To make the Oakland Raiders’ opening-game roster, Keon Hatcher will have to be All-World in training camp and the preseason.
The undrafted free agent from Arkansas is at the end of the line of candidates behind Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson, Seth Roberts and Johnny Holton, along with practice-squad holdovers K.J. Brent and Jaydon Mickens and fellow rookies Ishmael Zamora and Isaac Whitney.
But Hatcher, who is 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, is a solidly built wideout who showed he could compete – and succeed – in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference.
Plus, there are his hands.
As Levi Damien of SB Nation pointed out Wednesday, Hatcher had zero drops in 2016, one of only seven wide receivers in major college football who can make that claim. And of those, Hatcher had the most opportunities. The analytic website Pro Football Focus, which charts these things, reported Hatcher was targeted 68 times, and 44 of those were deemed “catchable.” He pulled in all 44. Over 12 games, Hatcher had the 44 receptions for 743 yards, a 16.9-yard average and eight touchdowns. It was a fine rebound year after his 2015 season ended after just two games because of injury.
There are some downsides to Hatcher’s game, according to Lance Zierlein, who put together a scouting report on Hatcher for NFL.com before the recent draft. Zierlein cites Hatcher’s lack of game-breaking speed on deep routes and lack of improvisation in routes and fakes. Yet Zierlein believes Hatcher “has something to him,” and believed he was worth a sixth-round pick.
“He plays with good balance and strength in his routes and flashes elevated focus when finishing catches in traffic,” he wrote. “Hatcher has the athleticism to work intermediate and deep and could become a factor after a couple seasons of seasoning.”
Damien suggests Hatcher could take a similar path to Roberts, who spent time on the practice squad developing before he got his chance on the roster and made the most of it.
For his part, Hatcher put in the work, since January, to get ready for his tryouts with NFL team scouts. He says his ability to work and be a leader are key for him, as well as his physical strength that helps him against defensive backs.
“You know they (NFL teams) like, they like my physicality as a receiver,” he said just before the draft. “I can block well and I can also go make a play on the receiving end of it. So I mean those are some of the things they are telling me they like.”