The Oakland Raiders had a relatively strong showing during last month’s player entry draft. One of the few downsides to their draft was the small number of selections that they ended up with. So, the importance of the all important “8th round,” or the undrafted free agent signing period, became very important for general manager Reggie McKenzie as he looked to add to more potential talent to a depleted roster.
The Raiders signed 14 undrafted free agents during the signing period. A lot of the time, undrafted free agents tend to be players that are there to fill out the training camp roster or possibly be stashed away on a team’s developmental practice squad. It is very rare that you find players that have the potential to make an impact right away.
However, last year, the Raiders found several players that were able to make an immediate impact in wide receiver Rod Streater and guard Lucas Nix. This year, three players stand out as potential additions to the 53-man roster when the team begins the regular season. Cornerback Adrian Bushell is considered to be the gem of this free agent haul. Wide receiver Conner Vernon is a close second out of Duke. These two players look to make a lot noise as mini-camps open around the league.
Adrian Bushell, CB – Louisville:
Bushell was a highly recruited four star prospect coming out of high school, who ultimately signed with the University of Florida. Bushell suffered from academic and off-field issues during his time at Florida and transferred to community college for a season. He signed with Louisville in 2011, after the signing of Charlie Strong, who was his former defensive coordinator at Florida.
He excelled during his time in Louisville. Bushell was named First Team All-Big East by coaches in the conference. He recorded 50 tackles, one interception, and three pass defenses in 2011. He also excelled on special teams with an average of 30.7 yards on nine kick returns, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown. He also blocked two kicks, which should have been three, except that a blocked punt was ruled as a forced fumble.
In 2012, Bushell again was named to the coaches’ All-Big East First Team. He recorded 61 tackles, one interceptions, and an impressive 13 pass defenses. He regressed on his special teams ability with just 333 yards on 17 returns, though. He was believed to be graded out as a mid-to-late round pick following his senior season, so the Raiders were lucky to get him.
Bushell is seen as solid, instinctive cover corner. He displays good route recognition and anticipation that he uses to jump routes. He does not have great straight-line speed, but he does have good short-area quickness and agility due to his natural footwork and fluidity. He is a strong tackler and plays a strong role in run support. He only possesses average size and strength that will hinder his ability to be successful on the outside against bigger receivers. Bushell has the potential to make the team as nickel and dime corner in the slot, or as a contributor on special teams.
Conner Vernon, WR – Duke:
Vernon was a highly productive receiver during his time at Duke. He was a core member of the group that took Duke to their first bowl game in 17 years. Vernon was a starter in all but three games during his career. He was productive every year of his career and finished as the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
During his freshman year, Vernon made an immediate impact for Duke the moment he stepped on campus. He had 55 receptions for 746 yards, which was good enough to be in the top 10 in ACC in both categories. He also recorded three touchdowns in his first year. He was voted second team All-ACC.
He followed up his impressive freshman year with an even more stellar sophomore year. He lead the ACC in receptions with 73 and finished third in conference with 973 yards. He added four scores that placed him inside the top 10 for the conference. He added his second straight appearance to the All-ACC second team.
He did not improve much in his next season, but he was still solid during his junior year. He had 70 receptions for 956 yards and six touchdowns. He finished inside the top six in the conference in each of the categories. He was named to his third straight second team All-ACC appearance.
Vernon took that leap to elite during his senior year. He led the ACC in receptions for the second time in his career with 85. He finished third in conference in receiving yards and touchdowns with 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. He also helped to lead Duke to their first bowl appearance since 1995. He was named to his first All-ACC First Team.
Vernon’s pre-draft reports had him ranked as mid-to-late round selection in this year’s draft. Vernon is not an overly athletic receiver. He does not have great speed or acceleration, but he does have good footwork and short area agility to get in and out of breaks well. He is an exceptional route runner and understands how to adjust routes to get open. His best attribute is his catching ability. Vernon has hands like glue and is able to make any catch within his radius. Vernon projects to be a slot receiver with his ability to run crisp routes and will be a safety blanket and chain mover at the NFL level.
These two players could come in and surprise the coaches and earn themselves spots on the 53 man roster. Many project that Bushell will have the best chance to make the team with a strong showing in camp, due to the lack of overall talent in the secondary. He could step in right away and make an impact as a slot corner with the ability to produce on special teams. Vernon has a great chance to break into the Raiders’ receiver rotation. He was productive in college and could definitely provide the Raiders with a reliable, consistent receiver that they are lacking with the departure of Brandon Myers. Ultimately, it is hard to tell if one of these players will boom or bust in the NFL, especially for an undrafted free agent, but I would be willing to take a chance on these two.