It seems like every year, no matter how logical the Raider draft class is, it ends up trashed by the media. This time around is no different, but when one takes the time to take into considering the history of those making the decision in Alameda, all of the picks are far too obvious.
One of the most interesting things about this draft and a handful of undrafted free agents is there are clear roles for them to step into and be significant contributors right away.
Thirteen players in all that are in a prime position to be either big time contributors or full fledged starters at some point this season if not immediately. Oakland may not be a team that wants to count on rookies as starters, but they will have to in order to be successful. Combining this rookie class with the additions in the offseason are setting the Raiders up to make significant jumps in 2019.
Clelin Ferrell- Starter
Day one, Ferrell is the starting strong side defensive end for the Paul Guenther defense. For those commentators that said he was drafted too early and Oakland should have taken Josh Allen, Ferrell is the most ideal pick in the entire draft class. Those pushing Allen will say that he is more athletic, you can teach him to be a better run defender, he is position versatile, and has elite production. Here is the problem: Guenther demands strong side defensive ends to be elite run stoppers because he is in nickel 70% of the time; he has never used a player who starts as an off ball linebacker then becomes a top pass rusher for him. Allen showed he isn’t a good fit as he routinely got mauled by top competition like Georgia.
Ferrell will come in and start day one and no, he will not be a 15 sack type of player but rather will develop into something closer to a ten sack guy who is an elite run defender. Paul Guenther defenses are not reliant upon huge sack production from edge players in order for it to be successful, his best defenses have been led in sacks by three techniques.
Josh Jacobs- Starter
For those who read my mock, this was someone that seemed incredibly obvious. Head coach Jon Gruden has an offense that needs running backs who can do it all and Jacobs can. Add his explosiveness to that and you have your new bulkier Charlie Garner. Jacobs will most likely get 60 percent of the snaps or so and the other backs will be situational role players who divide up the other touches.
Jonathan Abram- Starter
The Raiders third pick in the first round will be the starting strong safety. With the addition of Lamarcus Joyner in free agency, Oakland now has a solid trio of semi interchangeable safeties that can be used primarily in nickel. Joyner will be in the slot, Joseph the high free safety, and Abram will come into the box for run stopping and short zone duty. It gives the defense another hammer for run defending with a light box and he is much more athletic than incumbent Erik Harris.
Trayvon Mullen- Potential Starter
Mullen could easily be the new starting right cornerback for the Raiders. Daryl Worley is on a restricted free agent tag and Oakland likes him, but Mullen is a very good athlete who covers and tackles well. He and Gareon Conley have the opportunity to be a very good starting duo that have similar skill sets. As soon as Mullen learns Guenther’s difficult trail technique, he will likely start.
Maxx Crosby- Rotational Stud
Coming from a small school in Eastern Michigan, Crosby has the build and skill set to fit the Guenther defense. He is big enough to play the strong side as a rotational player and athletic enough to spell Arden Key on the weak side. He is a prototype third rotational defensive end for this defense and he could rack up some sacks early.
Isaiah Johnson- Tight End Blanket
Standing 6’2″ with arms long enough to play offensive line, Johnson was a late riser on many boards even though he still needs to work on his footwork. Being so long might make him struggle in certain matchups and certain situations, but as a guy who can man up a tight end, he could be the perfect fit. Using him in dime situations specifically to cover tight ends would be a great way to maximize the best aspects of his game.
Foster Moreau- Starter
Every media person asked who will replace tight end Jared Cook in the Raider offense. The answer is nobody because Gruden does not want to rely on a tight end like Cook. Gruden wants an athletic in line tight end who can be a receiving threat. That is Moreau in a nutshell. On top of that, he was given the number 18 to wear at LSU, which means he was a guy the entire locker room respected.
Hunter Renfrow- 3rd Down Catch Machine
What stands out most in Renfrow’s career above all else are his clutch catches. Gruden will move his receivers around in order to exploit certain matchups. Where Renfrow will be money for the Raiders is being Derek Carr’s new Michael Crabtree, the guy who on 3rd and 5 runs exactly a five yard square out for a first down. The guy who never drops the key pass when it needs to be made.
Quinton Bell- Backup Weakside Edge Player
This may be the hardest projection of all thirteen players because he could easily end up as a practice squad player. However, Bell’s athletic profile is off the charts and he is a guy who absolutely dazzled Gruden on tape. With his build and SPARQ numbers, it seems likely that he ends up replacing Benson Mayowa as a backup weakside edge player. They may even list him as a linebacker and use him as a situational pass rusher.
Lester Cotton- Potential Starter
This one will shock people because he is an undrafted free agent, but go back and watch any tape of Josh Jacobs and you will find Cotton destroying guys in the run game. He is an immovable object who is also a very good puller that sees the play develop very well. He will get in trouble with quick pass rushers inside, but with an All-Pro center next to him, they can negate that early on. Play action will also help. Frankly, Denzel Good gave very little reason to bank on him as a legitimate starter and the Raiders retained him for low end backup money.
Te’von Coney- Potential Starter
For those who put faith in Pro Football Focus grades, this was the great steal of the draft. According to them, Coney was a top 60 player who went down as an undrafted free agent. Both Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall have been signed to potentially play middle linebacker. Burfict has concussion issues and simply cannot keep up athletically while Brandon Marshall has needed a mobile trauma unit to handle his injuries the last few years. With that little investment there, the amount of nickel the Raiders will play, and Coney’s balanced skill set, this could happen.
Alec Ingold- Potential Starter
This projection has two variables. The first is how you define starter as it pertains to a full back, and the second is how many backs the Raiders carry. Gruden historically has carried five backs on his rosters. There is an all around lead back, an all around backup, a pass catching target, a lead blocking full back and a dual threat blocker. Considering the problems Keith Smith had last season, Ingold could easily become the primary run blocking full back and get all of the snaps late in the game when milking the clock.
Keelan Doss- Situational Weapon/Primary Returner
There is no clear cut primary returner on the roster for the Raiders. None of the receivers have a wealth of return experience, and Jalen Richard has had butter fingers at times in that spot. If we assume Dwayne Harris makes the roster again then Doss will not have the opportunity, but if the Raiders do not see the value in setting aside a roster spot solely for a returner then Doss could step in. He is an athlete that can make magic with the ball in his hands. He will need to learn and get accustomed to the jump in competition, but special teams could allow him to thrive early.