Raiders

Karl Joseph making strong case to be in Raiders 2019 plans

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AP

Karl Joseph making strong case to be in Raiders 2019 plans

ALAMEDA – Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist sat atop the Raiders safety rotation to start this season. Erik Harris had earned some opportunities over the summer, was working in with are typically three-down starting spots.

Karl Joseph was in the fourth spot, draft status be damned. The Raiders’ 2016 first-round pick was said to have struggled making accurate reads and checks in a new defensive system. He wasn’t playing much the first two weeks, and then suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3 that kept him out three games. He returned after the bye to find himself on the trading block, an unwelcome turn he’s happy never became an actual deal.

He’s been solid since the trade deadline passed, especially after entering the starting lineup on Nov. 11.

Joseph has added toughness and physicality to the defensive front as a rover who can move and play all around the field.

“He’s been a really good open field tackler,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I think he’s showing really good range. He’s recognizing plays and he’s making plays. That’s exciting. He’s getting better and better in this defense.”

The third sentence of Gruden’s quote was a perceived weakness. Showing progress in that area has made Joseph a playmaker the Raiders expected when taking him in the first round.

His size presents a disadvantage in some coverage matchups, but the Raiders are doing well to avoid putting him in bad spots. He’s being given a chance to shine, and has taken advantage.

“I'm just trying to get better every game, every week, every practice,” Joseph said after Sunday’s 40-33 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. “You just have to keep growing as a player. I'm starting to establish myself more as a role in the defense. Just have to keep building on it. Everything is about wins in this league. We just have to keep getting better, build on this.”

[RELATED: Derek Carr taking Gruden's QB system in stride]

The back end has gotten better with time, as Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley playing well. Rashaan Melvin has his moments, and Joseph brings a new and vital element to proceedings.

He’s a thumper, something the Raiders have missed in recent seasons. He carried that reputation out from West Virginia, but is out to prove he’s more than just a heavy hitter.

He has been better in coverage and strong playing the run, with seven “run stops” tackles Pro Football Focus considers an offensive failure on the ground. He has 18 tackles in this four-game run as a starter, with just one catch allowed.

He had a beauty on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, standing up Chiefs rusher Spencer Ware with a vicious blow. He almost got Ware again on fourth down, but a direct snap to him created just enough misdirection to get past the goal line.

Joseph also just missed an interception against the Chiefs, one that bothered him after the Chiefs loss. That fits Joseph’s personality. He’s critical of his own work, and knows he isn’t playing perfect football.

Even strides are important at this stage of a lost season, as Joseph is already trying to carve out a spot on next year’s squad.

“He has a lot of talent, and I think he’s taking advantage of his opportunities,” Gruden said. “He’s healthy. He’s been able to practice. I think his preparation has a lot to do with his performance. He’s strung some really good weeks together for us.”

NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

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USATSI

NFL free agency: Why Le'Veon Bell to Raiders could be perfect signing

Finally, Le'Veon Bell will get his wish and become a free agent

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told local reporters the team will not place a franchise or transition tag on Bell this offseason. The two-time All-Pro running back sat out the entire 2018 season while in contract disputes with the team. 

"Le'Veon is still a great player," Colbert said. "We can't afford to use any other type of tags. Le'Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year."

Bell appeared to be pretty happy about the decision.

Bell declined to sign a franchise tender last year, turning down $14.5 million as he held out the entire season. 

Now that he will be a free agent, Bell certainly won't remain a Steeler. Could he join the Raiders, though? 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks he could be a good fit.

Bell certainly does fit all three phases for the Raiders -- need, money and big name. Let's start with need. 

The Raiders' top two running backs from last season -- Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch -- are both unrestricted free agents. Both are also over 30 years old, and have nowhere near Bell's talent. And the team's third-leading rusher, Jalen Richard, is a restricted free agent. 

When Bell, who just turned 27, last played in 2017, he rushed for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. The Raiders' trio previously mentioned combined for fewer than 100 more yards rushing in 2018. Plus, Bell is a threat as a receiver as well -- he has 2,660 career receiving yards, too. 

[RELATED: Le'Veon Bell to Raiders? Oddsmakers like Jon Gruden and Co.'s chances]

Secondly, the money. Bell wants to get paid, and the Raiders have the cash to do so. They will have roughly $81 million in salary cap space this offseason, with plenty of holes to fill on the roster. 

Lastly, the star power. The Raiders could certainly use and Bell certainly has it. Year 1 of Jon Gruden's return didn't go as planned.

To turn things around and kick off their move to Vegas in 2020, Bell could be the perfect player as the new face of their franchise. 

Why Mel Kiper Jr. considers Raiders NFL draft's 'most fascinating team'

Why Mel Kiper Jr. considers Raiders NFL draft's 'most fascinating team'

The Raiders have four of the first 35 overall picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, including three in the opening round. They have Jon Gruden making picks and Mike Mayock as his right hand, two respected football guys with TV experience.

Both guys know how to put on a show. That’s why longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. considers the Raiders an interesting case study.

“It’s Jon and Mike working together,” Kiper said Tuesday in a conference call. “They have the three first-round picks. They have a chance with more next year. They have an opportunity to fill a lot of holes.”

Kiper’s latest first-round mock draft has the Raiders taking Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary at No. 4 overall, Washington cornerback Byron Murphy at No. 24, and Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns at No. 27.

That’s if the Raiders play it straight and use selections earned with a bad 2018 record, along with the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades. That’s if the Raiders focus on defensive issues that could help the 2019 product more than anything else.

They could, however, ignore convention and be bold. That’s why Kiper puts the Raiders in the mix to trade for a mercurial veteran receiver or possibly draft a height-challenged quarterback with Derek Carr’s hefty paychecks still on the payroll.

[RELATED: Joe Flacco trade to Broncos could impact Raiders in 2019 NFL Draft]

“They have decisions to make, including with the Antonio Brown situation in Pittsburgh and them needing a receiver,” Kiper said. “They have the draft picks. Do they try and make a move there? Do they take (Oklahoma quarterback) Kyler Murray? Do they move Derek Carr or stick with him?

"Jon was always raving about quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson and the like. What’s his opinion of Kyler Murray in relation to Derek Carr? You talk about a fascinating player, and that’s Kyler Murray. You talk about the most fascinating team in this draft, for obvious reasons, it’s the Oakland Raiders.”