Winners and losers from the 2018 offseason of the Oakland Raiders.
The major part of free agency is over. The draft is in the books, and rookie mini-camp for the rookies of the Oakland Raiders began not too longer after.
Jon Gruden has been busy early in his tenure. The Raiders signed a whopping 17 new free agents in the early period. They drafted nine new rookies and traded for two more receivers, and followed by signing ten undrafted free agents. They’ve also invited three more unsigned rookies to mini-camp.
Forget your father’s Raiders. These aren’t even the Raiders of last Christmas.
Depth is good – it breeds competitiveness. I know Tom Cable isn’t a popular guy with Raider Nation but his philosophy of “iron sharpens iron” is a good one. Let’s just hope he improves on his Seahawks tenure.
Depth also means roster changeover – which means players losing their jobs. Gruden clearly wants players to fight hard for a place at the table and is stacking depth to ensure that happens.
It’s been a busy and interesting off-season with Chucky’s return and there are some clear-cut winners and losers that stand out with the moves made thus far.
When your franchise defender is missing team activities because contract talks aren’t close you do everything to bridge the gap. Like add some fellow defenders to alleviate routine double and triple-teams and outright muggings.
The Raiders started in free agency by signing DE Tank Carradine away from Bay Area rival San Francisco. Carradine spent five years in San Fran after being a second-round pick (40th) in 2013. While he never lived up to his second-round status he did have his best games in 2017 and at only 28 years old is still young. He’ll add depth and alleviate some pressure on Mack.
Carradine is just a small piece of the puzzle – the big pieces fell into place during the draft. And in ways nobody expected.
After passing on many defensive stalwarts in the first round and picking OT Kolton Miller, the popular narrative was that the Raiders missed a golden opportunity to get Mack some help.
After trading down again, in the second round the Raiders snagged PJ Hall, a small-school record breaker from Sam Houston State who has drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald and Warren Sapp for his playing style.
Only Hall, dare I say, plays with more energy and a higher motor than either one. That’s doesn’t mean he’ll approach their production – but it’s certainly a positive factor and led to this craziness:
PJ Hall's numbers are so crazy. All of his stats look like typos lol
86.5 tackles for loss
14 blocked kicks
9 forced fumbles
— Nick Hjeltness (@NickHjeltness) May 1, 2018
Hall gets after it every snap. His tape has many plays where he disrupts the interior for a backfield stop – and also plays where this 310 pound lineman is chasing down RB’s and WR’s 30-50 yards downfield. Hall looks the part of the interior partner Mack needs to get more isolated matchups. Blocking 14 kicks at 6’1 says a lot about Hall’s interior ability.
Mack and Bruce Irvin need another pure pass rusher. The quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard. So when LSU OLB Arden Key was still sitting there in the third, the Raiders made another trade to come up and stea..I mean get him.
Considered a first-round talent – if not top-ten talent – Key fell in the draft because of injuries and character concerns. His play dropped off in his senior season due to these issues which also caused him to gain weight and play in the 270+ range, about 30 pounds more than usual.
Key has owned his mistakes, taken accountability and let everyone know they should give him a chance:
The message I leave with NFL GM’s & coaches is that I made bad decisions in college. I’m pass that & have moved forward. Whoever pick me up will have a problem solver and I will get to the QB. WHOEVER PASS ON ME I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR QB!
— OptimusKey_ (@ardenkey) April 11, 2018
Key won’t publicly discuss the details of his but he was candid with NFL GM’s and owned up to his major role in his own issues. That, to me, shows positive character traits after some youthful transgressions.
Does anyone else feel like with the lack of actual tangible issues in this draft class (domestic violence, sexual assault, drug use/abuse, etc.) the NFL brass was REALLY reaching for “character concerns” this year? Sure seemed that way.
So the Raiders took Key, a potential first-round talent, in the third round. Paired with Mack and Irvin, Key will pin his ears back and rush the passer from the get-go. His arm length, edge speed and overall burst make that his ideal role:
Key's 2016 film was ridiculous. Heard from a good source he's currently in better shape than 2016.
Look at that speed off the edge. Tackle didn't stand a chance. pic.twitter.com/6vtJbhCYCP
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) April 30, 2018
If @FB_FilmAnalysis is citing sources on Key’s conditioning I’m listening, believing – and very happy.
Not content with Hall and Key, the Raiders then traded up again in the 5th round and managed to grab Maurice Hurst. Yes, Mo Hurst – a potential top-ten talent. In the fifth round. Every time I think about it I get giddy and this pops into my head:
In all seriousness Hurst has a worrisome heart condition. That’s how a man of his size, strength and prodigious talent can slip out of the first round – let alone all the way to the fifth. An irregular EKG got him sent home from the combine.
Let’s put the heart aside for a second – other than the clear football heart Hurst possesses. Add that to his football mind and he’s got enough right there to want him on your team:
From All or Nothing
When Michigan needed a stop, look who kept showing up.
Also, when Don Brown wants to know what the offense is doing, he went right to Mo Hurst to ask. Good sign that he is a very cerebral player. pic.twitter.com/Em4jAFvyYQ
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) April 29, 2018
Then the talent and production. Just watch him play. Ridiculous footwork and speed for a 290-pound man. He’s just special. You can read a lot more about Hurst and why he’s special here.
