Raiders expect high-risk draft class to boom, not bust

Raiders expect high-risk draft class to boom, not bust

The Raiders draft class is loaded with top athletes. It also contains plenty of risk.

Head coach/shot caller Jon Gruden understands that. General manager Reggie McKenzie does, too.

They think the group will boom, not bust.


Resources, they believe, are in place to maximize drafted talent. They trust background checks that show health issues and off-field mistakes can be managed.

Gruden believes his assistants can develop offensive tackle Kolton Miller and receiver Marcell Ateman and help small-school defensive tackle PJ Hall and offensive tackle Brandon Parker compete against top talent. McKenzie trusts medical reports saying defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and cornerback Nick Nelson will be healthy enough to contribute. Raiders brass trusts their player engagement department can help edge rusher Arden Key, linebacker Azeem Victor and veteran receiver Martavis Bryant follow a proper path.

Punter Johnny Townsend might be the cleanest pick of the bunch. The rest of them, however, contain elements of risk.

“When you say risky business, you’re talking about medical and a couple of character issues,” McKenzie said. “On the medical deal, we’re not going to, unless our medical people flat out rejects a guy, we’re not going to flunk them. If they feel like they can play this year, we’re going to pass them. If they’re going to be well at a certain point, we’re going to keep them on the board. If it’s something that will prevent them from playing forever, then we’ll take them off the board.

“As far as character, we’re not going to condemn these kids for mistakes. We’re not going to lower our standards. Ever. But we feel like we have a great system in place to help guys who have fallen. If they’re willing to stand up, own it and get better within themselves, we’re going to give them a shot. We’re going to hold them accountable and this staff is going to do a great job of holding them accountable and helping them.”

The Raiders draft gets dissected in great detail because it was Jon Gruden’s first back in charge. McKenzie played a vital role in the draft, but the new head coach had final say. His imprint is on the class and could turn out well.

It’s a score if Miller or Parker becomes a long-term solution at left tackle. If Key can find old form in Oakland, they got a third-round steal. If Nelson’s knee heals right and Hurst’s heart condition proves inconsequential through yearly exams – it didn’t cause a problem in college – the Raiders could have two immediate impact defensive players from Day 3.

That’s a best-case scenario. Key said he’s a “top 5 (draft pick) – automatic” without off-field problems. Nelson said he was a first or second round pick without a recently injured meniscus. Those guys, and Hurst, could prove valuable late-round picks. The Raiders don’t have to hit on all of them. A series of standouts would be enough to consider the week a success, and that’s certainly possible considering this collection of raw talent.

If guys struggle to develop, stay healthy or out of trouble, this draft class could fall in line with recent misfires.

Others don’t think the selections were risky or invaluable in a specific draft slot, including those in front of microphones and cameras.

“I don’t really hear all the skeptics,” Gruden said after the draft’s first three rounds, the last time he was available to the press. “I have a cell phone too that works. I got a lot of coaches and friends in the NFL that are ecstatic about the picks that we made. And I apologize to people that don’t like our picks and that are skeptical and I also realize we have to prove that we did the right thing.”

Arden Key signs, entire Raiders 2018 draft class now under contract


Arden Key signs, entire Raiders 2018 draft class now under contract

The Raiders drafted nine players back in April. Now they’re all under contract.

Third-round edge rusher Arden Key was the last to ink his rookie deal, putting pen to paper on a four-year rookie deal Friday morning.

Key will make an estimated $3.57 million over the league of the deal with a $834k signing bonus, per athletic salary site

The current collective bargaining agreement and its rookie wage scale makes signing draft picks far easier, with little wiggle room to negotiate deals.

The Raiders locked up their last rookie the day after the offseason program’s conclusion. NFL teams largely go quiet during this time, until training camps begin in late July.

The Raiders are excited about Key’s potential. The LSU product believes he’s a first-round talent who dropped due to off-field concerns and a drop in his 2017 production over the previous year.

Key has flashed great athleticism, quickness and bend. He could make an immediate impact as a third edge rusher behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

“Arden Key,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said, “has got some special pass-rush ability.”

Reports: Raiders WR Martavis Bryant's standing with NFL in question

Reports: Raiders WR Martavis Bryant's standing with NFL in question

The Raiders gave up significant draft capital to acquire receiver Martavis Bryant. The trade cost a third-round pick, something the Silver and Black were willing to sacrifice for a game-breaking talent missing from their arsenal.

They might've traded for a player who will be unavailable. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported Thursday night that the Raiders are concerned the NFL will discipline Bryant. The report also states discipline is believed to stem from poor standing with the substance abuse policy.

That would be news to Bryant. As of late Friday morning, a source told NBC Sports Bay Area, the NFL had not notified Bryant about issues with his standing with the league.

An NFL spokesman declined comment when asked if the league was considering discipline for Bryant.

Bryant violated the NFL substance abuse policy multiple times while playing in Pittsburgh. The Clemson product has been suspended twice over failed drug tests, and missed the entire 2016 season as a repeat offender of the substance abuse policy.

He was conditionally reinstated prior to the 2017 campaign. The receiver must now follow stringent guidelines, including tests and meetings, to remain compliant with the substance abuse policy. In short, more than a failed drug test can get a player in some trouble.

The NFL Network reports the league has identified an issue with Bryant, but that it is not clear if it will result in a delay in his availability – he was held out for the start of training camp last year with Pittsburgh – if the issue can be simply remedied clerically or if it will result in a suspension. NFL Network also reports Bryant met with the league at its New York office in late April, and was in good standing at that time.

Bryant did not participate in Thursday’s Raiders minicamp practice, the last session of their offseason program.

Bryant has not spoken to the press since April 27, when he said the Raiders trade offered a “clean slate” he planned to maximize.

“I’ve had my difficulties in my past, but I’ve come a long way from that,” Bryant said. “It’s all about keeping the right resources around me and continuing to stay on the right path. I’m going to make sure I get that done.”

Bryant has one season left on his contract, originally signed with Pittsburgh. He has looked good in practices open to the press, flashing great speed and an ability to use his 6-foot, 5-inch frame well.