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Yamen Sanders

Montana's Yamen Sanders looks to tackle Northern Colorado's Darius Graham.

Photo provided

Safety Yamen Sanders became the third former Grizzly to earn his shot with an NFL team following this year's draft, accepting a mini camp invitation with the Oakland Raiders.

The California native joins former Griz defenders Caleb Kidder (Minnesota) and JR Nelson (Kansas City), who were picked up as priority free agents Saturday. Sanders confirmed the camp invite to the Missoulian on Sunday afternoon.

He'll fly out Thursday for the Raiders' camp this weekend.

Where Kidder and Nelson will be under contract with their franchises, Sanders is still facing an uphill battle to earn his own free agent deal. As a camp invitee, he'll attend an upcoming three-day rookie mini camp on a strictly tryout basis. Oakland could cut ties with him there or, should he continue to impress, the Raiders may extend him a contract offer.

Sanders spoke to a few teams Saturday about potential free agent deals, but no offers came in the hours following the draft, he said.

"As things went on I started getting kind of nervous," Sanders said. "It doesn't really matter contract or not, they'll still cut you. Really all I wanted was to get the opportunity to show off my skills."

At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Sanders was an imposing figure at safety for Montana the past two years. He transferred from FBS Arizona before the 2015 season and started 11 games as a junior and nine more as a senior.

Sanders made 32 tackles from his safety position to go along with a half sack in 2016. He intercepted one pass in each of his two seasons in Missoula.

Sanders is an A+ on the eye test due to his hulking size, but's review of his draft potential last week summed up his prospects for making the league well.

"His impressive size and leaping ability will force general managers to go put the tape on for this Arizona transfer," his draft outlook stated, "but ultimately, the tape doesn't show any facets where he truly excels. His traits will get him into a camp, but he'll face a challenge in making a roster early on."

Sanders said he hopes to show his improved footwork and technique in person that will help offset some of those perceptions. He's fully healthy after a nagging ankle injury slowed him throughout his senior year.

"The last bit of film that people have seen from me, I'm moving kind of odd, not moving how I'm used to moving because I had a bum ankle all year," Sanders said. "I think the biggest thing is showing what I looked kind of rough on in film this last season."

No Griz players were drafted for the first time since 2015 and the third time in the past five years. The Montana State Bobcats were also shut out of this spring's draft, but offensive lineman J.P. Flynn is headed to San Francisco as a free agent and running back Chad Newell will attend mini camp with Tampa Bay.

Other Montana seniors hoping to earn an NFL shot like quarterback Brady Gustafson and running back Joey Counts have not signed with an NFL team or accepted rookie mini camp invitations as of Monday morning.

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