The Raiders are a far younger team than they were a year ago. Despite head coach Jon Gruden’s affinity for veteran players, this was by design.
They were the NFL’s oldest squad last year, with an average age of 27.4 years old. The 2019 average is 25.6, ninth-youngest.
That’s smart for a rebuilding team trying to build a new foundation through the NFL draft.
“It was a big priority,” Gruden said. “We’re trying to build our team. You build through the draft. It sounds cliché, but you have to get good, young players in the system so you can get them in their second, third, fourth year and hopefully, get some guys in their second contract.”
The Raiders haven’t brought many back on a second deal. Gabe Jackson, Derek Carr and Justin Ellis – now on IR, possibly having played his last down as a Raider -- are rare examples of a re-up. Cutting draft picks in their rookie deal has been more common, especially with former general manager Reggie McKenzie’s selections, players who struggled to provide quality in his last few drafts.
We’ve seen incredible turnover on this roster, with just 10 players leftover from the pre-Gruden era.
In order to get the youth playing well, they need older guys running the show.
Having veterans man two important positions is especially vital to Raiders well being while bringing so many young players around.
Quarterback Derek Carr and middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict are capable field generals easing youth into full-time NFL duty.
“Certainly we’re going to be young,” Gruden said. “We have a young starting safety, two young defensive ends. We have a lot of youth over there, but Derek is going to get in the huddle with a rookie fullback, a rookie tailback, a rookie tight end and a rookie slot. To have a signal-caller on both sides with the charisma, the leadership and the experience of Burfict and Carr helps us.”
The Raiders have several quality leaders outside of Carr and Burfict, including Rodney Hudson and Lamarcus Joyner. That will help this group evolve quickly and take some of the mental burden off of guys trying to adjust to NFL life.
“We have good veteran leadership here,” Gruden said. “We’re really happy to get Rodney Hudson signed before the season. I think the leadership, the veteran leadership here is big for these young guys to follow. We’re excited about that.”