Raiders

Raiders' Arden Key working at being 'more complete' before 2019 season

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Raiders' Arden Key working at being 'more complete' before 2019 season

ALAMEDA -- In order for the Raiders to succeed in 2019, they'll need a number of players to step up. 

While the Silver and Black are hoping for big contributions from the rookie class, the Raiders also will need their second-year players to build off their rookie campaign. 

The Raiders lacked a pass rush in 2018. Clelin Ferrell, the No. 4 overall pick, should help with that, but coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther also will need Arden Key to become a productive edge rusher in 2019.

Key, the Raiders' third-round pick in 2018, saw more time on the field than anticipated during his rookie year due to Khalil Mack being traded and Bruce Irvin being cut. But despite the high amount of snaps, Key only recorded one sack in 2018. 

The Raiders hope Key can emerge as a pass rusher on the opposite side of Ferrell, but the LSU product will need to be able to put on weight, gain strength and become a better finisher in order to do that.

Oakland kicked off its organized team activities program Tuesday, and Gruden noted Key was still working on reaching the goals set for him. 

"You know, Arden is -- all our second-year players I think have been impressive, the way they have worked," Gruden said."We'd like to see Arden, you know, be 260 pounds someday, 257 pounds someday. He's working toward that ... He's got to be stronger to be more complete and I think it's going to take a little time. But he is working at it and I got a lot of respect for that." 

Key entered the NFL at 238 pounds so it will take some time for him to put on that amount of weight in the right way.

[RELATED: Gruden not worried about relationships despite AB's absence

On Tuesday, Key took reps with the second-team defense at right defensive end. Run defender Josh Mauro got first-team reps on the left side with Ferrell getting the first-team spot at right defensive end. 

The Raiders have high hopes for Key, but he still has a ways to go to be the player they need him to be. 

Aaron Rodgers calls Ex-Raider Charles Woodson best defender he ever faced

Aaron Rodgers calls Ex-Raider Charles Woodson best defender he ever faced

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has faced a multitude of impressive defensive players in his 14-year NFL career. During a recent interview at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe with NBC Sports NFL Analyst Chris Simms, Rodgers was asked which defensive player he's feared the most during his career. 

"It’s Charles Woodson,” Rodgers told Simms during an episode of "Unbuttoned."

“I got to go against him in practice for years. Nobody had better instincts, could bait quarterbacks better than him, more talent, ball skills, coverage ability, smart little nuances of the position. He’s the best. By far.”

Rodgers was teammates with Woodson with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2012, and they helped lead the Pack to a Super Bowl victory in 2010. He grew a particular appreciation for Woodson during his time practicing against the cornerback while they were both in Green Bay.

“Charles dominated in a way I never saw anybody dominate before. The 2009 season, one of the greatest seasons I’ve ever seen,” Rodgers said. “What he did on defense, impacting the game, I’ve never seen a player impact the game that way until Aaron Donald.”

In 2009, Woodson had nine interceptions and was named the Defensive Player of the Year along with being named First-Team All-Pro. The former MVP quarterback also doesn't feel that Woodson has exhausted all of his ability on the field.

[RELATED: 49ers, Raiders picked to be among most improved teams by NFL analyst]

"He could probably still play today, he's in that kinda shape, you know," Rodgers told Simms.

Woodson previously has denied that he has any intention of returning to the NFL, but Raider Nation no doubt would be excited to see that No. 24 jersey back on the field in the Silver and Black.

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

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NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.