We've arrived at our final position review, and we've saved the best for last.
The specialists never get enough love, but I'm here today to make sure that happens. This unit has a lot of youth, but they are ringing in the new era of Raiders special teamers; let's discuss.
It's crazy to think how much this unit has changed since the start of 2018.
Daniel Carlson just completed his first full season with the Silver and Black this year after joining the Raiders during the first quarter of the 2018 campaign. He had an impressive showing with the team during his rookie year and he grew alongside undrafted free agent long snapper Trent Sieg and former Raiders fifth-round pick Johnny Townsend.
While Carlson and Sieg excelled that year, Townsend did not, and it led the Raiders to weigh their options at punter during the 2019 offseason. At the Senior Bowl last year, the Raiders got to look at some potential punters worthy of drafting, but ultimately, they decided to roll with undrafted free agent AJ Cole from NC State.
Cole earned the job over Townsend after consistently booming punts during training camp, even receiving a lofty comparison from Head Coach Jon Gruden who called him Ray Guy 2.0. The team also decided to move forward with Trent Sieg and Daniel Carlson, making the trio one of the youngest special teams units in the NFL.
As the season progressed, it was clear the chemistry between the trio was strong, and they looked more comfortable with each other, as well as Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
Not only was there a change at punter, but the Raiders employed a handful of various return men as well. Veteran wide receiver and return specialist Dwayne Harris was the go-to man for a while, but injuries kept him off the field, and the team had to experiment with a few different players.
All in all, the specialists had a quality season for the Silver and Black, and there was a noticeable increase in better field position.
Number to Know:
AJ Cole had an excellent rookie season with the Raiders and his best punt of the year came on a 74-yard boot against the Los Angeles Chargers, which was the longest for the team since Shane Lechler had a 76-yard punt on Christmas Eve in 2011 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
WR/RS Dwayne Harris – Unrestricted Free Agent
K Daniel Carlson – Exclusive-Rights Free Agent
LS Trent Sieg – Exclusive-Rights Free Agent
P AJ Cole – Under Contract
The Raiders finally have a trio of players on special teams they can rely on for the first time in a couple of years and I can't imagine they'll want to break that up. Yes, Carlson's second season with the Raiders had some forgettable moments; however, the coaching staff is confident he'll overcome the adversity he faced this season.
As far as Harris is concerned, he's 32 years young and still can get the job done when he's healthy. With emerging young speedsters on the roster who knows if they'll supplant him, but if I've learned one thing from Harris it's to never doubt him.
Position Group MVP:
Without question, it has to be Cole.
The field position was significantly better in 2019 than it was in 2018 and more importantly the rookie punter was consistent. Like anyone, there's always room for improvement, but Cole was a weapon for the team last year and will continue to be going forward.
Raiders Owner Mark Davis, current players, Raiders alumni, the Raiderettes, and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak came together to mark the official welcome in the Silver and Black's new permanent home and to usher in a new era for the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World.