The second Jon Gruden era hasn’t gone as planned for the Oakland Raiders. The team currently holds a 2-9 record, and possesses the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Poor performance, puzzling coaching decisions and unpopular transactions have made the 2018 season a nightmare for fans. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the fanbase does have a few reasons to be hopeful for the future.
1. Draft picks
The most important thing that a rebuilding team needs is draft capital. The Raiders now have this is abundance. The Khalil Mack trade was not a hit with fans, but Oakland did manage to get a solid return for a player they did not want to pay. Mack and a 2020 second-rounder netted the Raiders the Chicago Bears’ first-round selections in 2019 and 2020, in addition to a third-round pick in 2020. There were more late-round selections involved, but day one and day two picks are what Oakland is focused on acquiring right now.
The Raiders added another first-round pick in 2019 by sending Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys. Cooper has been a disappointment thus far after being taken fourth overall in 2015. Cooper is owed nearly $14 million next season and will be a free agent after the 2019 season. Oakland did not want to make him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league, and were able to get a return that exceeded nearly all expectations. A first-round pick for a wide receiver who would not have been retained anyway is a fantastic value.
Having five first-round selections over the next two years is great, but the problem is that both Chicago and Dallas are leading their divisions, and are in position to make the playoffs, giving Oakland the 24th and 26th picks currently. Ideally, those selections would be higher, but having three extra late first-round picks is better than losing two players for nothing.
2. The 2019 draft class
Even though their other two picks may end up in the 20’s, the Raiders should end up with at worst a top-three selection. If they finish as the worst team, their choice will have been all but made for them. Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa is the consensus best player in this year’s draft, and landing a stud defensive lineman would be a great way to begin Oakland’s rebuild.
After that, the Raiders should go best player available. Offense is rather weak this year with the exception of Iowa tight end Noah Fant, so Oakland should look at top defenders such as Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, LSU’s Devin White, Michigan’s Rashan Gary, and Alabama’s Mack Wilson. Building the core of their defense this year will allow the Raiders to target their next quarterback in 2020, whether that involves a trade-up or not.
Of course, Oakland could decide to keep Derek Carr around, but as he will be 28 when the 2019 season begins, he doesn’t really fit the timeline. There is an out in Carr’s contract after this year, but he is an above average QB under team control through the 2022 season. He should fetch at least a high second-round pick, if not a first-rounder. If Oakland is truly committed to rebuilding, getting a draft pick for Carr would be a smart move, as they can add to their pool of capital and put themselves in a better position to tank in 2019.
Defensive line is deep in this draft, both at the top of the first round and on days two and three. The Raiders would do well to pick up a pass rusher or two, just as they did in 2018 with Arden Key and Maurice Hurst. A team can never have too many pass rushers, especially one that struggles to get pressure, such as Oakland.
3. Young players already on the roster
Speaking of Key and Hurst, they headline the somewhat marginal Raider youth movement. The roster is currently composed of many aging veterans, and that has not produced the results hoped for prior to the season. However, there are some young players who should be major parts of Oakland’s future. Cornerbacks Nick Nelson, Daryl Worley, and Gareon Conley are all under 24 years old and have starter potential, with Conley being the best of the group. Drafted 24th overall in 2017, Conley has not seen much playing time so far in his career, but is a big, fast player with excellent ball skills and the ability to be an elite shutdown corner.
Arden Key and Maurice Hurst fell in the draft due to off field issues in the case of Key and a heart condition for Hurst. Neither player has had any issues thus far and both have flashed the talent that made them possible first-round picks.
Left tackle Kolton Miller was seen as a reach by many, and while he has had his share of struggles, he has all the tools needed to protect a QB’s blindside at a high level.
The Raiders are in the midst of a difficult season, but things are looking up for the team. They have the draft capital, now they must put it to good use. General manager Reggie McKenzie could be on the way out, but no matter who is calling the shots, it is imperative that all five of Oakland’s first-round picks over the next two years turn out to be impact players. Otherwise, this rebuild could last longer than it should. But now is not the time to worry. Instead, fans should be watching Nick Bosa highlights, formulating mock drafts, and most importantly, trusting the process.