Why Jon Gruden believes Lamarcus Joyner will pay off soon for Raiders

Why Jon Gruden believes Lamarcus Joyner will pay off soon for Raiders

ALAMEDA – Lamarcus Joyner might be the Raiders' best safety. That was probably true when everyone was healthy this summer and is hard to argue now with so many of them hurt.

The Raiders have locked Joyner in at slot cornerback since the moment he signed a four-year contract worth up to $42 million last spring. That’s Joyner’s preferred position, a spot the longtime Rams defensive back manned until Wade Phillips moved him to safety in 2017.

His return to the slot with the Raiders has gone decently, with some struggles at a level expected from someone at his pay rate. In fairness, Joyner has also dealt with a hamstring injury the second half of this season. He was also been asked to expand his role some during the middle of the year without a steady, thriving linebacker corps.

Joyner’s numbers haven’t been great. He ranks No. 21 in performance from the slot among players who predominantly or, as in Joyner’s case, work there almost exclusively. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, he allows a reception every 7.8 coverage snaps and has given up 43 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns in 58 targets. The 107.1 passer rating ranks sixth worst among the 24 players with at least 201 coverage snaps from the slot this season.

Joyner hasn’t been a top tier player at his position, but head coach Jon Gruden believes he’ll be around to help get the defense going. That makes sense, considering Joyner has an $8 million fully guaranteed roster bonus coming in 2020, with a $4.6 million base salary that becomes fully guaranteed on March 22.

“We’re going to get the bang [for our buck],” Gruden said. “When you lose you safeties and your middle linebacker, it’s a big issue. We didn’t have a lot of proven depth. I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses, but Joyner’s a big part of the solution. So is Trayvon Mullen and our young corners. We were making progress for a while, but I think Joyner’s a big part of the solution even though the stat sheet might not show it right now.”

Joyner is the team’s best slot cornerback and the best safety, but Gruden never veered him away from his focused position this season. He has played just one snap at safety this season, per PFF, and never worked there during the offseason program or training camp. Gruden was asked about moving him to safety after Karl Joseph was lost for the season, but the head coach explained why he has stayed put even with talk of moving Daryl Worley inside despite his relative inexperience playing there.

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“We’ve moved everybody around quite a bit on this team this year, but Lamarcus is a valuable part of our team as the nickel, and I don’t want to break in a new nickel either,” Gruden said. “You know, rob Peter to pay Paul. Once you move your nickel, you’ve got to find a new nickel, and those guys don’t grow on trees either.”

NFL votes to expand playoffs to seven teams beginning with 2020 season

NFL votes to expand playoffs to seven teams beginning with 2020 season

If the 2020 NFL season does eventually kick-off, there will be a new wrinkle for teams to consider.

Via teleconference Tuesday, the NFL owners voted to expand the playoffs to seven teams per conference, the league announced in a statement. Only one team will get a first-round bye in each conference. The expanded playoffs will begin this season.

The format will remain the same, just with an extra game per conference on Wild Card Weekend. With the No. 2 seed hosting the No. 7 seed, No. 3 hosting the No. 6 and No. 4 hosting No. 5.

Had this rule change been in effect last season, the Los Angeles Rams (9-7) would have been the No. 7 seed in the NFC and would have faced the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round, while the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have traveled to face the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

While some might see this as a way to reward mediocrity, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport shows this is not the case.

While the 49ers wouldn't have needed the expanded field in 2019, it could have helped Jon Gruden's Raiders. The Silver and Black sat at 6-4 after Week 11 and looked primed to make a playoff push. But consecutive losses to the New York Jets, Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars put them behind the eight-ball. They entered Week 17 needing a win and losses by the Titans and Steelers, among other things, to claim the No. 6 seed.

Had this new rule been in place, the Raiders only would have needed to win and have one of those teams lose to claim the No. 7 seed. The Raiders, of course, lost to Drew Lock and the Denver Broncos in Week 17, but only after Gruden elected to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game after the Titans had knocked the Raiders out of playoff contention with a win over the Houston Texans.

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The sports world currently is on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic and many of the leading minds in epidemiology believe the fall will see a spike in cases, which could threaten the NFL season or at least see it pushed back.

Whenever football does return, there will an extra playoff carrot for all the rabbits to chase.

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Josh Jacobs is a feature back in every sense. The Raiders star rusher can do most everything well and is capable of playing all three downs. He can carry a significant workload, as he did during an exemplary 2019 campaign where he finished second in AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, and frankly should have won.

He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, proving to be a tough and elusive runner who gains significant yards after contact.

Jalen Richard’s an excellent complement as a third-down back who can pass protect well and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

While those two can cover every offensive scenario, the Raiders should still work to add another running back.

That was clear at the end of last year when Jacobs was shut down with a shoulder injury he played through for weeks. DeAndre Washington filled in as the primary ball carrier and fared well but was allowed to hit the open market, where he remains today.

The Raiders could and should look to upgrade that position and not just by finding a backup. They need someone with a different style, maybe a big and bruising back to accent what the Raiders do offensively.

They tried to do that last season, when they worked out every veteran running back under the sun but didn’t sign anyone until Rod Smith came aboard late.

The sixth-year journeyman re-signed with the Raiders on a low-cost contract.

The NFL draft will have quality options available later in the draft, where the Raiders have three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth.

It might take a third-round pick to land Boston College’s A.J. Dillion, a 247-pound bruiser who can run downhill and pick up short yardage by moving the pile. Draft analysts say he’s good at reading blocks and following his assignment, something important in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Vanderbilt’s Ke'Shawn Vaughn is an option who might be available later. He isn’t quite as big but has the toughness required to get hard yards and could absorb some blows to keep Jacobs healthy and fresh.

This isn’t a full-on draft breakdown, so we won’t go down the list of every scheme fit available for selection. There aren’t many free agent dollars left, so it’s hard to see another runner coming in.

The Raiders can survive with the depth chart they’ve got, especially with fullback Alec Ingold able to carry the ball effectively when called upon. But the NFL is trending toward two back benefits, even when there’s an obvious alpha like Jacobs.

Gruden has historically preferred feeding multiple backs, as he did in his previous Raiders stint with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kauffman, and later with Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

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Gruden has also ridden one back pretty hard, as he did with Cadillac Williams while with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are more than capable of rolling with the crew they have but could use to make the backfield a little better before the 2020 season begins by filling a relatively low-ranking need.