Undrafted But Not Unnoticed: Raiders Free Agents Stand Out
By Bess Shapiro
Now that OTAs are over, the newest Oakland Raiders have made their first impressions. Oakland's draft picks, in particular cornerback D.J, Hayden and quarterback Tyler Wilson, have generated the most discussion. But the Raiders also signed more than a dozen undrafted free agents, and some of whom have shown they could make it in the NFL, even as starters. Provided those free agents stick it out through training camp, here are a few who could stand out in 2013:
Conner Vernon (WR). Conner Vernon was mentioned more than once during OTAs. Coach Dennis Allen said he was a “standout.” Silver and Black Pride’s R. Dreamer says Vernon can play a role similar to that of 5-9 Denver Broncos wideout Wes Welker, only he’s taller at 6-0.http://www.silverandblackpride.com/2013/5/1/4287986/oakland-raiders-udfa-conner-vernon-player-profile. At Duke, Vernon had 283 receptions for 3,749 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also became the first player in the Atlantic Coast Conference history to have multiple seasons with 70 or more receptions. He’s vying for the slot receiver position up against Jacoby Ford, who is still getting healthy, so Vernon has a good chance at getting playing time.
Brian Leonhardt (TE). Leonhardt played four years at Bemidji State in Minnesota. It’s a small school, but Leonhardt has height (6-5, 255 pounds). His junior year he led his team with 35 receptions and 483 yards. He ranked third on the team with 25 receptions for 343 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. He’s an excellent run and pass blocker, a good combination for a tight end. He has a lot of competition from the likes of veteran David Ausberry and draft picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. Kasa is nursing a hamstring injury. Ausberry did well during OTAs but isn’t turning any heads in minicamp. Leonhardt could well get a shot.
Matt McGloin, (QB). At 6-1 and 210 pounds, the Penn State rookie set a school record with 46 career TD passes, and in 2012 set single-season records for completions (270), attempts (446) and passing yards (3,266). During OTAs, he made a big impression, probably enough to make the other three QB contenders nervous. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur said on the first day of OTAs the best pass of the day — a long, tight spiral — came from McGloin: http://blog.sfgate.com/raiders/2013/05/20/quick-hits-from-first-day-of-organized-workouts/. Is it enough to earn a spot? With Terrelle Pryor struggling during minicamp, McGloin should not be dismissed.
Billy Boyko (LB). As a senior at Lehigh University, Boyko led the team in tackles with 104, 53 of which were solo stops. In addition to his size (6-2, 240 pounds), Boyko has demonstrated some impressive skills, including a 37.5 inch vertical leap and an unofficial 4.5 40-yard dash during Lehigh’s Pro Day in March. He missed games over his last two seasons due to injury, a cause for concern for a team trying to rebuild. But his ability makes him an ideal inside linebacker, a position where the Raiders need all the help they can get.