Coming off the bye week, Hayden Nadolny says defensive lineman Maurice Hurst has been an excellent addition for the Silver and Black.
No one in Raider Nation, least of all head coach Jon Gruden, could have expected such a dreadful 1-5 start to the season. With the Raiders having just come off their bye week, let’s take a look at some mid-season AGM awards:
Most Valuable Player: Marshawn Lynch
Lynch has been the heart and soul of the team. At times, he quite literally has carried the offense on his back. Most of all, he has been the emotional leader of the team. In Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns, Lynch said some fierce words to the offensive line to fire them up after a slow start. The line responded, Lynch ground his way to over 100 rushing yards on the day and the Raiders chalked up their only win of the season. It was devastating news to hear that Lynch had injured his groin requiring at least a month on the sidelines with the possibility of the Raiders sending him to IR. If he’s indeed placed on IR, given his contract expires at the end of the season, we may have seen the last of Beast Mode as a Raider and possibly the NFL.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jared Cook (Honorable Mention: Rodney Hudson)
Cook has been the barometer of the passing game all season long quickly becoming Derek Carr’s favorite target down the middle of the field. He is on track for over 1,000 receiving yards which would be a career high. What has been most impressive about Cook is his willingness to fight for yards after the catch, especially on third down. Such plays would certainly be highlighted in the Raiders Monday film review in the category of Gruden Grinders.
Defensive Player of the Year: Maurice Hurst
There is something clearly out of whack when a fifth-round rookie is the team’s best defender through the first six games of the season, but that is the case with Hurst. He has exceeded all expectations and has proven to be a great find on day three of the draft. Not bad for someone who many experts claimed may never play a down in the league due to his heart condition.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kolton Miller
The rookie left tackle has had a horrendous last two games, but this is in large part due to playing with a grade II MCL strain to his right knee. In the first month of the season, Miller was better than advertised and was holding up well in pass coverage and showed good athleticism on the move in the run game. Once Miller is healthy, I would expect his early season form to continue. There was much contention about selecting Miller with the Raiders first-round pick, but signs are there that they certainly got this one right.
Defensive rookie of the year: Maurice Hurst (Honorable Mention: Arden Key)
The fifth-round pick out of Michigan looks more like a first-round pick. Hurst has not only been a shining light on this very porous Raiders defense, but he has been one of the better rookie defensive linemen in the entire league.
Most Improved Player: Erik Harris
In his third year in the NFL, Harris has finally found a niche for himself in the Raiders defense getting significant snaps as the third safety along with Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson. This is a big step up from his initial contributions as a special teams ace. Harris was seen as a dark horse entering the season, frequently earning praise from the coaches in what was seen by many as an impressive OTA period and training camp. Given the Raiders desire to move to more younger players, Harris could see even more time as the season progresses, though it should be noted that Harris will be 29 at the start of next season.
Best Off-Season Signing: Frostee Rucker
Rucker was signed as an unrestricted free agent late in the off-season and has proved to be a great bargain basement acquisition. The defensive lineman has not only been stout against the run, but he’s been a true leader on the field, something that edge rusher Bruce Irvin simply hasn’t lived up to. Rucker has been lauded for his efforts, recently being handed a captain badge for the remainder of the season.
Worst Off-Season Signing: Derrick Johnson (Honorable Mention: Tahir Whitehead)
The Raiders bad run with linebackers continued into the Gruden era. Johnson was signed to be a true three-down linebacker and to lead the Raiders defense but early on in training camp, it was evident that he had lost a step and looked uncomfortable. Second-year player Marquel Lee had a very solid pre-season and though he has been underwhelming (much like the rest of the team) during the season, he earned the right to take Johnson’s snaps moving forward. Johnson requested a release earlier this week, and it was granted, though the Raiders were most likely going to release him this week anyway. Once again, middle linebacker will be a top need for the Raiders in the off-season.
A Quote to Remember
“Any time you bring a player in, you bring a player in based off what you’ve seen, what you’ve watched the player do on film. Film is a player’s resume. Once a player gets here, you want to change that, and a player takes a decline. You have to take a look at certain things. ‘OK, why is this player doing this? Why is this player not being this type of player, whatever he might have been?’ And you can tell the difference.”
A frustrated Rashaan Melvin on his benching having failed to learn and master the motor technique that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther requires of his outside cornerbacks.
Some Tweets of Amusement
ESPN been calling Derek “David Carr” so much that he became him.
— Pepe (@PepeinVegas) October 16, 2018
LT was so good that if Giants has traded him for 2 first round picks they wouldn’t have needed to send a second round pick back https://t.co/kkfbjtOlxe
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) October 18, 2018
I can’t see the Raiders winning this week. Even against the Colts who aren’t exactly a good football team, but Andrew Luck will do enough to get the Colts their second win in a row.
