The NFL version of hyperbole: Training camp/preaseason darlings. Every team has them and often times, it’s difficult not to fall into the hype of a certain playing. Sometimes the hype turns into in-game production. Other times, the hype dissipates quickly like a fart in the wind.
With the Las Vegas Raiders embarking on their 2022 training camp, it’s ample time to look at the Silver & Black training camp darlings. We’ll look at those that allured coaches and fans alike in the past and a current crop of Raiders that may do the same this offseason.
Darlings Of The Past
Keelan Doss: The 2019 Hard Knocks star wide receiver. The undrafted free agent out of UC Davis had a strong camp and even better preseason where he snared 17 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. With good size at 6-foot-3 and soft hands, he drew the admiration of the coaching staff and fans, and there was an uproar when he was axed on cut-down day. But he was quickly resigned and didn’t move up the depth chart much finishing his Raider career with 11 catches for 133 yards. Doss is currently a member of the New York Giants.
LaTroy Lewis: The undrafted linebacker made a quick impression in camp back in 2017 and a resounding statement in the first preseason game where he had two sacks to go along with four total tackles. He appeared destined to make the roster as a situational rusher/special teamer but was waxed on cut day. He spurned the Raiders offer to join the practice squad and joined the Houston Texans taxi squad instead. Despite the bright start, Lewis spent two seasons in the NFL (mostly practice squad) and has three total tackles and one sack to his name.
Chris Warren III: A beastly 6-foot-2 and 246 pounds, Warren was an imposing presence in camp. But when the preseason games started, he dominated by running through and around the competition for 292 yards and two touchdowns in Jon Gruden’s first year back as Raiders boss in 2018. Warren had the look to be a contributor and the Raiders stashed him in injured reserve. But then came 2019 where the team says his conditioning was unsatisfactory and that was that. Warren didn’t resurface anywhere else.
Juron Criner: Hyped up by then-general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, the 2012 fifth-round pick arrived with solid Pac-12 production. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Criner impressed in camp and preseason but when the games that mattered arrived, there was little semblance of the collegiate production in the pros. Criner spent two years with the Raiders amassing 19 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown before heading to the G-Men and leaving the league outright.
David Ausberry: The wide receiver-turned-tight end was supposed to be the OG Darren Waller. The 2011 seventh-round pick offered the freakish combination of speed (4.48 at his USC Pro Day), size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds), and receiver-like catching skills to be a nightmare weapon. Instead, injuries and inconsistency cost Ausberry the chance of being a contributor. He played for the Raiders for four seasons (missing all of 2013 with an injury) hauling in 11 passes for 120 yards and zero touchdowns.
Louis Rankin: The Raiders have a bevy of camp/preseason starts that were running backs, to be perfectly honest. Rankin is one of them. Shining in the 2008 preseason opener with intriguing straight-line speed (21 carries, 148 yards, including a 72-yard sprint), the undrafted free agent out of Washington appeared to be a diamond in the rough. He was eventually cut, but returned to the practice squad and did make the active roster. But his contributions were limited as he was given a shot at kick returner (six returns for 108 yards and a long of 23).
The Current Crop
Darius Butler: Undersized at 5-foot-10 and 221 pounds, the sparkplug of a linebacker who is a seek-and-hit-type defender. He has the frenetic energy that’s infectious that’d be perfect as a special teams dynamo. It’s doubtful the Raiders end up keeping more than four or five linebackers, but if Butler can show well as a reserve defender, but more importantly a special teamer, the undrafted free agent from Arizona State could land on the final 53 or practice squad.
Isaiah Pola-Mao: There’s breathing room in the Raiders safety room, especially after the team released Dallin Leavitt. At 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, the undrafted free agent out of USC offers exceptional size with cornerback cover skills. But his path to a roster spot will be one that Leavitt vacated — special teams contributor. At his size, Pola-Mao could be a troublesome gunner who used his size and speed to be effective on punt and kick return coverage units.
Lester Cotton Sr.: Come and go as he may from the Raiders roster, the offensive linemen finds himself sticking. And perhaps this is the season he earns considerable snaps at guard. The OL is far from settled and the undrafted product out of Alabama showed well in OTAs, catching the eyes of Raiders coaches. A solid outing in camp and preseason may be the ticket for Cotton to become a mainstay instead of a yo-yo on the roster.