Saturday will be the first time any of the Raiders rookies will don an NFL uniform and play in an NFL game. For many of them, it’s the start of a long NFL career. For many of them, it will be the most NFL action they will ever see. Which way it goes depends largely on how they perform.
In order to earn more playing time Saturday, these rookies had to step up and perform in the offseason and training camp. That is especially true of those players who must get noticed in a positive way or never wake from their sleeper status.
Players drafted in the first five rounds typically have an easier time because they are already known. Rookies like third round pick Eddie Vanderdoes, fourth round pick David Sharpe, and fifth round pick Maquel Lee.
On rare occasion one of those 5th round or above players won’t make the team, but even then they never had to go above and beyond like some late round picks and undrafted guys in order to prove themselves. That’s what sleepers must do.
This is about those sleepers. These are the top five you should be watching Saturday.
1. CB Breon Borders
Borders has been making his presence felt since the moment he arrived. At rookie minicamp, Borders had an impressive leaping interception on a deep pass and later would end practice by knocking down the final pass of the day.
He hasn’t looked back, continuing his fine play throughout the offseason and training camp. In the first week of camp, Borders began seeing work with the first team. Sean Smith was demoted to second team and was replaced on the outside by TJ Carrie. Borders getting the call was a major sign the Raiders think he can be something special. He had 12 interceptions in college and was second in Duke history with 36 career passes defended. It will be interesting to see him in a game.
2. S Shalom Luani
Another defensive back who has been performing well since day one. Reggie McKenzie called him a ‘football playin’ Jessie’ when he drafted him. So far Luani has been making McKenzie look like the GM equivalent of whatever that means.
In rookie minicamp, he was all over the field, including one pass he tracked and ran all the way across the field to knock down. On day one of minicamp, he had a pick six on Connor Cook and later down a pass from Carr to what appeared to be a wide open Amari Cooper up the left sideline. It was yet another instance showing Luani’s range as a safety, flying over from center field to swat the ball down. He has been the second team safety with both Obi Melifonwu and Keith McGill out with injuries.
3. RB Elijah Hood
Hood was giddy when the Raiders drafted him because he would be joining his idol Marshawn Lynch. The rookie 5-11, 230-pound back models his game after Beast Mode and hopes to be the heir apparent to him in Oakland someday. He has shown impressive power and burst in camp and that journey takes it’s first major step when he faces players who are allowed to tackle him.
4. WR Isaac Whitney
Could he be the Raiders’ next Brice Butler? He spent two seasons at USC, but barely saw the field. Butler spent the first part of his college career with Lane Kiffin trying to ruin his life before transferring to San Diego State. Whitney spent his first two seasons in junior college and was highly recruited as a transfer. He saw his first season with the Trojans end with a broken collarbone in the fifth game. And as a senior he was buried on the depth chart. Now the track star with 4.32 speed is looking to prove himself once again with the Raiders. He has shown up well in camp and should see a lot of playing time to put something on tape.
5. WR Keon Hatcher
After a quiet offseason and start to training camp, hatcher has been making up ground of late and put himself firmly in the ‘show me more’ conversation. The 6-1, 212 undrafted receiver was a fifth year senior out of Arkansas. And injured shortened senior season, led to another year of eligibility. In his graduate season he put up career highs in catches (44), yards (743), yards per catch (16.9), and touchdowns (8). He showed consistent improvement for the Razorbacks and it has shown up in camp for the Raiders.