Ahead of their first preseason game of 2016, the promising Oakland Raiders and their fans will get a first glimpse at a number of rookies up and down the depth chart when they meet the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night at U of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
In particular, Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio may be most curious about his two rookie running backs, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, as well as some of the first-year wide receivers as the Raiders look to build on last season’s successes. Oakland ranked 17th in points scored in 2015, a massive leap from No. 31 and 15.8 points the year prior.
The running game is led by third-year back Latavius Murray, who recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2015, was only No. 28 in the league last year and certainly has some room to grow while helping quarterback Derek Carr and receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree stretch defenses.
Coming out of Texas Tech’s quick-firing offense as Oakland’s fifth-round pick, Washington is a bit undersized at 5-foot-8 and scouts worried over his smaller hands, but he could challenge Taiwan Jones for the No. 2 running back spot with a good performance against a Cardinals defense that was sixth against the run in 2015.
Washington is also in the running for both kick and punt return duties with Jones, Travis Carrie, and fellow rookie rusher Richard. An undrafted free agent following four years at Southern Mississippi, Richard clocked a slower 40-yard dash time than Washington and his lack of size is worrisome like Washington’s.
However, given the successful running back platoon system NFL squads are using more and more, Richard could make the final 53-man roster. Richard already proved with the Golden Eagles that he can pick up huge chunks of yardage at a time, registering 5.9 yards per carry his final two college seasons, and exploding for 16 total touchdowns.
Turning to the receiver battle, Oakland actually didn’t any wide outs in the draft this year due to Cooper’s breakout rookie season and Crabtree’s redemption and perhaps overachievement. The Raiders also have steady veterans Seth McRoberts and Andre Holmes (third and fourth in receiving touchdowns last year with nine combined), so it’s possible a number of Del Rio’s cuts come at the expense of young wide outs.
Likely to take far more preseason snaps with fellow rookie and quarterback Connor Cook rather than Carr, the receiver fighting for a spot are a mixed bag in terms of their college production.
Presently the Raiders have six rookie receivers (KJ Brent, Joe Hansley, Johnny Holton, Jaydon Mickens, Maxwell McCaffrey, and Marvin Hall) and 27-year-old Nathan Palmer, who hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2012.
The 6-foot-4 Brent spent his final college season with Wake Forest after three seasons with South Carolina, while Holton is a Cincinnati product but appeared in only 20 games over two years. Hansley totaled 136 receptions for 1,842 yards and 12 touchdowns with Colorado State in 48 games, but Mickens put up 203 catches, 2,187 yards and 12 scores in four years with Washington. Hall was Mickens college teammate but his stats (25 receptions, 409 yards, 1 TD) weren’t nearly as impressive.
McCaffery, who father Ed played for the AFC West rival Denver Broncos, may have the right pedigree and spent four years at Duke scoring 12 touchdowns and gaining 1,341 yards.
Start Time: Friday, 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Live Streaming: NFL Online