Without padded practices and the opportunity to make an impression during the preseason, the batch of 2020 undrafted free agents is posed with an unfavorable matchup when it comes to making a 53-man roster.
In a "normal" year, the UDFAs would've been given Rookie Minicamp, Mandatory Minicamp, Training Camp, and the preseason to showcase their talent, but unfortunately, this year's class hasn't had that luxury. The world has gone virtual, which means a greater emphasis is being placed on the players' mental understanding of a playbook.
Following the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders signed Javin White from UNLV — an Oakland native who attended McClymonds High School. White's offseason has been spent tirelessly reviewing defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's system, and even though he hasn't received a big portion of live reps, he'll be ready for when he's given the chance.
"Honestly, just staying prepared," White said when asked how he's coping with the challenges of the pandemic. "We have these Zoom meetings and I'm just trying to make the best of it. [If we review a play], I'm [mentally] trying to put myself into that play and be aware of what the scenario is."
The Raiders are no stranger to seeing UDFAs rise through the ranks to become key players, such as legendary cornerback Willie Brown, or current running back Jalen Richard. Richard, who joined the Silver and Black in 2016, competed against a full stable of running backs, but he's still here four years later; however, who knows if he would be had he not been given an opportunity throughout training camp and the preseason?
Derek Carr may have been a second-round pick, but he can sympathize with the circumstances the UDFAs are facing because he knows one play could make all the difference for someone.
"Some of these guys, they aren't going to get the reps they used to get," Carr told reporters Tuesday. "Here they will, but I'm talking generally in the NFL. Here, we get so many reps that they're going to be seen and [the coaching staff] will make sure they see everybody, and what they're capable of doing, but without preseason games, without all that extra playing time… that's a lot of game time reps [they're missing]."
Despite being unable to compete against opposing teams around the league, rookie linebacker Javin White is applying his knowledge of Guenther's system during the first few days of training camp, and he's caught the attention of Head Coach Jon Gruden. The Raiders added two exciting and talented linebackers in free agency, but Gruden made sure to acknowledge White during his media availability Thursday.
"In this game of football we play today, it's paramount," Gruden said when asked about the importance of possessing quality linebackers. "It's an area we needed to address and fortunately there were some good linebackers available in free agency, and obviously we made that a priority. We're really happy with [Nick] Kwiatkoski and [Cory] Littleton, but there's a young kid out of [University] of Nevada Las Vegas, a young undrafted free agent, Javin White."
White's window of opportunity might be small, but he's not letting the predicament he and so many other UDFAs are experiencing hinder what got him to this point. On the bright side, in the event White is unable to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, the NFL has increased the practice squad limit from its usual 10 players to give more players an opportunity.
Take a look at exclusive photos from the Raiders' walk through and workout at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.