American Football

Shoes to fill: Best players in franchise history to wear rookies’ numbers

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NFLPA Rookie Premiere Portrait Session
Aidan O’Connell | Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Looking at 2023 draft class’ jersey numbers

Recently, Las Vegas Raiders rookie quarterback and fourth-round pick Aidan O’Connell sparked some controversy within the fanbase with his number selection. O’Connell’s options were limited and veteran wideout Jakobi Meyers had already taken his college number (16), so the Purdue product opted for No. 4, previously worn by Derek Carr over the last decade.

Especially since the Raiders don’t retire numbers, that got me thinking; who are the best players in franchise history to wear the same number as the team’s 2023 draft class? And what will they have to do to live up to those legacies?

Tyree Wilson No. 9 — Shane Lechler

This one is interesting as Tyree Wilson, a defensive lineman, currently shares the same number as Shane Lechler, a punter…

An argument could be made that Wilson has some of the biggest shoes to fill out of all the rookies as Lechler was an outstanding punter for the Silver and Black. In Oakland, the latter was a first-team All-Pro six times, second-team three times and was one of two punters to make the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. For those curious, the other punter was a guy by the name of Ray Guy.

The Texas Tech product is going to have to have a hell of a career to live up to that legacy, which will be difficult while playing a physical position. However, unless he ends up getting listed on the roster as a linebacker, his number will change at the end of training camp as the NFL’s rules prohibit defensive linemen from wearing single digits.

Wide receiver DJ Turner currently wears Wilson’s college number (19) and that digit is a lot less notable as Cotton Davidson is the best player to wear it in franchise history. Davidson was a quarterback for the Raiders from 1962 to 1968 and managed just an 8-19-1 record as a starter to go along with 41 touchdown passes to 63 interceptions.

If Turner makes the 53-man roster, then Wilson’s number will be a guessing game if his listed position doesn’t change.

Michael Mayer No. 87 — Dave Casper

I think this one is pretty cool. Dave Casper is one of the best tight ends in Notre Dame’s and the Raiders’ histories and now Michael Mayer, who left South Bend as the school’s most-accomplished tight end, looks to follow in the Ghost’s footsteps.

In eight years with the organization, Casper had 255 catches for 3,294 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was a two-time Super Bowl Champion, four-time first-team All-Pro, made five trips to the Pro Bowl and has a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.

Living up to a Hall of Famer’s legacy will be a difficult task for Mayer, but he’s already surpassed Casper in Notre Dame’s history books, so he has some experience filling those shoes. For what it’s worth, both players were second-round picks by the Raiders, too.

Byron Young No. 93 — Greg Townsend

New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Raiders
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Greg Townsend

This is a difficult one because while both players are defensive linemen, they play different positions and have very different skill sets. Byron Young is a run-stuffing defensive tackle while Greg Townsend was more of an edge and a sack-master who currently holds the franchise record for the metric with 107.5 career sacks.

Expecting Young to re-write the Raiders’ history books as a pass-rusher is far-fetched, but he could definitely receive as many or more accolades as the two-time second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler. Townsend also won a Super Bowl with the Silver and Black in 1984.

Tre Tucker No. 89 — Amari Cooper

This one might be a little controversial as some may argue for Ronald Curry as the best Raider to wear 89 and Amari Cooper isn’t exactly popular within the fanbase. But the numbers don’t lie and Cooper was very productive in Oakland.

As a rookie, he broke the franchise record for receiving yards for a first-year player by just under 300 yards, and he ended with 3,183 yards and 19 touchdowns in three and a half seasons with the club. The 2015 fourth-overall pick finished third in the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and made two Pro Bowls with the Raiders, three if you count 2018 when he was traded midseason to Dallas Cowboys.

While Tre Tucker could surpass Cooper’s legacy, it will be due to his longevity with the organization. Unlike Cooper, who walked into the building as the No. 1 receiver, Tucker will have to compete for targets and reps with Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Renfrow, so he won’t have as much immediate success.

Jakorian Bennett No. 29 — Howie Williams

The pickings were slim for No. 29 as running back Michael Bush was the other player I considered, but Bush lacks accolades and Jakorian Bennet and Howie Williams are a more natural comparison since both are defensive backs.

Williams played for the Raiders from 1964 to 1969 and won an AFL Championship in ‘67. He collected 14 interceptions in those six seasons which is a benchmark Bennett could reach or surpass as he does have good ball skills with five picks and 22 passes defended during his last two seasons at Maryland.

Aidan O’Connell No. 4 — Derek Carr

Las Vegas Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers
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Derek Carr

The center of the controversy!

I think everybody reading this knows that Derek Carr left as the franchise leader in pretty much every passing statistic. It’s going to be difficult for Aidan O’Connell to supplant Carr in the record books seeing as O’Connell projects to be a backup to at least begin his NFL career. However, if he can win a playoff game, some people in the fanbase might hold him in higher regard than the previous No. 4…

Christopher Smith II No. 42 — Ronnie Lott

Ronnie Lott played the majority of his Hall of Fame career across the bay with the San Francisco 49ers and only spent two seasons in Oakland, but he was damn good during those campaigns.

In 1991, Lott had eight interceptions and a forced fumble which helped him earn first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl bids while he also finished fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. The following year wasn’t as impressive as he only had one pick and one forced fumble, but he did have over 100 tackles and left Oakland with 196 tackles in the two seasons combined.

It’s a lofty expectation to expect Christopher Smith II to have the same impact as a guy who has a gold jacket hanging in his closet, but the numbers and accolades above are attainable for Smith II. It might take him a year or two before he gets enough playing time to reach those benchmarks, but the Georgia product has impressive instincts that could help him have a similar tenure with the Raiders as Lott.

Amari Burney No. 56 — Derrick Burgess

During some of the darkest days in franchise history, Derrick Burgess was one of the few bright spots for the Raiders. He had an impressive three-year run from 2005 to 2007, racking up 35 sacks, making two Pro Bowls and earning second-team All-Pro honors. Also, he holds the franchise record for most sacks in a single season with 16 in ‘05.

Denver Broncos vs Oakland Raiders - November 12, 2006
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Derrick Burgess

Burgess’ status as the best Raider to wear No. 56 likely isn’t in danger with Amari Burney now rocking the digits. Burney is a solid coverage linebacker who would be an over-achiever if he just becomes a starter as a late-round pick. The likelihood of him becoming a two-time Pro Bowler and having the same impact as Burgess is low.

Nesta Jade Silvera No. 97 — John Parrella

The Raiders don’t have a great history of 97s as Mario Edwards Jr. is probably the next-best option behind John Parrella. Parrella was a solid contributor to the 2002 team that made the Super Bowl, logging 15 regular season starts with 44 total tackles, a sack and four passes defended. However, only started five games in the following two seasons before retiring.

Nesta Jade Silvera could easily live up to that standard. While he will have to fight to make the team like Burney, Silvera is a good penetrator against the run who could surprise some people as a seventh-rounder. It’s a low bar, but he could become the best player in franchise history to wear the number with just a couple of strong seasons.

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