Oakland Raiders: 7 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIIMay 25, 2015

Oakland Raiders: 7 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Now that free agents and rookies have been added to the roster, the Oakland Raiders had their opportunity to take this newly rebuilt roster for the first test drive.

    Organized team activities (OTAs) provide the first chance for players to step on the field and actually do something that resembles football. Team activities at this point are relatively light, but it still gives a good, early example of what rookies can do at the next level. It also gives an idea of how all of the new pieces might fit together.

    While there's still a long way to go before training camp, there are already some players who have made a good impression and have taken some early steps to separate themselves from the pack.

    Here's a look at seven players who have done enough to stand out following OTAs.

Matt McGloin

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps the reports of Matt McGloin's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    McGloin was locked in as the Raiders' third-string quarterback last season behind starter Derek Carr and backup Matt Schaub. He seemed destined for the same role after this past offseason's addition of Christian Ponder, who has "looked very polished" so far, per Levi Damien of Silver And Black Pride.

    The addition of undrafted rookie Cody Fajardo put more pressure on McGloin. Fajardo's mobility makes him an intriguing prospect, and with some of the passing ability he's shown in OTAs, he looks like a real threat to be a third-stringer in the NFL.

    But while Ponder and Fajardo have had their moments, McGloin has still found himself taking first-team reps in the absence of Carr, per Damien. He alternated with Ponder, but he seems to still be in the mix for the backup role.

    Ponder is still the favorite to be Carr's primary backup. But the competition for the third-string spot might not be much of a competition after all.

Neiko Thorpe

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Neiko Thorpe earned a roster spot last year thanks to his performance in the offseason, but he didn't see much action during the season, despite injuries at cornerback. This year, he appears to be providing an encore OTA performance.

    Thorpe provided one of the highlights of OTAs with his interception of a McGloin pass, per Damien. He's once again exhibiting quickness and good awareness in the secondary, something this Oakland defense can certainly use.

    Take a look at any discussion of the Raiders' situation at cornerback, and the names you see are D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill. But not one of those players is proven, and there's still plenty of opportunity for another cornerback to play his way into increased snaps.

    Thorpe has the ability to be that other cornerback. With another NFL season under his belt, this could be the year his offseason success finally translates to the regular season.

Ray-Ray Armstrong

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Raiders added Ray-Ray Armstrong off waivers last October from the St. Louis Rams. He was primarily a special teamer for St. Louis, but injuries at linebacker in Oakland led to Armstrong getting some more time on defense.

    Armstrong made good use of this unexpected opportunity. While he showed he still needed some time to learn the position, he also exhibited good athleticism and tackling ability.

    That small success appears to have translated to this season. Damien reported, "Jack Del Rio pointed out Ray-Ray Armstrong as a player with whom he's been impressed."

    However, Damien also pointed out, "He [Armstrong] is very athletic and shows flashes of talent but lacks discipline and commits a lot of penalties because of it."

    Armstrong still has work to do, but impressing your new head coach is a great way to not only make the team but also earn some additional playing time.

Max Valles

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    One of Oakland's biggest issues on defense in 2014 was the inability to generate consistent pressure off the edge. Most see 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr. as the team's answer to this problem. But as far as new head coach Del Rio is concerned, the real answer might be 2015 sixth-round pick Max Valles.

    When asked about how the team is going to address its weak pass rush going forward, Del Rio mentioned Valles, not Edwards, via SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t the Raiders' website):

    We took a guy late, Max Valles, that had nine sacks last year in college. We'll give these guys an opportunity to compete and to give us that element coming off the other edge. I know having two guys really makes it good, and ideally you'd like to have two guys that are premium guys rushing the quarterback, and we feel like we have one in Khalil Mack and we're going to have to develop that second guy.

    Exactly how Edwards will be used won't be known until we get closer to the season. Valles, on the other hand, was brought in primarily to be a pass-rusher. And as of now, Del Rio seems eager to develop the sixth-rounder in this role.

    Del Rio wants two players who can consistently get to the quarterback from the edge. Mack appears to be an early favorite for one of these spots. The other spot is wide open, and Valles will be given the opportunity to win the job over Edwards or anyone else on the roster.

