Keon Hatcher went into the Raiders final preseason game with very little chance to make the regular-season roster.
Hatcher, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas last year, was buried on the depth chart. It looked as if he’d need a miracle.
But circumstances – and his own play – suddenly have Hatcher on the roster and getting ready to make his NFL regular-season debut this Monday night against the Rams.
In the final preseason game, Hatcher had eight receptions for 128 yards and three touchdowns. That caught the attention of head coach Jon Gruden.
“I probably would’ve got thrown out of the airplane if we did not keep Keon after that game,” Gruden told Raiders.com of the trip back from Seattle. “But he kept our eye. He had a great offseason. He’s under the radar. He’s undrafted. Practice squad a year ago. Caught a lot of touchdown passes at Arkansas. But when you put him in a game, he converts third downs. He can make big plays. We’re happy to have him aboard.”
Hatcher, at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, had a big career at Arkansas, with 130 catches for 1,866 yards and 19 TDs. As a senior in 2016, he had 44 catches for 743 yards, eight TDs and averaged 16.9 yards per reception.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus was high on Hatcher when he came out of college, noting he had “the potential to develop into a solid receiver down the road” because of his quick release off the line of scrimmage, his good hands – he didn’t drop a single pass as a senior – and his potential as a crisp route runner.
The other factor that opened the door for Hatcher was the Raiders’ release of Martavis Bryant, trade of Ryan Switzer and injury to Griff Whalen. With those moves, a roster spot opened and Hatcher – fresh off his big night – took it.
Hatcher said he never lost faith he could do it.
“I’ve always been one of the guys overlooked. It’s normal,” he said. “Just keep your head down and keep working, and that’s what I continue to do. … Just have to keep elevating each and every year.”
Now, he has his chance.
Hatcher and the Raiders will open the season Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum , with kickoff set for 7:20 p.m.