On a more established team — one that has built-in continuity and seasoned talent — the Oakland Raiders 2018 draft class is in watch & learn mode. However, as part of a dilapidated and patchwork roster, Jon Gruden’s first rookie class is knee deep in the jungle, baby.
It is very difficult to discern if this is a good or bad thing.
No, really. Hear me out.
Their disconcerting 1-7 record notwithstanding, the amount of plenty time for Kolton Miller, Maurice Hurst, Arden Key, et al have received allows the neophytes to cut their teeth in the NFL game early. The battle scars are aplenty. Not many rookies enjoy that luxury.
The obvious negative here is other than Hurst, the class’ performance has been lackluster. Miller was effective until he hurt his right knee and Key has remained stagnant after a strong camp. Brandon Parker is good one game and atrocious in another. P.J. Hall suffered an injury early, but is back in the rotation, ditto for Nick Nelson. Marcell Ateman, waived at final cut down, found his way to the active roster from the taxi squad but hasn’t seen any action.
The worst of the group is punter Johnny Townsend. The boomer in college continues to fail as a pro. Yet, Gruden maintains his support and belief the former Gator can recapture his big-leg collegiate days.
The inconsistency is a rookie’s DNA. The rollercoaster and sometimes-unbearable play is a byproduct of starting rookies in the league. Stability comes with repetition and further instructions and tutelage. Wait. Let me add a qualifier: Quality coaching.
Equal parts coaching and player retention and development is a hit or miss affair in the NFL. Many times, we see individuals either flourish or flounder across the 32-team landscape. We also witness athletes go from one squad to another and are a completely different player.
In Oakland, however, in the Land of Gruden, the absence of premier depth has created a virtual wasteland known as the 53-man roster. Whether the rooks are half glass full or empty types will be truly telling.
Sure, the 1-7 record is downright nauseating. Nevertheless, the first-year players receive a great opportunity to get snaps, get the scars and lick their wounds after. Invaluable game experience and film is the bounty of their labor.
In turn, Gruden and his coaches enjoy an opportune time to see if their personnel mettle is worth a damn. They’re given a front row seat to their draft acumen, for better or worse.
Players and coaches are in evaluation mode.
The team will know — without any doubt — what they have and what they don’t. What they need and what they do not.
In a lost 2018 season, that is all Gruden and his Raiders can do. Evaluate in preparation to another roster shakeup this offseason.