Mario Edwards Jr.

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Oakland's selection of Edwards remains a head-scratcher. It's not a matter of his talent. The question is a simple one: What position is Edwards supposed to play? 

    Edwards is capable of playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. Given the makeup of the Oakland defensive line prior to Edwards' arrival, he's likely to play defensive end. But regardless of what the coaches ultimately decide to do with him, Edwards is simply concerning himself with being a football player.

    When asked about the rookie, Justin Tuck had this to say about the versatile defensive lineman, per Scott Bair on CSNBayArea.com:

    He's a true athlete. You can tell that the talent level is there. I hear the things that people have said about him as a knock on him. That hasn't showcased at all yet. He's kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in meetings. Obviously very energetic, running to the ball on the field, and I think that's what you want to see from a rookie guy of his caliber.

    More importantly, Edwards has exhibited an eagerness to learn from the veterans around him, according to Tuck: "He has a great grasp of the defense so far, as far as what we have in so far. But he asked a few questions. Most of his questions are the dos and don'ts, I guess, as far as just how to play in this league, how to practice in this league."

    A rookie needs two things to succeed early on in his career: talent and a willingness to learn. Edwards has exhibited both in OTAs.

Amari Cooper

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Upon arriving in Oakland, Amari Cooper was met with this to-do list:

    • Revive the entire offense
    • Help return an entire franchise to relevance

    Those are big asks from any player but especially from a rookie with zero NFL experience. Given the immense, and possibly illogical, expectations he faces, it would be understandable if Cooper sputtered a little out of the gate.

    But through the first OTAs, he's been the player he was expected to be: mature, confident and polished.

    Cooper made his first splash during the three-day rookie minicamp when he used his route-running ability and speed to beat 2015 seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald for a long touchdown catch, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press via the Washington Times.

    During OTAs, he continued to show the same skills. Damien noted Cooper "does well fighting to get open, and once the ball is in his hand, he can pick up speed quickly and leave his defender in the dust."

    Damien also highlighted one particular play that exemplifies Cooper's abilities: "One particular catch, he [Cooper] came back to pull it [the pass] in, faked inside and went outside and streaked up the right sideline."

    For a player facing such high expectations, it's difficult for Cooper to really impress in OTAs. But he has managed to by simply being what he's expected to be. The rookie has played like a No. 1 receiver. That's what Oakland needs him to do.

    And so far, he's done just that.

D.J. Hayden

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Hayden proves he was worth the 12th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft: take three.

    Is this the year that Hayden finally stays healthy? The Raiders certainly hope so. And so far, things are looking good.

    It's not a coincidence most of the reports coming out of OTAs regarding Hayden have been about his health. The importance of this isn't lost on Hayden himself. In regards to the injury issues he's dealt with so far in his career, Hayden had this to say, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com:

    "It's frustrating, but it's something that I've had to deal with. I can't control it, so I just have to go out there and do my thing. I have to play the cards that I'm dealt as well as I can."

    He's healthy now, and according to Paskal, he's confident about what he can do to help this team going forward: "I don't think of it as more [pressure]. I just think of it as … if I wasn't hurt last year, I'd probably already be in this position [No. 1 cornerback]. I'm in this position now, and I'm ready for it."

    Hayden has the support of a coaching staff that's expecting him to step into that top cornerback role, and they believe he's capable of doing the job. Head coach Del Rio certainly believes in him via Paskal:

    You see his feet and he's [Hayden] got really good feet. He's super quick. Coming in, I think thus far we, as a staff, have talked about how this group has been eager and working hard. That's good. It's a good place to start. Now it's a matter of sustaining that kind of effort. It's a matter of building the mentality that we want and things like that. I like the way DJ has approached his work thus far.

    Hayden has continued to show he has the physical tools to do the job. And unlike the previous years, he's made it through the month of May injury-free.

    Everyone, from Hayden to the coaches, expects him to secure the No. 1 cornerback spot and to be the player Oakland expected him to be when they took him.

    So far, so good.

    Who are you excited about following OTAs? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on at Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.

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