The new decade sure got off to a bang. Only a quarter of the way in, 2020 is already making a case to be a total bust. While most sites published their 2010s All-Decade teams, there has been as much of a dearth of all-bust teams as children running around public parks. The 2010s was not a very good decade for the Las Vegas Raiders overall. The team had one winning season and five different head coaches.
Many people boast how even the worst NFL team could take on the best college football team. But this Raider squad might just be the first team with the potential to lose to an NCAA program.
Here’s the defense:
Defensive Coordinator: Ken Norton Jr.
Raider Nation initially wanted this to work so badly. Ken Norton Jr. came from the Seattle Seahawks when they were still known as the Legion of Boom. They had a swagger that the Raiders lacked and were coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Unfortunately, that same energy didn’t transfer over to the Raiders as Norton Jr. fronted a bottom of the barrel defense. It accomplished ridiculous feats, like finishing with a league-low 25 sacks in 2016 in spite of Khalil Mack winning Defensive Player of the Year and putting up 11 of those sacks.
Strong Safety: Obi Melifonwu
Let’s start with one of the more recent busts in recent Raider history, Obi Melifonwu. At first, it looked like there was potential for a steal in the second-round of the 2017 draft. Taken with the 57th pick, some scouts had him as a first-round talent. The six-foot-four, 224 pound safety had ridiculous combine numbers, and put up plenty on the stat sheet during his NCAA days.
There is a reason the title “athletic freak” isn’t always positive for players coming into he NFL draft. Melifonwu was cited for poor technique and instincts by scouts. There were questions regarding whether he relied too much on his physique over actually learning the game.
Poor technique ended up being the least of the team’s worries. Poor game-day attendance was Melifonwu’s biggest downfall. He only managed to make it to the field in five games during his rookie year. When Jon Gruden took over the team, he seemed frustrated with Melifonwu’s inability to get onto the field. In the end, he felt it was best to just cut him before his second season even officially started. He ended up being claimed by the New England Patriots from waivers but hasn’t done a thing since then.
Free Safety: Taylor Mays
This one is probably one of the bigger stretches from this list (and he also played more strong safety). But Taylor Mays makes a nice fit right next to Melifonwu. His time with the Raiders was rather short, only appearing in 14 games with the team. Mays was hyped coming out of college, and had a similar build to Melifonwu. He also had similar issues with technique.
The similarities don’t end there. Mays was also drafted in the second round, and only made it one season with his original team, the San Francisco 49ers. At least Mays wasn’t cut outright. Instead, he was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals, where he struggled to get onto the field. He arrive in Oakland in 2015, which ended up being his last NFL stop. The league served him a suspension not once, but twice the following offseason for substance abuse.
Corners: D.J. Hayden, Sean Smith
One of these players in the list was one of the biggest draft busts for the Raiders of the decade. The other is one of the bigger free agent signing busts. Both were somehow on the team at the same time. Although they didn’t both start at the time.
D.J. Hayden was a player fans really wanted to succeed when he was drafted. He suffered a life-threatening injury his final college season, yet still remained a first-round prospect in the 2013 draft. The Raiders had the third pick that season, and Hayden was nowhere near a top-three talent, but former General Manager Reggie McKenzie wanted him anyway, so he traded back to 12 to select Hayden, which many felt was still too high. For the most part, Hayden is remembered by getting burned by receivers and drawing pass interference calls.
Sean Smith at least looked like a better signing when the team landed him back in 2016. Smith had been a solid corner for the rival Kansas City Chiefs for years, notching double-digit passes defensed for four straight seasons. He was one of the most sought-after corners the year the Silver and Black landed him, and remained that way – by opposing quarterbacks. He did not live up to his $40 million contract
Outside Linebacker: Malcolm Smith, Sio Moore
Malcolm Smith followed his coach, Norton Jr. over to the Raiders from the Seattle Seahawks. He was best known for being Super Bowl XLVIII MVP, and was brought in to help change the culture in Oakland. In a way he did. He might even be considered godfather of a Raiders linebacking core that was notorious for being horrible in coverage, especially against tight ends. Sure, he racked up a few hundred tackles during his time with the team, but more often than not, he was a liability on the field.
