The Las Vegas Raiders added new pieces to their defensive line in 2020, but one player who looks to be showing growth as a rotational pass rusher is third-year player Arden Key.
Three years ago Jon Gruden drafted defensive end Arden Key in the third round with the hope that he would make a smooth transition from the college ranks into the NFL. It’s been a roller coaster ride for him thus far, but Key has shown reasons to be optimistic about him turning the corner in 2020.
Key, who today was added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list due to close contact with teammate Clelin Ferrell, should play Sunday against Kansas City pending negative daily tests leading up to the game.
The Raiders have received scrutiny for their defensive performances early in the season. However, since then, they’ve strung together a few productive outings that manifest improvements. In the last three games against the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos, the Raiders have held opponents to an average of 14.6 points per game.
With the best performance of the bunch coming last Sunday against Denver, Key applied a punishing clean hit on quarterback Drew Lock, which appeared to put a damper on the rest of Lock’s day as he didn’t look the same after the hit. Lock ended the day throwing four interceptions, and it was later noted that he suffered a severe strain and bruising to his midsection.
Key was a pivotal part of the team’s defensive effort, forcing erratic throws from Lock, along with other members of the defensive line. Key forced one pressure, one quarterback hit and two tackles on the day.
“He made some good plays,” Gruden said after the team’s win on Sunday. “He got home a couple times. He showed great energy and pursuit, and really had fun playing.”
Following the Raiders’ most recent Week 10 victory, it was announced Tuesday that Ferrell and Lamarcus Joyner were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. It was later added by Ian Rapoport that Ferrell did test positive for COVID-19 and Joyner was considered a close contact.
With Ferrell likely to miss Sunday’s Week 11 game against the Chiefs, that opens up a starting spot at defensive end. Based on how Key has played, he’ll presumably see more action along with Carl Nassib to fill the void.
Another thing to note for the upcoming matchup against the Cheifs — Key was used as a spy in the previous meeting, which helped contain quarterback Patrick Mahomes from getting outside the pocket. This is an area Key thrived in during the last go-around so expectations are he’ll see more usage in that role.
Overall, Key has recorded 11 pressures on 148 pass rushing snaps this season, according to the data calculated by PFF. He’s no longer a starting defensive end like he was used throughout his rookie campaign, but his development is well apparent in the seven games in which he’s played this season.
Key’s impact on the Raiders probably won’t involve transitioning back into a starting role longterm, but nonetheless, it appears he’s on track to salvage his time in Las Vegas with an uptick in production.