The Oakland Raiders final season was a rollercoaster ride for all. It started with acquiring Antonio Brown and then abruptly releasing him before he played a snap for the Silver and Black. Midway through the season, the Raiders were flying high at 6-4 and in the midst of the AFC West title race. From that point, the team entered an egregious tailspin by losing five out of their last six games of the season. Amongst the trials and tribulations, there are a few players that deserve recognition as their performances carried the team.
Most Valuable Player/Best Rookie: Josh Jacobs
The 24th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft proved to be the most dominant Raiders player this past season. The Crimson Tide standout joined elite company with his spectacular play week in and week out.
- Saquon Barkley
- Leonard Fournette
- Christian McCaffrey
- Ezekiel Elliot
- Todd Gurley
The common denominator of each name listed above aside from being selected in the first round? Everyone but McCaffrey reached the 1,000 yard rushing threshold in their rookie season. Jacobs finished with 1,150 rushing yards on the season, whose toughness and relentless style of play was the engine that kick started the Raiders offense. Many games, Jacobs, who played with a broken shoulder since Week 7, was responsible for being the closer when the team needed to secure victory in the fourth quarter as seen here:
Josh Jacobs (@iAM_JoshJacobs) for the win. Raiders block this well. Key block is on the 1 tech DT, double team by C Hudson/LG Incognito. Hudson works to MLB. Jacobs cuts into back-side A gap. Chargers DB don't seem to want to hit Jacobs late in 4th Q.#Raidernation
— RaiderRamble.comâ„¢ (@TheRaiderRamble) November 13, 2019
Envision what a full offseason of recovery and strength training can do for Jacobs, the possibilities are inexorable. He is on his way to being the team’s MVP, and possibly a league one for years to come.
Offensive MVP/Comeback Player: Darren Waller
Darren Waller was was stolen from the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2018. As a man that fought through two NFL league suspensions for substance abuse, in addition to battling his will to live, Waller performed as an elite tight end, finishing second among his counterparts in the following categories.
- First Downs Receiving – 53 (Tied with 49ers George Kittle)
- Receiving Yards -1145
- Receptions – 90
- Yards After Catch – 570
In addition, Waller was tied for the NFL lead amongst tight ends as he averaged 12.7 yards per reception. He confirmed what head coach Jon Gruden said last offseason, that he had a ‘secret weapon’.
â€œI think he’s going to be one of the best kept secrets in the league.”
Waller’s commitment to excellence was the best redemption story one could ask for.
Defensive MVP/Unsung Hero: Jonathan Hankins
Not the name you expected? Neither did opposing offenses. Hankins was the anchor in the Raiders defensive line. Without him, the Oakland would not have had the seventh ranked rush defense, which allowed 1,570 total rushing yards (8th) and 3.9 yards per attempt(6th). The former second round pick dominated the defensive interior and obliterated run plays before they even had a chance to develop as seen here:
Raiders controlled LOS on both sides of ball. DT Jonathan Hankins (@BigTimeHank) is a big reason why. Lined up outside shoulder of RG, uses his strength, gains leverage, disengages the block to make tackle in backfield. Moves well for man of his size.#Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/HDaKcU740R
— Ryan Holmes, MBA (@Rholm22) October 7, 2019
Hankins consistently showcased his ability to push the pocket at the point of attack in critical situations:
Maxx Crosby is in the conversation but Johnathan Hankins isnâ€™t handing over the title of best Dlineman easily. He not only holds up at the POA but displaced the C a yard into the backfield for a run stop on 4th and 1. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/IprfYtjD5o
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) December 4, 2019
Hankins’ outstanding play on the defensive interior enabled his fellow linemen to shine this past season. Brentson Buckner’s work with the defensive front as a whole has been irreplaceable, but how he transformed Hankins into a dominant force started last offseason.
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) August 1, 2019
Hankins also earned a two-year contract extension with the Silver and black in March of 2019. However, a recent contract restructuring has rewarded the lineman sooner rather than later.
The two-year deal that defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins signed with the Raiders this offseason called for him to get a $1.75 million roster bonus ahead of the 2020 season, but he won’t have to wait to get that money.
Field Yates of ESPN reports that the Raiders recently shifted that to a signing bonus. The move prorates the salary cap hit over two seasons and reflects the likelihood that Hankins, who joined the team in 2018, will remain a piece of the Raiders defense next season. Via Pro Football Talk December 24th, 2019.
Hankins didn’t impress with the highlight plays that you normally witnessed on SportsCenter, but he consistently displayed that he was and will be the tone setter for the Raiders defense.
Jacobs, Waller and Hankins were all pivotal pieces to the Raiders success in 2019. If you predicted that before the season started, you just may be Nostradamus in the flesh. The trio will be essential pieces to build around in the 2020 season. The team has an amazing opportunity to add more difference makers in the near future. General manager Mike Mayock and Gruden have each found one, it is my belief, they will add more sooner rather than later.
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