Guard/Tackle Vadal Alexander
Throughout the Oakland Raiders 2016 season, the team saw plenty of young talent contribute to the team's success. Last year's rookie class came in with some lofty expectations, and exhibited NFL-caliber play on the field, steadily improving as the season wore on.
Looking ahead, here are three, second-year players who could take the next step in Year Two.
Running Back DeAndre Washington:
In 2016, the Raiders running back corps was led by Latavius Murray – who is now a Minnesota Viking – and was accompanied by a dynamic rookie tandem of DeAndré Washington and Jalen Richard. Murray was viewed as the power back, while Washington and Richard served as change-of-pace scat backs.
After being drafted in the fifth round (No. 143 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, Washington wasted no time in showcasing his potential at the team's training camp in Napa, Calif., last summer. At 5'8" and 199 pounds, he's built like a truck, but retains a nimble frame that allows him to shift directions quickly.
Through the first nine games of the 2016 campaign, Washington made decent contributions, but didn't truly break out until Week 16, in a Christmas Eve special against the Indianapolis Colts. On 12 carries, he exploded for 99 rushing yards, and averaged an impressive 8.3 yards per carry, which coincided with his two rushing touchdowns.
Entering his second season, Washington has spent a majority of his offseason perfecting his craft, and has made his efforts known via social media. Washington has the talent to build on a strong rookie season where he totaled 467 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. In an already loaded offensive attack, the Silver and Black could see an even bigger emergence from their second-year running back, particularly on third downs, and in passing situations.
Safety Karl Joseph:
The Raiders 2016 first round pick was hampered by injuries in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he went without displaying flashes of his hard-hitting, gritty style of play. Coming out of West Virginia University, Joseph was touted as one of the premier defensive backs in his draft class, even after he suffered a season-ending knee injury four games into his senior campaign.
When you watch tape on Joseph, one thing is clear, he's aggressive. He's in attack mode a majority of the time, and no matter the size of his opponent, the former-Mountaineer stays looking to use the "truck stick."
In just nine starts, Joseph totaled 60 tackles, which was good for fifth-best on the team, also adding one interception. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has stated that he believes Joseph will make strides in his second season, especially considering he'll be entering it fully healthy. I find Del Rio's philosophy hard to dispute; it'll be interesting to see Joseph go to work this season.
Guard/Tackle Vadal Alexander:
The game is won and lost in the trenches, and in nine games last year, Alexander saw plenty of action on the Raiders front line. The rookie out of LSU was called upon several times last season to step in and fill in. The Silver and Black had a bit of a rotating door at the right tackle position, due to the fact Menelik Watson and Austin Howard each missed a few games because of injury.
Unfazed, Alexander took these opportunities to fortify the right side of the o-line, and prove he could fend off the oncoming edge rushers. The team lost Watson to the Denver Broncos in free agency, but signed offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse during the offseason. Between Newhouse, Howard, and Alexander it'll be worth observing the competition between the trio. Del Rio has emphasized that he'll be letting the players compete, and Alexander could be one who takes the next step this season.