Top Raiders Rookie Performances: Honorable mentions
In a previous post we examined the bottom half of the top five finest rookie performances in Raiders history. Today, we take a brief break and look at the Raider rookies who didn’t make the list but deserve honorable mention for their fine rookie campaigns.
Some Raider rookies didn’t find success in one season as much as they found success on one play. Rookie running back Ira Matthews tied the longest play in Raiders history with a 104 yard kickoff return against San Diego in 1978. The play resulted in a touchdown and it remains the longest play ever produced by a Raider rookie. Matthews played sparingly on offense and during his entire career he only posted 47 total yards as a running back but he surpassed all of that one kick return which forever cemented him as an integral part of the Raiders record book.
The 1978 Raiders witnessed another stellar rookie performance that often gets overlooked by Raiders fans. Art Whittington rushed for 667 yards (second best in Raiders history as of this writing) on 172 carries and his 7 rushing touchdowns ranks only behind Marcus Allen as the most ever produced by a Raider rookie rusher. Art also added just over 400 yards on kick returns and another 106 yard on 23 receptions and his 42 points ranks as the fourth best ever produced by a Raiders rookie. On November 5, 2020 Whittington powered for 134 yards against Kansas City which at the time was the most rushing yards ever produced by a Raiders rookie in a single game. Sadly, Art is a forgotten footnote in Raiders history but his stellar rookie performance nearly landed him on the Top Ten list.
We have previously looked at the greatest single rushing performance by a rookie in Raiders history when Bo Jackson ran over the Seahawks in 1987 but twenty years later it looked like another rookie runner might eclipse Bo. In 2008, rookie running back Michael Bush rushed for 177 yards during a victory over Tampa Bay which marked Jon Grudens final game as an NFL head coach. The Raiders were trailing 27-20 with around 7 minutes remaining in the fourth period when Bush took a handoff from JaMarcus Russell, broke two tackles, rambled through a gaping hole in the right side of the defense and headed upfield for a 67-yard touchdown which ultimately put a dagger in Tampa Bay’s slim playoff hopes. Bush had opened the scoring with a short touchdown run in the early stages of the second quarter and despite not “outrushing Bo”, Michael Bush’s performance remains as the second best rushing performance ever produced by a Raiders rookie.
Within the confines of Raider Nation they say that “speed kills” and it is likely that no Raider receiver was ever faster than James Jett when he blazed past defenses during his 1993 rookie campaign. As an undrafted free agent Jett joined the Raiders following a solid collegiate career at West Virginia and after winning a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympic 4 x 100 meter relay. During his rookie season, Jett lead the NFL with over 23 yards per reception and also recorded 771 yards on 33 receptions for 3 touchdowns. Jett averaged 48.2 yards per game his debut season and during the Raiders two playoff contests he added four more receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown. James Jett was electric but there is another undrafted free agent that deserves honorable mention on our list and he would have given Jett a run for his money if they had sprinted against one another.
In 2005, the Raiders signed Chris Carr as a reserve defensive back but Carr’s true calling was special teams and the Raiders immediately made him their starting returner on both kickoffs and punts. Carr played in all 16 games for a struggling Raiders team that finished the season with a 4-12 record. As a kick returner, he ran 73 times for 1752 yards (an average of 24 per carry) with a long of 62 yards. As a punt returner, he ran 32 times for 186 yards (an average of 5.5) with a long of 34. He only gave up 2 fumbles. Carr finished his rookie season by setting the Raiders franchise rookie records for kick returns in a season, kick return yards in a season and he led the NFL in those categories during the 2005 season. Lastly, Carr’s 1,937 combined rookie yards rank second behind Tim Brown as the most ever produced by a Raider rookie.
Chris Carr wasn’t the only rookie return man that found success in silver and black. In 1975, defensive back Neal Colzie established a Raiders record that still stands. Colzie, a former Ohio State Buckeye, led the Raiders in punt returns from 1975 to 1978 but during his first season he gained 655 yards off 48 punt returns which established a franchise record that stood until 1986 and remains the best ever produced by a Raiders rookie. He also added 4 interceptions on defense, the fourth best ever produced by a Raider rookie but sadly there just wasn’t enough room on my list to place him.
Both Shane Lechler (2000) and Ray Guy (1972) established and hold every single Raiders rookie record for punters and since punting is such an integral part of establishing field position this list cannot ignore their accomplishments. During his rookie campaign in 2000, Lechler broke Guy’s rookie record by averaging nearly 46 yards per punt and when fellow rookie kicker Sabastian Janikowski was injured Lechler took over placekicking duties for a time. Lechler attempted but missed two field goals but he was successful on all seven of his extra point tries which makes him the highest scoring rookie punter in Raiders history.
Now that we have looked at those Raider rookies that deserve honorable mention we will now return to the Top Ten countdown next time by looking at who cracked the top five.