SAN DIEGO – James Cowser needed less than 10 professional snaps to make a big impact. The Raiders edge rusher pushed his man deep into the backfield, then cut inside and sacked Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor for a 10-yard loss.
The Southern Utah alum’s first NFL sack was a big moment. The entire team enjoyed it, though there were few enjoying as much as Jalen Richard.
Undrafted rookies, it seems, always stick together.
“Everything that we’re doing now, people didn’t think we would be able to do,” Richard said. “There were no expectations for undrafted guys like us. Everything we do, no matter how small, is bigger than what people thought we would do.”
There’s something about coming up the hard way that bonds players together. Going undrafted is an unpleasant experience. Working from the bottom on up comes with a great sense of satisfaction.
There are several Raiders who have felt that way. They started the season with four undrafted free agents on the 53-man roster, and now have seven on the active roster.
Richard is the most popular and productive member of that group, but isn’t the only contributor. Darius Latham is a staple on the interior defensive line. Johnny Holton is a quality gunner and used on reverses. Denver Kirkland was an extra linemen in jumbo packages. Cowser has a sack and a fumble recovery in just three games played.
Cowser took a long road to this opportunity. He impressed in training camp but suffered a concussion in the preseason finale and got cut with an injury settlement. He was signed to the practice squad when rules permitted and was promoted to the active roster with Shilique Calhoun suffered a knee injury. He has made the most of this chance.
“It’s a great story and we have so many of these young guys that are creating their own stories,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Their desire and their effort, their energy, it’s healthy for the team to have that around. We let guys earn their way and these guys that have come in, no matter how you get here, once you get here take advantage of the opportunity and he has. He’s really a dependable guy, works really hard, very diligent and happy to see him have that success.”
The Raiders take pride in finding diamonds in the rough. General manager Reggie McKenzie and the staff have found several undrafted gems in recent seasons, including Marquette King, Denico Autry and Seth Roberts.
“Our scouts do a really great job of identifying guys we need to target after the draft,” McKenzie said. “It was impressive how many undrafted guys made the team this year, especially this was our most talent roster since I’ve been here.
“You’re expected to get good players early in the draft, but to have some of the later round guys and free agents not only make it but produce, that’s what it’s all about.”
Adding young depth through unorthodox sources could help keep this good thing going and veterans filter through. This undrafted group in particular has really bonded over earning their role the hard way. That’s why they’re always rooting the other undrafted guys on.
“We first came here for rookie minicamp, and you ended up spending all the extra time with young guys,” Cowser said. “You really get to know each other, so it’s super cool to see your friends doing big things.”