Sio Moore is honestly a tough choice to put here opposite of Smith. He started off his Raiders career looking like he had some potential. After being selected in the third round of the 2013 draft, he appeared in 15 games for the team, putting up four-and-a-half sacks and 38 tackles. He improved to 90 tackles the next year, but too often was flagged for bone-headed penalties.
Perhaps Moore’s most infamous was his celebration with Khalil Mack after he got a sack that seemingly sealed the team’s first win of the season. It would have been fine, except they extended their celebration more than 20 yards deep into the Chiefs backfield – while the team was running a hurry-up offense. Justin Tuck called a timeout and also called them both out after the game. Moore was traded to the Indianapolis Colts that offseason and hasn’t done much since.
Honorable Mention: Ray-Ray Armstrong
Middle Linebackers: Rolando McClain, Curtis Lofton
The true curse to the Raiders linebackers could have come when the team selected Rolando McClain as the eighth overall pick to start the 2010 decade. He had a decent start to his first two years, but fell off hard in his third season, ended up getting suspended by the team for the final two games, and then released afterwards. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens, but ended up retiring from the NFL only a month after that.
After a year out of the NFL, McClain decided to come out of retirement when the Dallas Cowboys needed a linebacker after Sean Lee was lost for the year before the 2014 season. Much to the chagrin to Raider fans, McClain actually put up a solid few seasons for the team. However, it looks like two seasons was about all McClain could handle. He was served an indefinite suspension and has never played another down.
Curtis Lofton looked like he would be a great addition to the Silver and Black when he signed as a free agent in 2015, he was coming off six straight seasons of 100 or more tackles. The Raiders gave Lofton a three-year $18 million contract to come in and help improve the team’s defense. Unfortunately, Lofton turned into yet another player who fit the adage of “come to the Raiders to retire.” Lofton managed only 80 tackles in his 16 games with the team. It would be his last year in the league.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Johnson
Defensive Ends: Jihad Ward, Shilique Calhoun
The Raiders were desperate to get some pass rushing help for Khalil Mack in 2016. After taking Karl Joseph in the first round, the Raiders went with Jihad Ward in the second, and then Shilique Calhoun in the third. Sure the team needed help, but the picks were head scratchers by many pundits around the NFL.
Especially the Ward pick. In fact, it was almost déjà vu of 2015’s second-round pick, Mario Edwards Jr. Both of those players were defensive linemen with a ton of upside, but a lot of risk, including questions about work ethic. Unfortunately, most of McKenzie’s gambles like this did not work out for him, including Ward, who appeared in 16 games as a rookie and had 30 tackles. He only played in five games his second season, notching a mere two tackles and a sack. He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for Ryan Switzer in his third season, and has bounced around since then, not doing much of anything.
Calhoun actually seemed like a value in the third round, and many thought he’d even outperform Ward. Looking at Ward’s production, it wouldn’t have been difficult. Unfortunately for Calhoun, he somehow did even worse. After a lackluster rookie season, Calhoun was waived by the team. He then went through cycles of being waived and added to the practice squad, but never did anything of note. He is currently on the Patriots roster, but if not even they can squeeze production out of him, no one can.
Honorable Mentions: Mario Edwards Jr., Lamar Woodley
Defensive Tackle: Eddie Vanderdoes
Eddie Vanderdoes makes this list seem like a broken record. What the Raiders got in Vanderdoes is a player who had a ton of upside but had periods where he was unmotivated in college. Enter McKenzie, who thought that putting a player in the right environment is the cure-all to this. In a sense, it might be, but a team with one winning record in almost two decades isn’t necessarily that place.
Vanderdoes also continued a pattern of only lasting two seasons with the Raiders. However, he never took the field after his rookie year. The Houston Texans claimed him for the 2019 season, where he made three appearances and logged just eight tackles.
As the Raiders and their fans look towards a new decade in a new city, they are looking forward to putting the last decade behind them.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press