Raiders

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in rare position to think playoffs, top-10 pick

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USATSI

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in rare position to think playoffs, top-10 pick

We're passed the halfway point of the NFL season, and the Raiders are in a unique position.

Yes, it's OK to start thinking about Jon Gruden leading the Silver and Black back to the playoffs. This Raiders team has been tough, gritty and resilient, fighting through a host of injuries, a five-game road trip against playoff-caliber competition, Vontaze Burfict's season-long suspension and Antonio Brown's meltdown to sit at 5-4, just on the outside of the playoff picture with a very favorable upcoming schedule.

But thanks to the much-criticized Khalil Mack trade -- which is looking better by the day (hi, Josh Jacobs) -- the Raiders also must start scouting college football's best players. The Bears, one year after going 12-4 and winning the NFC North, have been borderline abysmal as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continues to show zero signs that he's a franchise quarterback.

With seven games left, the Bears sit at 4-5 and currently would have the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But because the Bears were brilliant last year, led by Mack and that vaunted defense, they were given a first-place schedule, so Trubisky and the Bears will finish the season with the Rams, Giants, Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings.

Ouch.

The way the Bears are playing, at least four of those games are losses, and there's no telling which Chicago team will show up against the Giants or possibly the Jeff Driskel-led Lions on Thanksgiving. Even a positive view likely sees the Bears' finish at 6-10 or 5-11, and that could be enough to see them fall (or rise depending on the hat you're wearing) into the top 10 of the NFL draft.

A playoff berth and a top-10 pick in the same season? That's some kind of witchcraft only Gruden could have cooked up in his wildest nightmares.

The Raiders are just a half-game back of the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West, with a Dec. 1 meeting at Arrowhead Stadium still to come. They're just outside of the wild-card picture because of a tiebreaker loss to the Steelers based on conference record.

Still, the playoffs are a real possibility for the Silver and Black. While Gruden patches up the secondary after injuries to safety Karl Joseph and slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, general manager Mike Mayock is hard at work scouting what could be a top-10 pick from the Bears.

The 2020 NFL Draft class might not be as loaded as some in years past, but it does have just what the Raiders will be looking for: wide receivers, pass rushers and defensive backs.

So, let's pretend the Raiders hit the lottery and go to the playoffs for the second time since 2002, and the Bears plummet to finish 5-11. Here are six prospects the playoff-bound Raiders will be looking at with that top-10 pick.

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Speed. Speed. More speed.

One of Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's favorite targets, Ruggs is a burner who's projected to be the fastest player in this year's draft class. He's the perfect fit for the modern NFL. He's improved as a route runner during his time in Tuscaloosa, and would be great for a Raiders team that's thin at receiver after the AB debacle.

His teammate, Jerry Jeudy, is the top receiver in the class and likely will go in the top five, but Ruggs is no consolation prize.


CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Did I mention the Raiders have a need at receiver?

Lamb isn't as fast as Ruggs, but the 6-foot-2, 191-pound receiver has been dominant as Jalen Hurts' No. 1 target this season. He's a polished route-runner who has a knack for getting open and is almost impossible to tackle. Just ask Texas, which Lamb torched, pulling down 10 balls for 171 yards and three scores.

Lamb is a little taller than Ruggs, but either would be a great weapon to give Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.


Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson

Have you heard Gruden kind of likes guys from Clemson?

After the Silver and Black drafted three guys from Dabo Swinney's culture factory last season, don't be surprised if they go back to Death Valley should Simmons be on the board.

That's a big if, but the converted safety is just what the Raiders are looking for in a linebacker. He has the athleticism to cover tight ends but also can run sideline to sideline to track down backs. He has the versatility to play some safety if called upon to do so.

I'd expect he'll hear his name called somewhere in the No. 6-to-No. 8 range, but if he falls a bit, this would be a huge get for Mayock and Gruden.


Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

At 6-5, 318 pounds, Brown has the size that NFL teams covet in a disruptive defensive tackle. He's still raw, but he has the tools to be a dominant game wrecker.

The Raiders were interested in Quinnen Williams in last year's draft, but he went off the board at No. 3. Will they go back to the D-line well here?


Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The Raiders drafted Johnathan Abram in the first round last April, but he only made it one game before going down with a shoulder injury. Karl Joseph was having a productive season at the other safety spot before going on injured reserve after his game-sealing interception against the Chargers.

