We are now halfway through one of, if not the most disappointing and depressing seasons in Raiders’ history.
Through nine games, it has become very clear that the Oakland Raiders are punting this season, and building for the future. The future has a chance to be very bright, as Jon Gruden has essentially taken over the draft for the next two years, with five first round picks combined.
However, today we’ll be taking a look at Gruden’s first draft, the 2018 class. How has the 2018 class performed so far?
Trading down five spots to take tackle Kolton Miller over Derwin James was one of the first instances that Raider Nation started to question Gruden.
Miller actually had a much better start to the season than most people thought he would, especially since nobody really thought he’d be able to start Week 1, before spraining his knee in Week 4.
However, his play understandably worsened since the injury. He wasn’t especially strong to begin with, and after spraining his knee, he started getting bullied by pass rushers. Miller re-injured his knee on Thursday night against San Francisco, and it’s probably a wise decision to not risk further injury this year, especially when the team’s record is 1-8.
Ultimately, while he’ll unfortunately be remembered for getting picked over Derwin James, Kolton was playing pretty well before his injury. If he spends this upcoming off-season in the weight room, he has a chance to become a very good lineman and salvage the first draft pick of the Gruden Era.
The Raiders selected defensive lineman P.J. Hall in the second round last year. Hall was relatively unknown before this selection, but the Raiders’ really liked his unique combination of speed, size, and strength. The nose tackle out of Sam Houston State has a massive frame, at 6’1′, 308 lbs, while also having enough speed to chase down running backs in college.
Hall certainly hasn’t filled up the stat sheet yet in his short career, with just 10 tackles and no sacks. P.J. has been a force when he has gotten playing time, however. It’s definitely big adjustment going from the Southland conference to the NFL, and he’s gonna need time to adjust to the difference in size and speed. He’s a part of an intriguing young defensive line group, and if the Raiders play their rookies more as the season winds down, we could have a chance to really see what Hall can do.
Gruden traded up to make offensive tackle Brandon Parker his first pick of the third round. While it’s far too early to call Parker a bust, this is not looking like one of Gruden’s better moves. Parker has been forced into a starting role due to the rash of injuries that has hit the offensive line, and he doesn’t really look ready yet.
Parker has now started five games, and he’s been very average. He looked especially bad in Santa Clara last Thursday night. He had a false start, holding, and an illegal formation called on him in the first quarter alone, and was at least partially responsible for three of the ‘Niners sacks before being benched.
Again, Parker has only started five games, so we shouldn’t overreact here. He’ll likely see a lot of playing time the rest of the season, and Gruden obviously values Parker, since he traded up for him. At the moment though, Parker looks like a miss.
Arden Key was arguably the most hyped-up player in the Raiders’ draft class. Key was a first round talent, but fell to Oakland in the third because of some off-the-field issues. Key was expected to be the 3rd best pass rushing option on this team, but that script has been flipped upside down. Now, with Mack getting traded, and Bruce Irvin being cut, Key is suddenly responsible for being the best pass rusher on the team.
Like Hall, Key hasn’t made much of an impact on the stat sheet. He got his first career sack in London against Seattle, but he’s only gotten 15 tackles so far, and seven QB hits. He’s had some nice moments, and shown some signs of promise, but the game just looks too fast for him right now. It won’t get any easier with opposing offenses game-planning around stopping him, instead of Irvin. Key still has plenty of time this year to make an impact.
Nelson was selected in the fourth round. Coming out of Wisconsin, the expectations for him weren’t very high. Gruden needed some depth in the defensive backs group, and Nelson provided that. With the coaching staff seemingly banishing Rashaan Melvin, Nelson has seen a lot more playing time recently. He’s been solid, but nothing special. He really just looks like the depth cornerback Gruden drafted him to be.
Hurst was an absolute steal for the Silver & Black. Like Key, Hurst was a first round talent, but concerns about his health, more specifically his heart, caused him to drop to the fourth round where Gruden happily selected him.
Hurst has arguably been the Raiders’ best defensive player in 2018. While that’s not a prestigious title, it’s encouraging to see from a fourth-round pick. It’s been very hard for him to stand out as an interior lineman. If the outside pass rushers can’t get anything going, it’s going to be very hard for the interior lineman, like Hurst.
Ultimately, Hurst has been pretty encouraging, and he’s somebody you should watch during the final eight games of this season.
Townsend has just been downright awful. He was surrounded by high expectations after being selected as Marquette King’s replacement. That move has not looked good at all. Townsend is currently rocking punts of 28, 27, 25, and 23 yard punts this year. With how short of a leash Gruden has had on Reggie McKenzie’s picks, it’s surprising Townsend is still on the team.
Azeem Victor & Marcell Ateman
Both were waived before the season started. Victor found a home shortly after, as he joined Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Ateman joined the Raiders’ practice squad, and then was signed again after the Amari Cooper trade. He’s been inactive since, but he may get some playing time down the stretch.
It’s going to take another year or two before we’ll be able to accurately judge this class. It has the potential to be very good, or it could blow up in everyone’s face. Kinda like this rebuild itself. Patience is key.