On Friday the Oakland Raiders announced the signing of eleven undrafted free agents. The press release is readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a passing familiarity with the term “google” — here, I will save you the trouble — and it offers a brief, one-sentence capsule on each player’s college accomplishments.
I would like to offer a different glimpse of each prospect, substituting a more in-depth breakdown for run-of-the-mill statistics. This will be the first part in a three-part series, each of which will deal with three to four players.
Finally, I highly urge you to check out Elias Trejos’s grades for each signing over at Bleacher Report. He also provides highlight film on each, which serves as a nice complement to my coverage.
Before getting into specifics on each player, I’d like to begin by noting that on paper this looks to be a fantastic new crop of free agents. Although each guy may exhibit some shortcomings – this is, after all, why they were not drafted – the upside potential across the board is exceptional.
George Atkinson III (RB-Notre Dame):
Atkinson III has two primary strengths, straight-line speed and blood ties. Many a member of the Raider Nation will recognize the surname, and yes, Atkinson III is the son of the famed Soul Patrol defensive back/freight train. Atkinson III also boasts legitimate 4.40 speed (he posted times of 4.39 and 4.41 in the 40 yard dash at the combine).
Another piece of evidence that he is hiding greased lightning in his cleats: he is the proud owner of six entries in the Fighting Irish record books, five of which concern kickoff returns. Return duties are his likeliest role if he remains on the 53-man final roster with the Oakland Raiders, as he carried the ball only sixty times for 388 yards in the final two seasons of his college career.
Mike Davis (WR-Texas):
Davis looks the part of the prototypical talent-rich, effort-deficient player. He was highly recruited out of high school, and showcased what might be termed a lack of vision in switching his commitment from LSU to Texas. His natural athleticism allowed him to sporadically shine through the lackluster teams of late-era Mack Brown.
At six feet and a hair under 200 lbs., Davis plays faster on tape – when he wants to – than his 4.50 at the combine might indicate. When focused, he is capable of exhibiting the gamut of positive traits one looks for in a receiver, from highlight reel grabs to razzle-dazzle shiftiness on screens to blowing the top off of a defense.
On the other hand, he is prone to lapses in focus that come with dropped passes, poor routes, and not even going through the motions on blocking assignments. It is not atypical to see a first-class talent on a second-class team preserve his body for the time when he is actually paid a competitive salary to destroy it, so it would be overly hasty to assume all of Davis’ weaknesses will follow him to the pros.
If he shows full-time effort through the array of preseason tryouts, Davis has a very good chance of making the final roster, perhaps supplanting the thus-far little-seen Juron Criner. If not, you can expect him to be among the first crop of cuts in favor of guys who have shown McKenzie that they want to be there.
Carlos Fields (LB-Winston-Salem St.):
Ahab had Moby Dick. Sisyphus had his rolling rock. Al Davis had his Flash Gordon. The elusive catch for every serious football fan is the diamond-in-the-rough undrafted free agent. Here, we are talking about a guy who less under the radar than off the atlas. And for the Oakland Raiders, I believe that man is Carlos Fields.
Fields played his college ball at less-than-perennial-powerhouse Winston-Salem State University, a Division II school that ranks among the storied HBCU’s. In terms of gridiron pedigree, WSSU is less anonymous than the neuronal misfires likely occurring now in your memory suggest. Nine of its alumni have been drafted into the NFL, the most prominent of whom is certainly Yancey Thigen. Thigpen went 90th overall to the San Diego Chargers in 1991, and earned two Pro Bowl selections after being traded to the Steelers the next year.
What does all of this have to do with Fields? Not a great deal, except to point out that WSSU is not exactly the NFL prospect desert that, say, the Sorbonne is. Watching Fields on tape one does not think of Paris so much as Berlin, as in the Wall. He exhibits a keen awareness of offensive machinations and a rare patience. Where lesser prospects may prematurely shoot a middle gap only to watch the runner spring off-tackle, Fields consistently diagnoses such plays and meets the runner at the corner rather than take the bait.
Of course, all of this recognition prowess would be for naught if Fields did not possess the speed to get to the spot. Luckily, he has it in spades. At 6-1 and just a whit under 240 pounds, he ran a 4.50 forty at his pro day. For comparison, the fastest linebacker at this year’s combine was Kevin Pierre-Louis, shorter and lighter than Fields, who clocked in at 4.51. One one-hundredth of a second slower was linebacker-in- a-safety’s-body, Telvin Smith.
While Fields’s forte is run defense, he is no slouch when it comes to passing plays. He displays competence-plus in both coverage and rushing no doubt due to the same combination of on-field IQ and athleticism that make him jump off the film on running plays. In the same vein, just as he is rarely fooled by misdirection runs, Fields excels at blowing up screens in the backfield. He does not show the full array of pass-rush moves – not surprising for an OLS linebacker – but as you might expect, explodes of the line of scrimmage when he plays with his hand in the dirt. He has the ability to dominate and exhaust slower tackles.
The primary knock against Fields is something that is out of his control; fairly anemic competition. As with any small-school prospect, the NFL represents a monumental leap in the talent pool. Of lesser concern, Fields can, at times, overpursue and take himself out of the play. It is difficult to pinpoint any other consistent weaknesses from his game tape, as he so thoroughly dominated at the Division II level.
I expect his floor to be a special teams ace, while his ceiling is to work his way into the lineup as a run-down specialist with the ability to stay on the field for later downs if need be. Fields may very well be our defensive version of Rod Streater.