The Oakland Raiders NFL 2019 Draft class has been a really divisive one among fans and analysts alike.
Some, like Mel Kiper, believe it was good enough to propel the Silver and Black into the post-season. Others, like Rotoworld’s Thor Nystrom, hated the class, calling it the worst of all 32 squads. Ignoring that draft grades are an exercise in futility, both parties make adequate points about the Raiders class.
The Oakland Raider’s 2019 Draft Wasn’t About Superstars
Nystrom panned Oakland’s first three picks because he didn’t envision them becoming elite stars at a pro level. To be honest, he has a point. I was a fan of all three picks, but nobody looked at defensive end Clelin Ferrell and thought he was a top-five pick. Running back Josh Jacobs is a good-not-great tailback prospect, and safety Jonathan Abram isn’t exactly Derwin James.
If we’re being honest though, that doesn’t make them bad picks. On opening day, there will be 1,696 players on the NFL rosters, and the vast, vast majority of them are not future Hall of Fame players. Instead of trying to build a flashy reality show (for the inevitable Hard Knocks casting), the Raiders went out and grabbed a very specific kind of player to build the foundation of their future on.
The “New England” of It All
On last year’s Patriots roster, only two players, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, could end up in Canton. Their roster was almost completely devoid of flashy superstars, but what they do have is stability across the board.
New England didn’t have a single 1,000-yard rusher or receiver, yet they finished top eight in both passing and rushing. Nobody on the squad had more than four picks, but they still finished in the top five for interceptions. Despite not being a flashy, star-studded team, they dominated by being a cohesive, consistent, effective unit.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs had insane star power and they watched the Super Bowl at home like everyone else. The Bears had the most star-studded defense in recent memory. Their roster was loaded with names like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, and Kyle Fuller. They dominated during the regular season, but ultimately, a backup quarterback sent them home.
Obviously, it doesn’t hurt to have superstars on the team, I’m just saying that you can win without them. I’m also not saying that Oakland’s rookies won’t be superstars. There just wasn’t a single pick that didn’t make sense to me.
I believe that the first pick of the Mike Mayock era is one that perfectly defines the kind of player that the general manager and head coach Jon Gruden are looking for. Admittedly, there are some justified concerns about Ferrell’s athleticism, and it didn’t hurt that he played on a defensive line full of NFL caliber players.
However, that doesn’t mean Ferrell can’t be a force in the pros. In fact, he should automatically start for the team and make an impact as a pass rusher and a run-stopper. I wouldn’t hesitate to bet that he will have a better season in Oakland than former Raider defensive end Bruce Irvin in Carolina because he’s just a fundamentally superior football player.
Here’s the real defense of this pick. Who else were the Raiders going to take? Throwing away the ridiculous “best player available” narrative for a second because it’s silly, the Raiders went into the draft with Josh Mauga and Arden Key at defensive end, and edge Joey Bosa went off the board with the second pick.
The other guys
Linebacker Josh Allen? A talented edge rusher without a doubt, but at his size, he couldn’t come in and play defensive end in Paul Guenther’s scheme. Allen is significantly more fundamentally raw than Ferrell, and would need to bulk up without losing his best trait, his burst, just to fit the scheme.
Ed Oliver? A great player as well, and someone the Bills should be happy to have, but there’s a position on defense where the Raiders have depth and it is defensive tackle. Maurice Hurst, Jonathan Hankins, Justin Ellis, and P.J. Hall are all trying to get on the field.
Trading down would’ve been ideal, but as everyone and their mother has reported, the phone just didn’t ring. If the Raiders couldn’t get the deal they wanted, they had to take the top player on their board. That was Clelin Ferrell. It’s really that simple.
Gruden and Mayock were in love with Jacobs, and there’s no denying that. People were saying it at the combine, they were saying it during the weeks leading up to the draft, and when Marshawn Lynch retired mere days before, it was a foregone conclusion. Every mock I saw about the Raiders included Jacobs because everyone knew it was going to happen. I’m serious, even I Tweeted something about this leading up to the draft.
Taking Josh Jacobs in the first round might’ve been a reach, but the men in charge of this organization were convinced he wouldn’t be there when they picked at 35, and they weren’t going to take a risk. If Philadelphia didn’t prioritize offensive line over tailback, there’s a good chance Oakland might’ve missed out on the Alabama back.
Jacobs isn’t Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He’s not Saquon Barkley or Todd Gurley or any of the other backs that have been first round picks in recent memory. Jacobs isn’t a generational athlete with a world of production behind him, he has a not-so-good 40 yard dash in his back pocket.
But that doesn’t make him a bad pick. Jacobs is a rarity in the draft world and he’s a big star back from a big school with big plays on his resume and very little tread on his tires. He’s as versatile a prospect as you can come by, being as good between the tackles as he is out of the backfield, and in a world where everyone’s trying to find the next Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, or Sony Michel, the Raiders got one late in the first round.
The Bama Backs
Many other Alabama backs, like Mark Ingram or Derrick Henry, have come out with a ton of carries. Both men had over 600 touches before they heard their name called on draft day. Jacobs only had 290 and 21 of those went for touchdowns. Nystrom mocked Jacobs for not being a starter in college, but honestly, I think it might be his most valuable trait.
Jacobs can start day one and pass block, carry the rock, and be a lethal weapon out of the backfield. By himself, Jacobs can do what Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington, and Jalen Richard struggled to do as a committee last year. Consistency on the ground can only be a good thing for Oakland’s offense.
I’ll confess, Abram is actually my favorite rookie from this class. Critics are quick to point out his coverage ability, or lack thereof. But frankly, I think it’s a bit overblown if you actually sit and watch the film, he’s perfectly fine in coverage. He’s not Ed Reed or Charles Woodson, but he’s perfectly capable, and frankly, you don’t draft Abram to play deep coverage.
Abram is a sparkplug that delivers momentum-shifting hits and fires up his teammates. During his draft day phone call, Gruden told Abram that he was “coming after him” in practice and without missing a beat, Abram told him he’d do the same to him. He’ll bring the fire and physicality that Oakland has been missing on defense since Charles Woodson retired, and I don’t understand how anyone can be critical of this pick because a strong safety does what strong safeties do.
The Bottom Line
These are high-floor, high-character prospects that can come in and immediately make an impact. The Raiders are a better team today because they have improved at these positions than they were a year ago, even with stars like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper still on the team. You don’t get better by adding a ton of flashy, risky picks, and nobody proves that better than the Raiders themselves. After a decade and a half of drafting great athletes with low floors, the Raiders took three day one starters with high floors and motivation.
The Raider’s 2019 draft class isn’t the class that will return the team to it’s former glory, but they are an essential part of the process.