Oakland Raiders Training Camp preview: Five rookies to watch

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Sep 6, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers linebacker Max Valles (88) celebrates after recovering a fumble against the Richmond Spiders in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

2. Max Valles, Rookie Defensive End

Max Valles may not be much of an underdog, honestly. While he was a late pick (6th round, 179th overall), Reggie McKenzie’s late-round picks generally make the 53-man roster and very often play. Also, Valles finished third in the ACC in sacks last season, and many scouts had a good grade on the raw but talented player out of Virginia.

But Valles also has a lot of competition in camp. While he played outside linebacker in college, he has been declared to be a defensive end by the Raiders. At 6’5″ and 251 pounds, he will likely be looked at to play a 7/9 technique “LEO” role, rushing the passer only. He will likely compete with Benson Mayowa for the role of the pass-rush specialist end to spell Mario Edwards Jr. and be the bookend rusher along with Khalil Mack, a role that the team only needs one man in.

Mayowa is a veteran who played a lot of quality football for the Raiders last season after LaMarr Woodley went down with injury. He is more familiar with the coaching staff, having spent time with Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. while he was in Seattle, and showed up consistently solid against the run in 2014, something that Valles didn’t do in college.

Still, Valles is an impressive athlete with a ton of upside and a very high ceiling. While he may not be ready for the limelight right away, he may be someone the Raiders want for depth along that defensive front, as well as to help out on special teams. Keep an eye on this talented young pass rusher early on in preseason.

Next: Rookie Watch: Josh Harper, WR (Fresno State)