Arden Key’s draft stock took a tumble. The former Louisiana State edge rusher knows why. Off-field troubles, some weight gain and a few injuries hindered his production, leading some to raise red flags about his professional future.
That’s why he was available at No. 87 overall, when the Raiders’ second third-round pick stopped his slide.
“I’m a first-round talent, top five,” Key said last week in a conference call. “I went through some situations that caused me to be a third-round pick. I’ve learned from those things and this is the consequence of me going through what I went through. I’m a better person now than I was prior to it. I’m just happy to be at the right place. I feel the Oakland Raiders is the right place for me.”
Key’s happy to be a Raider for a few reasons. He wants to learn behind two of the best, studying under Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Lamonte Winston also made a good impression. The director of player engagement met with Key during his official pre-draft visit with the Raiders, and set out a life plan should Key become a Raider.
“He is off the chart. We had a long talk,” Key said. “We talked about things outside of football, what I want to do as far as business and career, things of that sort. We wrote a plan out and we stuck with that plan. It was saying I was going to be a Raider. We spoke it into existence, now look where I’m at.”
Key must stay out of trouble and focused on football now. The Raiders offer a fresh start, a clean slate for someone who went through some troubled times at Louisiana State. He was away from the program during the 2017 offseason for publicly undisclosed reasons – Key says he was an open book during NFL interviews – a time when he also had shoulder surgery. He played a bit heavier in 2017, and struggled, relatively speaking, when compared to 2016’s game tape.
Key had 56 tackles, 12 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in 2016. He had just four sacks an a forced fumble in 2017, looking at times like a different version of himself.
“Two years ago, his tape was unbelievable,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said last week after Key’s selection. “He was a heck of a football player. He gained 25 or 26 pounds – he bulked up. I think he tried to add a different dimension to his game size-wise. Perhaps it backfired, he got hurt and there were issues there. He underachieved his year, but I go back to the film two years ago – the kid is special – and I know the man that’s been training him.
"I’ve got a lot of confidence in (defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther and (defensive line coach) Mike Trgovac. They’ve done this a long time, they’ve developed players like this.”
Key can develop behind Mack and Irvin, without the pressure of being a full-time starter. He should be the rotational reserve the Raiders have missed the past few years, when starters played nearly every snap off the edge.
The Raiders are confident Winston’s department can help him stay on a proper path, giving Key a chance to prove he’s a top talent. There’s some work to do, but the Raiders are ready to dig in.
“He’s not a finished product,” Gruden said. “He’s made some mistakes. He’s had some difficult times in his young life, and I know where he’s been for the last several months, and I know what he’s been through in his career. We’ve done a lot of research on him and he has a lot to prove. We have a lot to prove.
"But at the end of the third round, we feel like it’s a gamble worth taking and this young man has some qualities that are rare. We do think he’s a very good kid so I’m not going to get much more into it than that. I realize we have our skeptics, and rightfully so, but this is a young person that needs some help right now and we’re going to help him.”
Key knows he has much to prove, and is ready to start his next chapter.
“That I’m not the guy that the media portrays me to be,” he said. “The only thing. On the field? Football things? Football is not the question. Everybody knows, talent-wise, if we’re just talking talent, (I’m a) top-five pick, automatic.”