The Oakland Raiders defense was bad in 2018 and to fix that they drafted defensive end Clelin Ferrell fourth overall and selected Eastern Michigan defensive end Maxx Crosby in the fourth round to bolster a defensive line that generated a measly 13 sacks last season. However, we should not sleep on second-year defensive players Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall, who will take (or not) the next step in their development.
Oakland went through many changes after Raiders head coach Jon Gruden took over. He wanted to oversee the team the way he saw fit and one of the most shocking moves he made was trading All-Pro defensive end, Khalil Mack. The defense was already in bad shape with Mack and without him, it was putrid, which only put more pressure on then rookies Key, Hurst and Hall.
Going into their second year, this trio will still have to perform well but will have a couple of things in their favor:
No. 1 The Raiders added Ferrell and Maxx, which could promote healthy competition and help everyone stay fresh. Last year, Key, Hurst, and Hall were thrown into the fire in less than stellar conditions. Oakland now has depth and can rotate their defensive linemen, something that is crucial in order for players to perform at their peak.
In the end, all that playing time will benefit the sophomore group as they will have a stronger sense of what goes on in an NFL field.
No. 2 Defensive coordinator Paul Gunther developed many Pro Bowlers in Cincinnati such as pass rushers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. He also worked with Michael Johnson and Domata Peko, who became steady contributors for the Bengals for a long time. None of these players were defensive cornerstones in their first season and most of them turned into the players they are now during their second season. As such, I think Gunther will have a large impact for the development of his second-year players Key, Hurst, and Hall.
Ferrell and Crosby will be the ones getting the headlines right now, but if the Raiders have a great defense, it will be in part because Oakland’s second-year players took the next step.