Ward, so it would be unfair to judge him based on his rookie season. He does, however, have a lot to prove in order to justify being the 44th overall pick.
If he can make a leap forward, there is the opportunity to lay claim to the Raiders 95 jersey. I don’t mean right now — obviously he claims it right now — I mean all time. There are only three players in Raiders history to wear the number 95 for more than one season with the team -- Austin Robbins (1994-95, 2000), Kaelin Burnett (2012-13), and Benson Mayowa (2014-15). And none of them jump out as a sure favorite for best to wear it. So, that honor goes in memoriam.
Who wore it best: LB Marquis Cooper
He was killed at sea in a tragic boating accident in 2009. The last jersey he ever wore in the NFL had a silver 95 on it. And his former teammates wore his number on their helmets in memoriam the following season.
Though he never technically suited up for the Raiders again, some believe he took the form of a pigeon during a game the season following his death and lined up on Special Teams one more time.
At kick off, he flew downfield, along with the coverage team, and landed near where the tackle was made. The pigeon was dubbed ‘War pigeon', and many believe its spirit honored the memory of Cooper. There are no great, legendary Raider players who wore this number so until a star steps up to stake their claim, the honor belongs to Coop.