Some are calling the Raiders “irresponsible” for this. But the Raiders – I would hope – will not put him at any real risk. The Raiders physicians, those at Michigan, and physicians from Harvard have all cleared him since the combine. But the first signs of danger he must be shelved.
It’s still worth the pick even if he never plays a snap. The potential payoff is too good, and he’s worked hard his whole life to get drafted. Human stories like this get noticed by potential free agents and UDFAs when thinking of which team to choose. The human aspect of things so often gets overlooked in sports – but it does exist. To players who just want a shot this made the Raiders look good. To other executives and the NFL legal team, it did not.
So that’s a new veteran DE, a pass-rushing specialist and two DTs in the rookie class to set up beside Mack. Add in a healthy Gareon Conley and revamped secondary that looks much improved and you’ve got QBs in some trouble.
Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton, Griff Whalen
Roberts is most famous for catching big touchdowns. Heading into 2017, the Raiders were 10-0 when Roberts caught a touchdown pass.
Holton is known for his speed, long touchdown catches (infrequent though they are) and honestly, getting penalties on kick coverage.
Whalen is known for being signed earlier this free agency period so how does he end up here? Ah yes. Trades.
The Raiders have overhauled their receiving corps this off-season. They signed veteran star Jordy Nelson as a compliment to primary receiver Amari Cooper. They signed Griff Whalen to be their slot receiver.
Then the draft came along – and they made some trades. They also drafted huge Marcell Ateman of Oklahoma St.
The trades yielded an extra third-round pick, which the Raiders traded to Pittsburgh for mercurial but talented Martavis Bryant.
This is a high-risk trade. Bryant has had marijuana issues and another drug suspension sees him out of the league. He also vocally derided teammates and caused locker room issues last season.
But he’s also one of the fastest deep threat wideouts in the league – meaning he does the one thing Holton does well, better than Holton does.
Then the Raiders hoodwinked the Cowboys into taking the extremely disappointing Jihad Ward off their hands. In return. they get dynamic return man and potentially dynamic slot receiver Ryan Switzer. By draft position the Cowboys got a deal.
By real life production, eye test, and any other actual measurable of performance you want to use the Raiders robbed the Cowboys blind. Early returns would agree:
Jihad Ward has been pretty awful for Oakland the past two years. Don't love this.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 28, 2018
Switzer is a dynamic return man who will replace Whalen’s short-lived theoretical time in the slot and possibly his roster spot as well. It’s likely Gruden keeps both though. Switzer combines with Nelson, Bryant and Cooper to give them a dynamic and versatile four-man receiving corps that can line up anywhere. Draft selection Marcell Ateman is a monster at 6’5 and should handle red-zone duties nicely.
Roberts struggled mightily with drops in 2018 – and previously as well – and didn’t make many big plays. He’ll always be fondly remembered for his “Dread Pirate Roberts” catch against the Bucs in 2016 but that doesn’t keep you around when better – and less expensive – options are already on the roster.
Holton just gets too many penalties and isn’t enough of a consistent passing game threat to warrant keeping around with other options now available. Marcell Ateman is a huge man and a Red Zone threat that will likely play special teams. Bryant is the new outside burner. Holton is a man without a role. However, he may stick around as a backup plan because of Bryant’s volatile situation.
They’re both likely to be without a team sometime soon. Whalen may be as well – but not likely. His role, though, just got smaller.
I already touched on Switzer, who in addition to possessing return ability played for Bisaccia in Dallas last year. Add him to Keith Smith and Dwayne Harris and you have some former Cowboys Bisaccia knows well.
The Raiders signed a punter to replace Marquette King. But then, they also drafted a punter too. One with a cannon leg, fire in his belly and directional ability.
Johnny Townsend has some legendary SEC performances under his belt, holding the all-time net punting average at Florida. Drafting Townsend gave them a leg up, too:
Selecting former Florida P Johnny Townsend in the fifth was a sneaky good move for the #Raiders. In addition to filling a need, Townsend also gave OAK an edge in signing one of the best kickers in the draft in K Eddy Pineiro.
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) April 29, 2018
The Raiders did sign Piniero as a UDFA – which also looks like a potential sneaky good move:
Raiders undrafted K Eddy Pineiro can play.
Hit 17-of-18 FGs last year. Is a perfect 5-for-5 from 50+ in two seasons at Florida.
NFL site ranked him the No. 2 kicker in the draft class.
— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) April 29, 2018
Bisaccia will have plenty of new tools to work with as well as familiar parts to integrate. The Raiders have focused on special teams, drafting players in Azeem Victor, Ateman and Townsend that help immediately. Bisaccia couldn’t be happier right now as it’s clear Gruden listens to him and makes special teams a priority.
See above. Not only did the Raiders sign Piniero, they drafted Townsend to replace Marquette King, Tavecchio’s holder last season.
When Sebastian Janikowski was placed on IR in Summer 2017, Tavecchio was promoted to the active roster and won the starting job. He got off to an incredible start, becoming the first player in NFL history to hit two 50+ yard field goals in his debut. But as the season wore on Tavecchio regressed to the mean, and finished making 16 of 21 field goals for a mediocre 76.2 percentage.
A nice story and good personality, Tavecchio was the toast of Oakland for a week. But he, like the rest of the team, fell off as the season wore on and it would appear with Piniero in the fold – and his college holder too – that Tavecchio’s days are numbered.