By most accounts, the Raiders had a strong draft this season. General manager Reggie McKenzie selected safety Karl Joseph in the first round, then added defensive linemen Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun, running back DeAndre Washington, quarterback Connor Cook, linebacker Cory James and guard Vadal Alexander.
All have looked good in training camp and exhibitions and are expected to make the roster.
But McKenzie and Co. also appear to have struck it rich with undrafted free agents as well.
With just one exhibition game remaining, it appears several will make the opening-game roster. Paul Gutierrez, who covers the Raiders for ESPN.com, has projected four undrafted free agents will make the team: running back Jalen Richard, wide receiver Johnny Holton, defensive lineman Darius Latham and linebacker James Cowser. That’s a big haul, considering that the Raiders roster is significantly stronger now than it was just two or three seasons ago.
Richard may have been the surprise of training camp. It seemed unlikely that Oakland would choose to keep another running back similar to Washington, a fifth-round pick from Texas Tech. Washington, 5-foot-8½ and 204 pounds, is a multipurpose back capable of running inside, outside and catching passes out of the backfield. Richard is 5-foot-8 and 207 pounds, almost a Washington twin.
But Richard opened eyes immediately with his hard-running style. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave at one point called him “spectacular” in practices. After sitting out the first two summer games with an injury, he finally got into a game against the Titans this past weekend and carried seven times for 35 yards and had two catches for 7 yards.
In combination, the two smallish running backs give the Raiders plenty of quickness and versatility in the backfield. After the game against Tennessee, head coach Jack Del Rio said he’s excited about what they bring to the offense.
“I thought they both ran hard, ran with vision,” Del Rio told the San Jose Mercury News. “They make people miss. I think looking into the offseson we were hoping we could develop a running back that could be a really good backup, and it looks like we have a shot at having one of those guys help us – potentially both. We’ll see.”
The Raiders finish their exhibition season Thursday night vs. the visiting Seahawks.