Raiders 2018 season awards: MVP, Rookie of the Year, Best Signing, etc.
Most valuable player: C Rodney Hudson
The Raiders offensive line fell on hard times after seasons of excellent play. Standout guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson were hurt most of the season. Rookies Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker learned on the job through good experiences and bad. The line allowed 51 sacks and was inconsistent in the run game.
It would’ve been far worse without Hudson, a cerebral and physically gifted player who makes those around him better. He never missed a game despite playing the entire season with an ankle injury, and did an excellent job setting up and aligning protections within Jon Gruden’s complex scheme. Hudson is an offensive rock, as consistent as they come in meeting rooms and on the field. The line, and consequently the offense has a whole might’ve fallen apart without his steadying presence.
Rookie of the year: Maurice Hurst
The Michigan alum was a first-round talent taken in the fifth round due to a heart condition that scared many teams off entirely. He played all year without incident, and proved himself a solid interior defensive lineman against the run and pass.
Hurst finished with 30 tackles, a team-high four sacks and a forced fumble despite being slowed by an ankle injury the final month of the season. He’s a solid three technique in this season and could be a mainstay inside. Hurst’s production should go up with personnel upgrade around him, which provides optimism for his future.
Most improved player: Karl Joseph
Reggie McKenzie’s 2016 first-round pick started this season as the No. 4 safety. He wasn’t in the rotation early, and was largely forgotten after suffering a Week 3 hamstring injury. His name resurfaced around midseason on the trading block, as the Raiders shopped several of Reggie McKenzie’s high draft picks. He started suddenly in Week 8, seemingly in a showcase game. He wasn’t traded, and the Raiders must now be thankful for that.
The West Virginia alum became a regular player in Week 10 and every-down presence shortly after, bringing physicality and aggressiveness to the strong safety spot. He finished with two sacks and seven quarterback pressures. He was tough against the run and functional in coverage while coaches avoided matching him up with opponents rocking a size advantage. This isn’t to say that Joseph was perfect down the stretch, but he showed great improvement within Paul Guenther’s scheme – he struggled to operate within it early on – and set an aggressive tone missing before he became a steady contributor.
Position coach of the year: Derrick Ansley
Ansley moved to the NFL after 13 seasons in the college ranks, most recently with the University of Alabama. He proved to be a solid teacher of young talent, with Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley showing growth throughout the season.
Rashaan Mlevin struggled to master techniques required of the coverage scheme, which was one rare exception to a secondary that improve as a whole under Ansley. Veteran Leon Hall functioned well in the slot, and safety play from Erik Harris, Marcus Gilchrist and Joseph improved late under Ansley and assistant Jim O’Neill. The second was the steadiest defensive position, with a young core that will be around next season.
Best single game effort: RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Browns
Beast Mode didn’t last long this season, suffering a groin injury in Week 6 that ended his season early. He was the team’s best offensive weapon when healthy, running well with his trademark power, sneaky elusiveness and aggressive play.
He was vintage Lynch in a Week 4 victory over Cleveland, running for 130 yards on just 20 carries, a yardage total that could’ve been higher had an ill-timed whistle closed a big run before it really got started. He was a pinball that day, bouncing off defenders and through others in a way that gave the Raiders hope he could lead them to several victories. He couldn’t stay healthy enough to do that, in what could be his final games as a Raider or in the entire NFL.
Bad day at the office award: Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker
The Raiders rookie offensive tackles had good moments and bad as regular starters that will help them in the future. Both guys vowed to learn from all experience, including the low points mentioned below.
Miller’s came during a Week 6 loss to Seattle in London. He probably shouldn’t have played with a sprained MCL in his knee, but gutted it out anyway. That didn’t help him against Seattle edge rusher Frank Clark, who had three sacks and a forced fumble working against Miller. Quarterback Derek Carr was under siege the entire game, and got hit continuously due to struggles on the offensive flanks.
Parker had some bad moments, but the worst came at Baltimore, where he allowed sacks on three consecutive plays. The last one was a strip sack that Terrell Suggs returned for a touchdown, punctuating a brutal sequence for a tackle forced into action due to Donald Penn’s season ending groin injury.
Wally Pipp Award: K Eddy Piñeiro
The Florida alum was signed as an undrafted free agent to be the Raiders 2018 kicker and, if all worked out well, for a long time after that. He suffered a groin injury in training camp that ended his season, and watched the Raiders cycle through a few kickers who were clearly temporary fill-ins.
The same can’t be said for Daniel Carlson, a rookie from Auburn who was drafted and then quickly cut by Minnesota before joining the Raiders. Carlson made the most of his second chance, setting a franchise record for field-goal percentage in a single season.
Piñeiro should be kept around for competition, but the kicker spot is now Carlson’s to lose this offseason. A strong spring and summer from him will leave Pineiro looking for other work, which he could well find given his track record in the SEC.
Ex-Raider of the year: Khalil Mack, Denico Autry
Several guys who were Raiders in 2017 have gone on to flourish elsewhere, but Mack had another All-Pro type campaign after being traded to the Chicago Bears. He ranked fourth in pass-rush efficiency, pressuring the quarterback 9.3 percent of the time. He had 12.5 sacks among 69 total pressure – as usual, he was awesome against the run – but his beast feat was helping an good Bears defense become stifling, borderline great.
Autry deserves some kudos here, too, after finishing his first season in Indianapolis with 8.5 sacks playing largely on the defensive interior. He could’ve been had for relatively cheap, and the Raiders should regret letting him walk out the front door.
Best free agent signing: WR Jordy Nelson
This was much harder to identify than it should have been given the volume of options available. Few veteran signings panned out, and even less made a significant impact. Some never lasted the season.
Nelson qualifies here because of his steadying presence on a position group in constant flux. The 33-year old doesn’t have the speed he used to, but found a way to make plays. That was especially true down the stretch, when he and Derek Carr found great sync. He was better than keeping Michael Crabtree, and was a steady target with just one drop all season.
The Raiders have already picked up his 2019 roster bonus, meaning they want Nelson as a constant during what should be a positional overhaul at receiver.
Dwyane Harris gets an honorable mention here for solid work as a return man and a gunner in punt coverage.
Worst free agent signing: CB Rashaan Melvin
We could’ve gone several different ways here after most free-agent moves proved inconsequential. Derrick Johnson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Emmanuel Lamur and even Tank Carradine could all be named here, but Melvin proved to be the worst value. He signed a $6.5 million deal here to be the No. 1 cornerback, with motivation to earn a longer-term, big money contract during the 2019 offseason.
Melvin struggled applying techniques the coaches demanded, and quickly fell out of favor and into a reserve role. That was punctuated after he expressed frustrations in the press and on social media. Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley proved quality starters, meaning Melvin should be a one-and-done player for the Raiders.