Dallin Leavitt’s list of goals is a step by step process; he doesn’t look too far ahead, he remains focused on one thing at a time.
First, the undrafted free agent’s only goal was to give himself a chance to make the roster in 2018. He told his wife all he needed was two weeks, and if it didn’t look promising he’d start applying for jobs.
“We were broke,” Leavitt said. “Like, we had no money, so basically it was like either I got about 14 days to get myself the time through the two weeks of the minicamp tryouts, and said, ‘Let me get a chance to make the roster.’”
Spoiler, he made the practice squad.
Leavitt’s next objective was to make the jump from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, and on Christmas Eve last year he was given an early Christmas present. Leavitt played the final two games of the season, registering one tackle.
“To me that was life changing,” he said with a brief pause, “because it gave me an opportunity to show that I can play on Sunday with the big boys, and that I can do it and what these coaches are asking us to do.”
With a revamped Raider defense in 2019, however, the Utah State-product would face stiffer competition, and his goal of making the 53-man roster wasn’t going to be easy. Through free agency, General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden signed safeties Lamarcus Joyner, Curtis Riley, and re-signed Erik Harris. They followed the signings by adding the “Cleat-Seeking Missile,” Johnathan Abram, with the No. 27 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. The doorway wasn’t necessarily closed for Leavitt, but it was cracked open just barely enough for him to peer through.
Fast forward to training camp and the 25-year-old free safety was making his intentions known. On special teams he made several critical plays that caught the attention of the media and his peers. He followed strong practices with even stronger performances in preseason action.
But was it enough for him to crack the roster?
When the Oakland Raiders announced the list of players they were letting go Saturday for roster cuts, Leavitt’s name was nowhere to be found.
He’d done it.
He’d made the 53-man roster despite the intense competition standing in his way. Through the use of special teams, Leavitt established a key role for himself, one that was undeniable to the coaching staff, and it’s a major reason as to why he wasn’t let go.
“We got a lot of calls on Leavitt in the last year and a half or so,” Coach Gruden shared Monday when asked why it was important to keep him. “He’s a great special teams player. It starts right there. You put the special teams tape on, which few people do these days, Leavitt shows up big time. He’s just developed into a real versatile safety. He can play free or strong. He can play in the post or in the box. He’s a good tackler. He made three great open field tackles the other night. Didn’t want to lose him. He’s just getting started. He’s just a young guy. I think we have 18 rookies out here including six on the practice squad. A lot of these second-year players – he’s one of them – hopefully show their improvement.”
Let's take a look at the Raiders' current 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
Leavitt has already crossed off several things on his to-do list, and he has a lot of people to thank for helping him accomplish his goals. There have been several comparisons made between Leavitt and veteran safety Erik Harris, who also entered the league as an undrafted free agent and had to earn his way on a roster through special teams. For more reasons than one, the two have developed a close relationship and consider each other family.
In back-to-back years now, the two have roomed with each other during training camp, and it’s served as a great opportunity for Harris to mentor the eager and absorbent Leavitt.
“I think we met at OTAs and he had his rookie tryout or whatever, and then we were roommates last year at training camp, and this year as well,” Harris said. “I’m real close with him and his wife, and their dog, Lyla, but no he’s a hard worker and it’s a testament to his hard work, and his preparation. He’s a very smart football player and he doesn’t get a lot of credit for that. He’s on the team for a reason.”
“He is like family to me,” Leavitt added. “That dude has taken me under his wing and taken care of me, showing me the ropes. Done a really good job.”
Leavitt also couldn’t help but give credit to the rest of the defensive backs room, stating that everyone has been more than willing to help him learn to adapt and grow in the NFL. He has a clear desire to take his game to another level and he doesn’t feel like he would’ve been able to do that without the help of his teammates and coach Jim O’Neil.
“Coach [Jim] O’Neil has done a really good job helping me develop as a player,” he said. “Helping me understand the game. To me, he’s taken me to a level that I don’t think I would’ve been able to get to by myself.”
He also didn’t shy away from giving Coach Rich Bisaccia some love too.
“My relationship with Rich is a little bit different than just player-coach,” Leavitt explained. “He’s somebody that I trust in other areas of my life as well, so that part has allowed me to fully invest in what he’s telling me to do as a player as well. When you have a personal relationship with someone you’re willing to run through a wall for them.”
As Coach Gruden pointed out, Leavitt’s ability to make an impact on special teams helped him lock down a spot on the 53, and it appears as though Rich Bisaccia has found another useful player for his special teams unit.
Leavitt has gotten himself to this point by not biting off more than he can chew, or having delusions of grandeur, which is a result a lot of players suffer from after making the roster.
He’s given critics little reason to believe that whatever he sets his mind to he’s incapable of accomplishing it. With some added confidence and the backing of the coaching staff, Leavitt’s sights are now set on regularly dressing for gameday.
But he’d probably tell you he’s taking it one day at a time.