Arden Key was a first-round talent coming out of LSU. That seemed clear cut. The dynamic edge rusher could flat get after the quarterback, but character concerns were expected to drive him down the NFL Draft board. Key got in some trouble growing up in the Atlanta area and had some issues in college that could scare teams away.
People were saying the same thing about Bruce Irvin in 2012. Ultimately, he didn’t take a tumble. The Seattle Seahawks took a chance with the No. 15 overall pick and kept Irvin from falling.
Key had a different experience, dropping to No. 89 where the Raiders picked him up.
It might’ve been the best thing for him. Key has a meaningful role on the team, and a mentor in waiting. That last part became clear quickly, when Irvin said nice things about him on NFL Network, welcomed him shortly after the draft and passed along his cell phone number during rookie minicamp.
Irvin wasn’t going to let this kid get lost in the NFL experience. The veteran edge rusher wanted to make Key’s road smoother than it was for him, to be a resource and mentor to this young talent.
“I just see a lot of myself in Arden,” Irvin said on The Raiders Insider Podcast. “When he was coming out, he had red flags. People were scared to take a chance on him, but he was a first-round guy. You can’t sit back and tell me that all the edge rushers drafted before him are better. I put Arden up there with the best of them.”
Key also held Irvin in high esteem. They both come from greater Atlanta, growing up in undesirable areas. Irvin was an example of someone who was down for the count but got up and made something great.
“It also helps that we’re from the same area,” Key said in an interview also featured on The Raiders Insider Podcast. “I’ve been hearing stories about him since I was younger. I was already looking up to him way be back then.”
Irvin has become a role model to many these days. He went back to school and got his college degree from West Virginia this summer. He has become active with several East Bay charitable endeavors and has raised money for the Atlanta Children’s Shelter. He was also named the Raiders’ Walter Payton Man of the Year last season.
Irvin considers it his calling to stand as an example that you can reach great heights after dealing with great adversity.
While their experiences are different, Irvin and Key have been through their fair share. Key was suspended in high school and briefly in college, reportedly stepping away from the Tigers program for a rehab stint. Irvin got himself in trouble growing up, and dealt with a four-game suspension his second year in Seattle.
Irvin came out on the other side of rough spells, which is why the rookie’s trying to follow in No. 51’s footsteps.
“He’s been great with on-field stuff, and off-field stuff, too,” Key said. “There’s a lot of stuff that he did that I did when I was younger. If he tells me something, it’s meaningful because he has been where I’ve been, and right now he’s at the place I’m trying to go.”
Irvin wants to help get him there. That will benefit the Raiders, their pass rush and the player himself. Key has drawn rave reviews for his practice prowess – though he hasn’t played a professional game yet – and commitment to his craft.
“I just try to stay on him because we need him. You and I both know we’ve been lacking in the sack totals. Arden and those younger (defensive linemen), we need them. It’s his responsibility to work here on the field, but also to represent himself outside this building as a pro, as a Raider.
“He has a lot of people depending on him, and I tell him that. You can’t be out here partying and acting crazy when you have 60 guys depending on you. We need him. He’s doing a great job, and I have no doubt he’s going to keep his nose clean. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”