Safety Karl Joseph
The Oakland Raiders have a plethora of talent on their roster, and an immense amount of depth. The versatility of the team has been proven with all the injuries to the offensive line and other positions. The Raiders have been able to stay productive in the wake of these injuries, and a major reason why is contribution from the team's rookies.
The Silver and Black had seven draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft that all made the roster, as well with a few undrafted players also making the roster. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has implemented the young guys into the game plan, and so far they've delivered.
Sunday, the team faced its division rival the San Diego Chargers, and during the game a total of 12 rookies saw the field, with four cracking the starting lineup.
Rookie linebacker Cory James and safety Karl Joseph made their first NFL starts during Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, and in their debut, the duo combined for 17 total tackles, providing a much needed spark to the defense.
Since then, both players have continued to start, and are both making the most of their opportunities. James has totaled 26 tackles (second-best on the team) and Joseph has tallied 24 tackles (fourth-best on the team). The tandem has shown that it has a good understanding of the game, and have certainly caught the attention of their coaches and peers.
On top of Joseph's 24 tackles, the West Virginia-product hauled in his first NFL interception on Sunday, against veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.
"It felt like it was in slow motion," Joseph said Sunday. "I caught it like a punt, too…Those are probably some of the hardest ones to catch. It felt like it was in the air forever. I was just happy I came down with it."
The offensive rookies have been stellar as well. Undrafted rookie running back Jalen Richard has opened eyes since training camp, and running back DeAndré Washington has been successful as well. Each of the backs offer a similar skill set, with the capability to explode for big plays and catch passes out of the backfield. With running back Latavius Murray held out of Sunday's game with an injury, Washington and Richard picked up the slack.
"We just wanted to move and push those chains," said Washington. "I think collectively we did a good job of picking up the slack with Latavius [Murray] down, so I think we did a good job between the running backs."
Blocking for the running backs is right tackle Vadal Alexander, who made his first NFL start against the Baltimore Ravens. The rookie experienced some hiccups in his first start, but most importantly didn't allow quarterback Derek Carr to be sacked. Alexander has filled in nicely in place of tackles Menelik Watson, Matt McCants, and Austin Howard, who experienced injuries earlier this season.
The rookies' performances have been a benefit to the team, and have truly showcased their talent during their time on the field. Some of the injuries have opened the door for the young players to make a contribution, and should continue to be an important piece of the team. Going forward it'll be interesting to see how much they play, but in the mean time they proved they can make a difference.