The Oakland Raiders had 14 rookies on their 53 man roster entering Game 13, including all seven draft picks. In fact, five of the seven picks have started at least two games, and the undrafted rookies have provided more than depth. General manager Reggie McKenzie built this roster with young talent and sprinkled in some grizzled vets through free agency as part of his vision. And yes, the running back returner from Southern Mississippi is 5 foot 8, 207 pounds. (This is by no means a knock on first round pick Karl Joseph, who has been solid. We will get to him in a bit.) Richard has that quality that makes you want to watch him every time he touches the ball, like when he took his first NFL carry 75 yards for a touchdown. He is averaging 5.7 yards per rush, 23.9 yards per kick return (with a 50 yarder in the mix) and 9.3 yards per punt return (including a 47 yarder). He has also caught 21 passes for 173 yards. this season as an undrafted find by McKenzie and his staff.
Most improved rookie: Here’s where we get to Joseph, the first round draft pick who has been solid at strong safety after missing all of the offseason program to recover from a knee injury he suffered in college. Undersized at 5 foot 10, 207 pounds, he began the season on the bench but became a starter in Week 3. He’s only looked back once this past week because of a toe injury that sidelined him for the Raiders’ game in Kansas City. Joseph has an interception, a fumble recovery and six passes defensed to go with his 76 tackles, which ranked second on the team through 10 games. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to stay off film as a victim of opposing quarterbacks. Joseph just goes about his business.
Most disappointing rookie: Combining draft spot and production, or lack thereof, the arrows point to defensive end Jihad Ward, fairly or not. True, Ward has started every game on the defensive line, but the stats are not there (for those who care about such things) through 12 games. No sacks. No interceptions. No forced fumbles. One fumble recovery. He does have 30 tackles, with seven coming in Kansas City. But as a second round draft pick, you would expect more production, right?
The jury is still out on.: Running back DeAndre Washington. The 5 foot 8, 204 pound fifth rounder was part of the Mighty Mites with Richard and appeared in the Raiders’ first 10 games. But Washington was inactive for two of the past three weeks as a healthy scratch due to more pressing needs on the defensive side of the ball. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has caught 13 passes for 72 yards, so he has shown promise. But with Richard ascendance, Washington has more to show.
Undrafted rookie check in: Richard heads this list, obviously, but Darius Latham has been a rotational player on the defensive line, as has Denver Kirkland as the “jumbo” tight end. And any time receiver Johnny Holton is on the field, defenses have to wonder if an wholesale jerseys china
end around is coming. Keep an eye on outside linebacker James Cowser, who set an NCAA FCS record with 43.5 sacks and picked up his first NFL sack against Buffalo in his second NFL game. Then he recovered a muffed punt in Kansas City.