Joseph will be a free agent this offseason and would love to return to the Raiders. But if it doesn't work out, Delpit is the type of player Gruden would love to put alongside Abram in the defensive backfield.

The LSU star can line up just about anywhere and make plays. He's a versatile ballhawk who would give the Raiders one of the best safety combinations in the league.

As seen in the win over Alabama, Delpit has to improve his tackling, but it's not a big enough knock to warrant passing on him.


Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State

So, you need a pass rush? Clelin Ferrell has come on of late, and Maxx Crosby has been a pleasant surprise, but the Raiders still lack the ability to consistently get after the pass rusher. They'd love to land Ohio State's Chase Young, but he'll be off the board by the No. 2 pick.

Gross-Matos is a lengthy defensive end with a massive wingspan and a big motor. He's relentless on every play, and we know Gruden loves that. He's only 21, so he has a ton of room to grow both physically and as a defensive end.

The Nittany Lion star could go inside the top 10 or fall to the late first round, so the Raiders could have a few cracks at him.

[RELATED: Where Raiders sit in NFL power rankings after Week 10]

Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

If you can't immediately fix the pass rush, you can address the coverage. The Raiders did that by drafting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in April, and the rookie has been solid since earning the starting job after Gareon Conley was traded.

Adding Fulton would give the Raiders two young, athletic cover corners on whom to build their defense. Heading to Las Vegas with the #NoFlyZone.

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

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USATSI

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

ALAMEDA -- Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was cleared to practice Wednesday, but coach Jon Gruden couldn’t guarantee the rookie would play in Sunday’s Oakland Coliseum finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacobs had things to prove to both trainers and coaches during the practice week to gain final clearance. It seems it could be coming soon.

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Jacobs looked great in his return to work after missing last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans with a fractured shoulder suffered in Week 7.

“He looked great,” Olson said. “He’s been a pro, and obviously he’s shown that he can play with injuries. He’s had different nagging injuries throughout the season, but he’s a tough player, and again, that’s a part of the reason why we drafted him. ...

"We just feel good about him right now.”

The Raiders got another valued rookie back on the practice field, with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow working for the first time since injuring his ribs and lung in an away loss to the New York Jets.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go right away. A Week 16 meeting with the L.A. Chargers previously was designated as a return target and still might be the case after limited work Thursday.

“He was able to go through individuals today and routes,” Olson said. “Just no contact, but he looked great, so it’s good to have him out on the field. Brought a little juice to the offense. They’re excited to see him out there.”

[RELATED: How Guden's bond with Coliseum runs deep]

Right guard Gabe Jackson was a non-participant in Thursday’s work as he continues to battle through a knee injury that has negatively impacted consistently solid play. Right tackle Trent Brown remains out with a pectoral injury, without much to suggest he’ll be ready to play Sunday.

Brandon Parker will play for Brown, and Denzelle Good will step in if Jackson can’t go.

Raiders practice report

THURSDAY
Did not practice
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)
CB Daryl Worley (neck)
LB Marquel Lee (toe)

Limited practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
WR Marcell Ateman (ribs)
S Erik Harris (hamstring)

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden walked toward midfield with a tense Raiders victory finally secure, exchanging pleasantries with L.A. Chargers coaches he spent all week trying to beat. He worked that crowd with smiles, handshakes and bro hugs, spending most of his time looking for open space.

The Raiders head coach found some and quickly made a break for it.

Gruden doubled his pace, removed his jacket and headed straight for the Black Hole. The notorious fan section was ready and waiting for another moment with their man, one of their greatest champions.

Gruden got the Elvis treatment over 54 seconds walking Oakland Coliseum’s southern rail, borderline mobbed while trying to make personal connections with this devoted following. He accomplished that mission several times over, reveling in a Week 10 victory with people dressed like gorillas and fighter pilots and other creepy outfits only fit for the Coliseum and Halloween.

Gruden stood before the press a short while later, face paint smudging his cheek and spilled beer on his shoulder, his jacket and visor given away in the crowd.

He was asked, clearly by a reporter unfamiliar with his disposition, if those Black Hole trips were getting a little too rough to repeat.

