Grudens 2018 Draft Class Seeing Playing Time

Nicholas Cothrel
Kolton Miller of UCLA poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #15 overall by the Oakland Raiders during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Raiders 2018 Draft Class

Round 1: Pick 15 Kolton Miller (OT, UCLA)

Round 2: Pick 25 P.J. Hall (DT, Sam Houston St)

Round 3: Pick 1 Brandon Parker (OT, North Carolina A&T)

Round 3: Pick 23 Arden Key (DE, LSU)

Round 4: Pick 10 Nick Nelson (CB, Wisconsin)

Round 5: Pick 3 Maurice Hurst (DT, Michigan)

Round 5: Pick 36 Johnny Townsend (P, Florida)

Round 6: Pick 42 Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)

Round 7: Pick 10 Marcell Ateman (WR, Oklahoma St)

Head coach Jon Gruden made his draft selections with the focus on addressing the offensive line and defense. Drafting two offensive lineman in the first three picks showed how Gruden value’s the importance in a strong offensive line to protect the quarterback. Also, grabbing three defensive lineman in the 2018 draft would indicate more pressure to the quarterback and run stoppers tracking down running backs.

Right before the season kicked off, the Raiders and Gruden sent their former defensive player of the year, Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a haul of draft picks. The Raiders received a first-round pick in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth round pick in 2019.

By the Raiders moving on from their elite pass-rusher, the rookies drafted on defense would have a big hole to fill.

Well, that hasn’t been the case. The Raiders are last in the NFL with 10 sacks as a team. Oakland is on track for breaking the NFL record for the least amount of sacks in a single-season. The absence of Khalil Mack is felt this season, as the Raiders have struggled tremendously to get to the quarterback.

The Raiders are starting two rookies on the defensive line. Maurice Hurst and Arden Key are getting the start for Oakland every Sunday, but the inexperienced players on the defensive line is showing as it’s not resulting in any pass rush. Hurst showing some promise with four sacks and one forced fumble. Key has only generated one sack on the year, but showed great bend coming around the corner of the offensive tackle in college at LSU. Key is 6’5″ 238 pounds, which provides a good build for a speed rush off the edge. The Raiders hope to see some growth from Key, as he is about to finish off of his rookie campaign.

Raiders are also starting two offensive tackles with Kolton Miller at left tackle and Brandon Parker taking place of the injured Donald Penn at right tackle while Penn is on injured reserve. The two young tackles have been hit or miss all season. Some games they have shut out the opposing teams defensive ends and other games leave the fans praying that quarterback Derek Carr doesn’t get injured. Carr has taken a beating this season with the injuries and inexperience on his offensive line.

Cornerback Nick Nelson has now found himself in the starting role at nickel corner with CB Leon Hall out for the remainder of the season. Nelson had 21 passes broken up last season at Wisconsin. Nelson battled injuries earlier in the year and missed the beginning of the season. Since then, Gruden has spoken very highly of Nelson’s potential since his return to full action.

Wide Receiver Marcell Ateman who was on the practice squad to start the season is now seeing plenty of reps in live action. With the trade of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys and injury to Martavis Bryant the Raiders were in need of more depth at wide receiver. Ateman is a big-body receiver, listed at 6’5″ 216 pounds who has the potential of a red zone target for Derek Carr. Ateman just caught his first touchdown last week against the Chiefs. Ateman projects as a wide receiver who has the ability to catch the 50/50 ball and use his size to his advantage.

Johnny Townsend has been the Raiders punter from the get-go. Townsend continues to struggle getting distance downfield on his punts and flip the field for the Raiders defense. Gruden has expressed frustration throughout the season on Townsend’s punting. Townsend is averaging 43 yards per punt in his rookie season. Townsend will have four more games to show the coaching staff some improvement on his punts downfield.

Seven of Gruden’s nine draft selections are currently starting for the Raiders. It’s ideal to have youth on your football team but the Raiders have been getting slammed with injuries and are being forced to play some rookies more snaps than were anticipated. The inexperience on the team has a lot to do with their current 2-10 record on the season.

(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Get the latest Raiders news here

Follow Nicholas Cothrel on twitter at @NickCothrel41