The Oakland Raiders have unearthed several diamonds in the rough during the tenure of General Manager Reggie McKenzie.
Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie has hit some home runs in recent drafts, particularly with Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson as a 1-2-3 punch in the 2014 draft. The Raiders resurgence is largely dependent on these three, along with some key free agent signings in Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, Bruce Irvin and David Amerson.
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In the NFL, you’re only as good as the last player on your roster. Depth is everything in a sport where injury and baffling loss of game-ability happen far too often.
McKenzie has also hit some home runs in the late rounds of the draft and with undrafted free agents. Some of these players are key pieces in the Raiders rise to contender over the last couple seasons. With a couple of big contracts on the books (Carr, Gabe) and others on the way (Mack, Cooper), the reigning Executive of the Year will need to continue to find these diamonds in the rough, like he has in the past.
Jalen Richard (undrafted) RB, Southern Miss
Richard wasn’t invited to the combine. He ran a 4.6 — blah for a small back at 5’8″, 205 pounds, so he went undrafted. The Raiders brought him in for a weekend rookie tryout in May.
The rest is a blur.
And so is Richard. He impressed the coaching staff enough to make the team despite being undrafted, having Latavius Murray and fellow rookie doppelgänger DeAndre Washington on the roster, and suffering an injury right before his preseason showcase.
It paid off, too. His first carry — against the Saints in his home state of Louisiana in front of friends and family — was an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run. And all things Richard — vision, quick decision making, quick feet, elusiveness and quickness.
Richard gave a jolt to the offense when playing. The NFL’s most elusive back in 2016, per Pro Football Focus (the how and why broken down nicely here by Ted Nyguen), Richard juked his way through 83 carries for 491 yards — a robust 5.9 yards per carry average.
Richard scored that one touchdown on the ground, and caught 29 passes for 194 yards and two TDs. As a major part of the Raiders return game, he fielded 34 punts and 17 kickoffs in 2016. He now gets to spell Marshawn Lynch behind one of the NFL’s best lines. Expect big things in 2017.
Vadal Alexander (7th Round) G/T, LSU
Vadal Alexander also had a tough row to hoe coming into 2016 camp. The Raiders had one of the best offensive lines in football developing, and already had depth pieces in Menelik Watson, Jon Feliciano and Matt McCants. Plus they had drafted four lineman. Alexander had some competition.
He played well in camp and earned his way onto the roster as a backup to Gabe Jackson. He entered action after both Watson and starting right tackle Austin Howard were lost against the Ravens. He started the next game against the Chargers and fared better after committing three penalties against the Ravens.
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After getting some game experience under his belt, the Raiders put Alexander at tight end as an extra blocker against the Bills. Though still a bit raw, Alexander showed the versatility and gamesmanship you need from a backup lineman. The Raiders won the first three games that Alexander either started or played major minutes.
Though he struggled toward the end of the season, particularly in the Chiefs game where he got benched for Feliciano, Alexander showed enough ability and versatility to make him yet another late-round selection that is a major contributor to this team.