Oakland Raiders: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After Week 2 of OTAs
The second week of organized team activities (OTAs) provided another chance for players on the Oakland Raiders' roster to try to make a positive impression. And for the second week in a row, several players were able to take advantage of the opportunity.
Positive reports that come out of OTAs always have to be taken with a grain of salt. The history of the NFL is riddled with players who were OTA superstars, then disappeared and never made a real impact. The Raiders are no exception (remember back when, based on pads-free practices in May, Tyler Wilson looked like he might be the future at quarterback?).
But that doesn't mean that early signs of success should be ignored. OTAs give players an opportunity to show that they deserve to be on the final 53-man roster. Even without pads and without contact, the deserving players tend to stand out.
Following another week of OTAs, here's a look at five Raiders who've taken steps toward becoming important members of the roster.
Ray-Ray Armstrong continued to make good use of his first offseason with the Raiders. A midseason addition last year, he had to learn the playbook on the fly while simultaneously trying to help out on game days.
Armstrong acknowledged that the extended time in the same place with the same teammates has had a positive impact on his play, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com:
"Getting comfortable with your teammates, your city, everything around here. When you’re here for a while, you get comfortable and you’re just able to play relaxed and let your talent show," he said.
Through two weeks of OTAs, he's continued to impress the person who matters the most: head coach Jack Del Rio.
When asked about Armstrong's performance this offseason, Del Rio had this to say, per Paskal:
Every time you come into a new season, new opportunities for guys and certainly with a new staff, there are opportunities for guys to reinvent themselves. A guy like Ray-Ray [Armstrong] has really had a productive offseason. As a staff, we’re really excited about where he’s tracking.
Armstrong isn't a threat to make his way into the starting lineup. But having depth at the position is very important, something the Raiders learned the hard way last season following a slew of injuries at the position.
Beyond the three starting linebackers (Sio Moore, Curtis Lofton and Khalil Mack), only Malcolm Smith has a secured role as a primary backup.
There's still a long way to go before the start of the season, but Armstrong has impressed through the first two weeks of OTAs. He's well on his way to becoming a regular contributor.
The starting tight end position is going to be one of the most contested roster spots in Oakland's training camp. Clive Walford was already expected to seriously challenge for the role. But since his arrival, he's shown that he might be even better than expected.
CSNCalifornia.com's Scott Bair tweeted, "It’s clear from listening to [head coach Jack] Del Rio over the last few weeks and [quarterback Christian] Ponder today that TE Clive Walford is making a solid first impression."
Christian Ponder provided a little more detail regarding Walford's impressive play thus far in OTAs (h/t the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur): "[Walford] has really stood out. Big guy, catches [the] ball well and is faster than I thought he would be."
While Mychal Rivera, last year's 16-game starter, did well in the role, the performance of the tight ends overall was underwhelming. And Rivera himself left something to be desired, particularly as a blocker.
Because of Rivera's trouble in the blocking game and the lack of depth at the position, the Raiders adding a reinforcement at the position in the draft wasn't a surprise. When that reinforcement turned out to be Walford, the question of who would start became very real.
After the first two sessions of OTAs, Walford hasn't just done enough to prove that he's going to challenge for playing time. He's shown that he's also going to challenge for the starting job.
A lot of hype is coming out of Oakland regarding rookie tight end Clive Walford. But that doesn't mean that incumbent Mychal Rivera is sure to lose is job. And it certainly doesn't mean that, starter or not, he won't be a key part of the offense.
Rivera's strength has always been catching the ball. However, he was forced into the role of every-down tight end for Oakland. This exposed his deficiencies as a blocker.
The Raiders added blocking specialist Lee Smith through free agency and all-around tight end Walford in the draft to address this issue. This could give the impression that Rivera's role will be lessened. But it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Oakland tight ends coach Bobby Johnson made a very important observation regarding the Oakland tight ends, per Raiders.com's Jerry Knaak: "Because each guy has their niche, we can highlight those guys’ strengths and not make them play to weaknesses."
While Johnson didn't identify Rivera specifically, this philosophy applies perfectly to the third-year tight end.
Rivera might leave something to be desired as a blocker, but he's a real threat as a pass-catching tight end. The additions of Smith and Walford mean Rivera won't have to handle blocking duties (not playing to a weakness) while still being used often as a receiver (highlight a strength).
By focusing only on receiving, Rivera will have the opportunity to become a major receiving weapon, and the entire offense will benefit.
Like most seventh-round picks, the expectations for Andre Debose aren't very high. On offense, he's a long shot at best to crack the wide receiver depth chart.
But he's a dangerous weapon in the return game, and this could prove to be his golden ticket onto the 53-man roster.
JustBlogBaby.com's Chase Ruttig noted that the rookie has been impressive early on as a returner:
Running a 4.4 40-Yard dash, the Florida Gators wideout [Andre Debose] was selected in the seventh round by general manager Reggie McKenzie solely for his speed and so far has not disappointed those who have attended OTAs who are taking note of the speed of the 221st overall draft pick.
Working with no pads and the full opportunity to show off his speed, Debose has drawn the attention of the media members on hand as the Raiders look for a consistent kick return specialist to add to their roster.
In a tweet from OTAs, the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur agreed that, while it's still early, Debose has already done enough to make himself one of the favorites for the job: "Here's way-too early observation from no-pads OTA in May: Rookie WR Andre Debose is making Raiders as a kick returner. Burst with capital B."
The Raiders struggled to find a reliable return man in 2014. The list of players Oakland tried at the position included T.J. Carrie and Latavius Murray. Carrie is likely to start at cornerback, and Murray is challenging for the starting running back job. Even if he loses out, he'll still be an important part of the offense.
This means that both Carrie and Murray are unlikely to see time on special teams, especially as kick and punt returners, in order to avoid injuries.
The team also tried going with George Atkinson III, but he didn't do much to impress in limited opportunities.
Having a truly dangerous, or at the very least consistently effective, return man would be a major boost to the team. The performance of Debose through the first two weeks of OTAs has provided some very encouraging signs that the Raiders might have found their man.
With all of the additions the Raiders made to the passing game this offseason (Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Clive Walford), the forgotten man has been former No. 1 wide receiver Rod Streater. It's still unclear just what role the coaches want him to assume now that he's returned from injury.
As for Streater, he's already picked one for himself: veteran leader.
Raiders.com's Rebecca Corman noted: "As an undrafted free agent, Streater understands what it takes to make it when the odds are against you. He has learned numerous lessons throughout his time in the NFL, and is open to sharing them with his teammates to help them succeed."
Streater has made it clear that he's embraced the veteran leadership role (via Corman):
So I just try to mentor them [young wide receivers]. Being an undrafted guy making the team, I try just to guide them like, "You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that." I just want to be like the guy that helped them anytime they need any advice…. I want the whole group to do good. Whatever I can do to help, whatever problems I went through and I can give advice to the young guy, I try to be there for him. That’s going to help us grow as a team and grow as a unit.
While most have already taken it as a given that Cooper and Crabtree will be the starters, Streater is a serious challenger to be the No. 2 wide receiver. But wherever he ends up on the depth chart, he's already shown that he'll be an asset to the team, both on the field and in the locker room.
Who are you excited about following the second week of OTAs? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on at Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.