About a year ago expectations were sky high for the Raiders getting ready for Training Camp 2017. The team had a solid corps of young, ascending players along with a group of solid NFL vets. But many things did not go right for the team, including injuries to key players, DAVID CARR included. So at the beginning of this year the team canned JACK DEL RIO and Mark Davis buried his father’s hatchet, and successfully lured JON GRUDEN back to the organization. It’s a little bit fuzzy around the edges as to where the dividing line for team control goes between GM REGGIE McKENZIE and GRUDEN, but it’s pretty clear that CHUCKY has input in all things RAIDERS, including the roster. It also looks clear to most observers, yours truly included, that Gruden is a prime mover in the roster changes taking place in Oakland. And the April Draft would certainly be included in the list of things taking on a different tone than in recent years under McKenzie.
During the first two days of the Draft it became clear that Gruden was not happy with the current structure of his units up front on both sides of the ball. The team has a significant amount of their Salary Cap tied up in their OL, but that may be changing in a big way. At Picks 15 and 65 the team took OT prospects KOLTON MILLER and BRANDON PARKER respectively. General consensus seems to be that neither of these two prospects are ready to step right in as pro starters. They are both long and athletic, but far from finished OT prospects. The Combine numbers are very impressive, and their game tape is solid, if a bit inconsistent. MILLER is 6’8, 309 with 34 1/8″ long arms and 10 3/4″hands. He. has all the tools to be an NFL LT, but needs refinement, especially in his hand usage. My guess is that with very good coaching he might find his way into a starting role by mid-season. PARKER did his work at small college NORTH CAROLINA A&T and started for 4 seasons, dominating at his level of play in most games. He has mobile feet and a huge wingspan of 84 7/8″. He is a tad over 6’7 and at 305 clearly needs another 10-15 lbs. on his long, lean frame. These two guys are the future at OT, but how soon, for a wanna-be contending team?
Round 2, saw the team make a serious projection (some would say reach) for DL P.J. HALL/Sam Houston State. Besides playing at a small college level of competition, HALL primarily played at DE in a 4-3 scheme, but his 6’0/ 308 lb. frame does not fit a DE size preferred by NFL coaches. However, his attraction is his ability to penetrate into opponents backfields. For his career he recorded 284 tackles, which included 86.5 TFL, with 42 sacks. As a bonus it should be noted that HALL blocked 14 kicks in his college career. HALL was at the Shrine venue and dominated practices at times. He also looked good during the game. The ceiling looks quite high for HALL, but he is a projection at Pick 57. This Pick has AL DAVIS smiling somewhere.
Big Al would have probably supported the Raiders’ final Top 100 Pick of ARDEN KEY/ER at Pick 87. KEY is a superior athlete, although most are unclear exactly what his ideal body size is. He weighed under 240 at the Combine, but was as heavy as 260 early last Fall for LSU. What he is though is a superior athlete, whose primary skill is rushing the QB. He is clearly a boom or bust prospect, who spent a reasonable amount of time in the LSU dog house for some strange off-field behavior during his career. The positive for the Raiders may be that BRUCE IRVIN came out of college with similar extra baggage and has had a fine pro career, and is now actually considered a team leader in the Raiders locker room. If IRVIN is willing to assume a ‘big brother’ role with KEY, and he chooses to accept the help, it could be a big plus for the Raiders. This is clearly another high risk/reward prospect for the Raiders.
In Round 5 the team took a big medical risk Pick, as a gamble on greatness, with the selection of MAURICE HURST/DT/Michigan, who I feel has some WARREN SAPP traits to his game. He’s a dynamic one-gap penetrator, with lots of hustle and quickness, as well as quick hand work to shed potential blockers. But HURST failed his Combine Medical and was sent home with a heart murmur issue. But he was cleared to play by a team of physicians back at the medical school at Michigan. If those doctors are correct this will be quite a steal with Pick 140. He could develop into a serious passing-down rotation player who can impact a game. At their best he and HALL could greatly assist KHALIL MACK in providing pass-rush pressure, not to mention KEY!
GRUDEN facilitated the exit of flamboyant P/MARQUETTE KING, so a Punter was needed in this year’s Draft process. I had JOHNNY TOWNSEND, their Pick at 173, as the second best P in the Draft Class and my 156th ranked prospect. He may have to curb his enthusiasm a bit in covering his own punts at the pro level, or risk injury. His gross average in 2017 was 47.55 yards. He also has nice size at 6’1/210, as well as a quick drop and kick time. He should make a solid NFL Punter, but the Raiders need it to be right away.
NICK NELSON/CB/RS/Wisconsin and AZEEM VICTOR/LB/Washington both show NFL traits… at times. But VICTOR has been nicked up and suspended during his college career, and NELSON is coming off a knee injury. Both could be useful in Special Teams roles.
For my money, their best total value Pick may have come in Round 7, when they took Oklahoma State WR MARCELL ATEMAN, a long lean receiver who balanced out the work of JAMES WASHINGTON catching throws from MASON RUDOLPH last season. Not a speedster, but uses his length and reliable hands to good advantage. If he can learn to tighten up his route running, he could fill out a wideout group for them.
This group of draftees is long on potential as well as question marks. I rate almost their entire Draft as a high risk/reward group. It has a flavor of GRUDEN to it, compared to the recent efforts of the McKenzie Boys. We shall see how it all works out for them, but they need a good one since GRUDEN is clearly in a mode of turning over at least the bottom half of his roster. With a few more personnel moves Gruden could go to Training Camp with half his 90-man roster being new faces.