As a linebacker at Colorado State, Cory James went mostly unnoticed outside of the Mountain West Conference for most of his college career.
Though he consistently made plays for four seasons – he was voted second-team all-MWC for three years and was a freshman All-America pick his first season – James’ draft prospects were shaky. He isn’t as big and strong as most other linebackers, yet all he did in college was produce: 230 tackles, 24 sacks and four forced fumbles for Colorado State.
Some believed he’d have to make it as an undrafted free agent. The Raiders, however, took James in the sixth round with the 194th overall selection.
Now, four games into his rookie season, James is making believers of general managers across the NFL.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup at middle linebacker two games ago – along with fellow rookie Karl Joseph at safety – the Raiders defense has been much improved.
In Sunday’s victory over the Ravens in Baltimore, James was in on 16 tackles and forced a fumble. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio says James is “very productive.”
“He finds the ball,” Del Rio told reporters Monday. “I mean, he’s around the ball. He played well. He’s a good football player. For his second game starting, I thought he showed growth and I think he’ll continue to do that.”
James, at 6 feet and 229 pounds, is very physical. At one point, James showed that by quickly reading a run to his side. He met a Ravens offensive tackle head on, pushed him aside and then stepped up to make a solo stop.
So far, Del Rio loves what he sees. James is looking like a gem of a late-round pick who could be a big part of Oakland’s defense this season.
“He plays hard,” says Del Rio. “He’s got a little ruggedness to him.”