Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden has much to prove to the fanbase after going 4-12 in his return after a nine-year hiatus from football. With the hiring of draft guru General Manager Mike Mayock, the prospect of hitting on the upcoming draft in a integral offseason looks bright. Surely, Mayock will address the Raiders needs, but he should continue with the Raiders legacy of drafting players from black colleges. It wouldn’t be a matter of checking off the college diversity box, but filling a need and creating competition with the best linebacker in the black college stratosphere.
Grambling State linebacker De’Arius Christmas is the first back-to-back SWAC Conference Defensive Player of The Year this century. In 2017, he beat out Indianapolis Colts rookie sensation Darius Leonard for the award. Christmas has become the biggest name in HBCU Football (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and he’s getting respect outside of it. In December, Christmas was named to the STATS FCS All-American Third Team.
The Oakland Raiders placed a very young defense on the field in 2018. Unfortunately, it showed, as they failed to produce pressure on the quarterback or get teams off the field. In short, the Raiders need as much help as they can get. Christmas is a weakside linebacker that exhibited the ability to drop in coverage and cover tight ends and running backs. In addition, he sheds blocks and defend the run, both of which he did exceptionally well in college.
At 5’10, Christmas’ height doesn’t help the fact that going to non-FBS school makes it harder to get draft attention. But Christmas plays bigger than the tale of the tape, and he has the football IQ to play on Sundays. In relation to the Raiders roster, Christmas would have an opportunity to compete for playing time immediately. Oakland’s linebacker group is young, and it’s not clear whether these guys are just stop-gaps or long-term starters.
Christmas led Grambling in sacks and pressures in 2018, which would be crucial to Raiders Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme. Guenther thrives on Double A Gap blitzing with his linebackers. Christmas would have the ability to provide additional pressure as a rotation player as he develops. At the very least, the Raiders would have a sound tackler with field awareness that could work his way up.