10 Things I Think – Mid-Season Roster Evaluation:
1 – QB: Derek Carr must bridge the gap between his best and his worst because the gap right now is astronomical. He is making too many boneheaded plays and these are costing the team. I do like his improved mobility in the pocket, and this is something that has steadily improved as the season has progressed. I particularly liked the use of his feet to scramble against Seattle and that trend will need to continue if the offensive line doesn’t hold up.
2 – RB: Marshawn Lynch has been the bright spot of this team making his likely season-ending groin injury all the more draining on the organization. Doug Martin is still an unknown six games in, though he’s a very different runner to Lynch and the big uglies up front will have to adapt. Jalen Richard has looked good as a weapon in the pass game and I expect this to continue given that the Raiders will be behind in plenty of their remaining games. Fullback Keith Smith has been very underwhelming, and at this point, it’s clear to me that the Raiders should instead have kept Jamize Olawale in this position.
3 – WR: Amari Cooper simply isn’t getting enough targets despite getting open plenty of times. There’s a clear disconnect with Carr and if the latest reports on Cooper are correct, it’s quite possible he won’t be a Raider much longer. Jordy Nelson was touted by Gruden within Raiders HQ as a Jerry Rice type signing from his first go-round with Oakland but Nelson has been anything but. Martavis “White Tiger” Bryant must still be in his cage because he’s done a whole lot of nothing so far. Seth Roberts amazingly looks more consistent than the majority of the other receivers and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
4 – TE: Jared Cook has been the MVP of the offense, proving to be Carr’s favorite target. Backups Lee Smith and Derek Carrier have been liabilities both in terms of frequent mental mistakes and poor run blocking. It’s surprising that Gruden hasn’t used the tight ends more to chip the edge rushers to help out rookie offensive tackles Miller and Brandon Parker.
5 – O-Line: It’s been a mixed bag from this unit. There have been some great moments in both the run and pass games, but the line has struggled for consistency. This can be partially attributed to the multiple injuries that this unit has suffered during the season and the bye came at the perfect time for them. The line’s inconsistency somewhat typifies the team’s performance as a whole.
6 – D-Line: A major disappointment. Bruce Irvin has been dreadful both as a pass rusher and as an on-field leader, consistently making undisciplined plays that have cost the team. Rucker has stepped up in that aspect and has been a solid leader on the line, but production leads to lifting across the entire unit here. The three rookies (Hurst, P.J. Hall, and Arden Key) have shown enough that they belong in the NFL and will likely be a key component of Gruden’s rebuild in the coming years ahead.
7 – LB: ‘Terrible’ might be an understatement to describe the performance of this unit. Derrick Johnson was meant to be the mainstay, but his role was reduced even before pre-season was over, while Tahir Whitehead can be added to the long list of free agent busts the Raiders have signed at linebacker since 2012. I expect Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee and Jason Cabinda to all see increases in their playing time as the Raiders search to find out who fits this defense long term.
8 – Secondary: Six games into the season and this unit is still yet to settle into a regular rotation. Worley looks promising at outside corner despite giving up some big plays against the Seahawks and at just 23 years of age may be a long-term building block at the position. Rashaan Melvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seem to be occupying temporary spots until the Raiders can upgrade next year. Leon Hall has been a real positive both on and off the field and it will be interesting to see how his role changes as the staff give snaps to rookie Nick Nelson in the slot. Meanwhile, Gareon Conley seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaches and is a prime candidate to be traded at the deadline.
At safety, Reggie Nelson has justifiably had his playing time reduced in favor of Erik Harris, who has easily been the most consistent safety thus far. Marcus Gilchrist has been disappointing at this stage and the Raiders don’t have anyone who can adequately replace him. Perhaps when Nick Nelson gets playing time in the slot they could move Hall to safety? Hall does, after all, have experience at that position.
9 – Special Teams: The main battery unit are three rookies, and at times their inexperience has gotten the better of them. Long snapper Trent Sieg has been solid, but kicker Matt McCrane and punter Johnny Townsend have been far too inconsistent. Townsend, in particular, is shanking roughly half of his punts, and when the team needs to flip the field, he is only a liability rather than an asset. If that trend continues I won’t be surprised to see him cut. McCrane has missed some makeable kicks but I like his work in particular on kickoffs, whereby he has consistently enticed the returner to take it out of the end zone whilst getting enough hang time such that the coverage unit tackles the returner prior to the 25-yard line.
10 – Coaching: The first month of the season saw Gruden pull out some spectacular game plans, but his second-half adjustments have let the team down. This coaching staff simply should be – and must be – better if the Raiders are going to have any sort of success moving forward.