In recent years, the Oakland Raiders have had a knack for finding hidden gems via undrafted free agency, especially when it comes to wide receivers.
The latest example of the silver and black discovering an undrafted steal is Conner Vernon, a Duke product who is quickly making a name for himself in Oakland as a potential contributor to the Raiders’ 2013 passing attack.
Once Vernon arrived in Oakland, it didn’t take long for the undrafted rookie to find his groove. During rookie minicamp and OTAs, the former Blue Devil turned heads as a weapon out of the slot, displaying tremendous consistency and polish for a young wide receiver. The ACC’s all-time leader in receiving yardage wasted to no time asserting himself as legitimate contender for a roster spot.
What Vernon lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in technique and smarts. A precision route runner with tremendous hands, he does a great job of creating space with his cuts and football IQ, and finishes the play off by making clutch catches. Vernon isn’t an outrun-you type of receiver, but he’s the type of reliable target that the Raiders’ passing game needs moving forward.
When training camp gets under way, Vernon will be at war with several capable wide receivers, including Rod Streater, Jacoby Ford, Juron Criner, Brice Butler and Josh Cribbs, for a prominent role alongside Denarius Moore in the Raiders’ offense. And while he has the most prove as an undrafted rookie, he’s already in a great position to sneak away with a roster spot.
It’s assumed that Ford will handle the slot duties this season, but Vernon has come on strong as a dark horse candidate to steal snaps as the Raiders’ No. 3 wide receiver. It’s unlikely that he starts anytime soon, but could provide a solid backup and insurance policy for the injury-prone Ford.
Vernon will never be an upper-echelon NFL wide receiver; that’s just how it is. What he can be, though, is a consistent contributor for the Raiders who uses his intelligence and attention to detail to get positioning on more-athletic defenders.
You want a player worth rooting for? Look no further than Vernon.