“No, I never think that,” Gruden said. “Every win, I’m going down there. I get face paint all over me. I get to see some costumes I have not seen before at any football games. It’s awesome.”

Gruden’s bond with the fan base runs deep. That’s especially true in Oakland, still the capital of Raider Nation.

“There’s something about these people,” Gruden said. “They’re nuts. They’re the closest thing to me that I’ve ever seen. We have that in common.”

There is grit and determination, a ferocious bark and bite in Gruden and his followers. And, of course, they share an unwavering devotion to all things Raiders. They are like family in that they can be at times mad with Gruden’s performance while still wishing him well.

That kinship always will stay with Gruden, even as the Raiders transition to Las Vegas in 2020. Relocation’s right around the bend, with but one game left at Oakland Coliseum. That comes Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which he hopes to punctuate with one more celebration in the Black Hole.

“That’s what I coach for,” Gruden said. “I love people. I love football and they love it more than anybody. People can make fun of me and say whatever they want, but when we win, I’m going down there. And when we lose, usually I stick around the parking lot, hang out with the guys and try to get them ready for the next home game. I like to share my joy with some joyous Raiders fans as much as possible.”

That’s Gruden’s way of saying thank you for ardent support during his days as a 30-something head coach. It’s a thank you for keeping him in high esteem after he got traded to Tampa Bay – the 2002 Super Bowl and a 2004 return to the Coliseum are rare exceptions – and eventually moved into broadcasting. It’s a thank you for patience while he rebuilds the Raiders roster during his return to the Silver and Black.

Gruden earned loyalty from a fanbase starving for a return to greatness. The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, after 13 seasons and a Super Bowl win in Los Angeles. The second East Bay stint started with three subpar seasons under two head coaches before Al Davis hired Philadelphia’s 35-year old offensive coordinator in 1998.

Gruden entered with a plan and started to execute it well, following two 8-8 seasons with an AFC West title and a trip to the conference championship game.

“Success makes you exciting,” said former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, who worked under Gruden from 1998-2000 before retiring to become a pastor. “Him coming in with a new attitude and passion and all those facial expressions made him a popular figure. During that short period of time, there was a lot of winning and overall excitement surrounding the team. Raiders fans were so hungry to win, and he was the face of that new movement.”

Kaufman’s right. Gruden’s personality was an important part of that package. All the dramatic facial expressions and raised eyebrows, all the yelling and the four-letter words let fans know he was giving ‘em hell on their behalf. His commitment to the craft became legend, with the entire East Bay aware he was getting up at 3:17 a.m. to help the Raiders win.

“He brought what I would I refer to as a zest and a zeal that had been missing,” former Raiders CEO Amy Trask said. “He was also just so expressive that fans likened him to Chucky and he embraced that, and it really took off. …The popularity of Jon Gruden grew and grew among Raiders fans.”

That was especially true in 2001, when Gruden won another division crown and was controversially felled by the NFL’s tuck rule in New England. Fans stayed true even after he was traded from Oakland to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. They obviously were upset after he beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, but time healed that wound.

That was clear when he came back to Oakland Coliseum to broadcast an NFL preseason game between the Raiders and Cowboys. Gruden rarely, if ever, left the press level when covering games, but took a lap before that 2012 exhibition that went just like recent his trips to the Black Hole. Fans lined the rails waiting for a moment of his time or an autograph, proof that their adoration never died.

Neither has Gruden’s connection to this region. He certainly hoped to give it another shot at glory this season but couldn’t keep a midseason hot streak going long enough to remain in the playoff hunt. That sets up an Oakland Coliseum finale that carries few football ramifications but plenty of emotion for Gruden, his family and everyone in the stands.

[RELATED: Carr shares special connection with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

Gruden hasn’t been nostalgic heading into this game, choosing to focus on the preparation required to give these Raiders fans one more win to end this Oakland era. It’s one more chance to salute an area that means so much to him.

“In a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean?” Gruden said. “It was the beginning of my NFL coaching career, at least my head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I have a lot of history here. And some of my friends, a lot of my friends are in the Black Hole. A lot of my only friends are here. (laughter) I don’t have a lot of friends except the guys in the Black Hole. I only get to see them six or seven times, and I get emotional talking about it.

“Look, we’re excited about the future in Las Vegas. I don’t want to underestimate that either, but we’re also very respectful of where we come from.”