If you're looking for an interesting sleeper team this year, you may be surprised at what the Oakland Raiders accomplish in 2010. Yes, the Raiders. No, I'm not kidding. Though the franchise has been quite the punchline in recent seasons, recent additions to a strong front seven, a very solid 2010 draft, the addition of quarterback Jason Campbell(notes), and a weak AFC West could combine to give Raiders faithful something to cheer about for the first time in years.
And if you're looking for a sleeper player in either fantasy or reality football, second-year receiver Louis Murphy(notes) is one to watch. The fourth-round pick out of Florida started his rookie season strong, wasn't targeted as much in mid-season, but really stepped it up near the end, especially in a 27-24 upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, when he caught four passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He finished that rookie year with 34 catches for 521 yards and four touchdowns, but it's a good bet you'll see those numbers increasing in 2010.
Shutdown Corner: You started the regular season off hot after a good preseason, then you started to see fewer targets despite the fact that when you were targeted more, you were generally very effective. Was the decrease in targets explained to you? And do you think you'll be featured more in 2010?
Louis Murphy: It was explained to me that I was getting a lot of double coverages, a lot of rolling coverages to my side. So that was pretty much a lot where the targets went, I had to get other players open. I think I'm going to be featured more in 2010. They're looking for me to be the big-time receiver, and for me to step up and be that guy. I think I'm going to have a very intricate role in this season, this playoff run we're going to try to take. I just think the sky's the limit.
SC: Were you surprised that you were getting that kind of focus so soon?
LM: It was surprising. Even in college, defenses pretty much just play their coverage, defensive coordinators just run their defense that works for them. Really don't try to-especially with Percy playing the slot-you never really got a coverage for a slot receiver where you could just focus on the slot versus man coverage. So being in the NFL, there was a lot of talk about how if a player starts to get hot, they'll try to cloud coverage you or shadow coverage you. When I started doing well, and it started happening, I thought, ‘Wow, they really do this,' because I wasn't a believer in all that - they didn't do it in college. But when it started happening, it was just frustrating because I went a game without even a catch and I thought, ‘Man, if you do what you're doing hot, they try to take it away from you right away'.
SC: Was there a different game plan going into the Pittsburgh game? You wound up as the first Raiders receiver to go over 100 yards in a single game in 33 games, which is a pretty impressive stat. Not only did you catch two touchdowns, but there was that great sideline catch on the prayer thrown by Bruce Gradkowski(notes).
LM: That's pretty much how it happened. Got into a rhythm, and it happened. We didn't gameplan it, because I don't think I even had a catch until the fourth quarter, so it really wasn't like I was game-planned -- ‘We're going to target you this game'. It was just that--the one play where I scored a 75-yard touchdown, at practice, they said that this was going to be a big play-similar to the Chargers game-this is going to be a play that's going to work. And when I ran and saw the coverage, same thing. They were blitzing, bringing an all-out blitz. It's just me and [cornerback Ike] Taylor out there, and I pretty much did the same thing. Sold the out, broke to the middle, Bruce threw a great ball and after that, it just started rolling."
LM: I don't want to get into the JaMarcus thing, but they're different personalities -- different guys. I felt comfortable with both of them; I just felt that if we went out there and executed the game plan like the coaches put it in, we'd have a chance no matter who was out there [at quarterback]. Playing with Jason Campbell has been a lift to the entire team. He's a leader who commands the huddle, and he's been through a few offenses, which is good because our offense is similar to ones he's run. You [watch] him in meetings and he works really hard, and everyone's working hard for him. I really feel that we're going to shock a lot of teams this year.
SC: For the first time in years, the Raiders' draft was almost universally praised. Is there a different feel around the complex this year, maybe a thought that you guys could catch a few breaks and be in the playoff hunt in what looks like a weak division?
LM: We don't set the schedule, but I think we have a buzz going around the locker room. Everybody's really upbeat, and really excited about the season. I feel that we could make the playoffs this year. With the team we had last season, we had some games we just let slip by, and some where we never even showed up. In other games, we played very well against some really good teams. With Jason coming in, and coach [Hue] Jackson coming in, I think we have a better chance. I think we're going to get our respect early in the season, and teams will take us seriously.
SC: What does it do to your game to go up against [elite cornerback] Nnamdi Asomugha in practice all the time?
LM: Everybody's wrong, man ... he's not even good (laughs). No, it's an honor to go against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL every day in practice. He makes my game go up another level, because I'll talk with him after pretty much every play - what he saw, what I could have done better in my routes ... if he jumps a route and knocks the ball down, what did I do that he saw that I could do better? Just talking with him all the time, and going up against that kind of competitiveness - a Pro Bowl cornerback - when you get into the game, you're almost always playing against - I won't say a lesser corner, but he's just that good. He studies very hard and works all the time. A lot of the coverages in the NFL that I saw last year, I was already ready for them. He talks to me about what defenses we're going against that week, and it helps me out a lot. When you go against Nnamdi every day, you're not as intimidated when you see Champ [Bailey] or [Darrelle] Revis up against you. I've caught balls on Nnamdi, and that just boosts my confidence.
SC: What is Al Davis like?
LM: Sharp as a tack. Very sharp mentally. He knows pretty much every player that's coming into the draft, every player in the NFL ... talking to him is almost like talking to a God of football - he knows pretty much everything. He knows everyone - looks can be deceiving, because he's on top of everything. I love talking to him - I talk to him often. He knows so much football, it's mind-blowing. If you ask him about anyone, any player, he's going to know something or someone that has to do with that person.
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- Jason Campbell