A.J. Cole

How Raiders' 2019 draft class is laying bedrock for sustained success

How Raiders' 2019 draft class is laying bedrock for sustained success

The Raiders assembled quite a collection of talent during last year’s NFL draft. Everyone knows that by now.

First-round safety Johnathan Abram, however, doesn’t want you to forget about those who came directly after.

“Don’t forget Alec Ingold. He’s the man,” Abram said on the Raiders Talk Podcast. “And don’t sleep on A.J. Cole, either. That guy can punt. He’s the real deal.”

Abram’s right. The Raiders even got significant contributions from undrafted players in 2019. Ingold’s the long-term solution at fullback, and Cole’s a specialist off to a good start.

The 2019 rookie class was highlighted by rookie of the year candidates in feature running back Josh Jacobs and 10-sack sensation/defensive end Maxx Crosby. Both guys were runners-up for the offensive and defensive awards, making the Raiders one of two teams in the last 15 years with top-two finishes in both, per the Associated Press' Josh Dubow.

This group showed great depth. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen excelled after assuming a starter’s role following the Gareon Conley trade. Hunter Renfrow proved a quality slot receiver all season but found great form and chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr at its end.

Tight end Foster Moreau was a significant contributor as a run blocker and red-zone receiving target.

The Raiders' rookie class was awesome, despite No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell not quite living up to his draft slot in where he moved around the defensive line and got really sick before midseason. Abram was a non-factor in 2019 after missing 15 games with a shoulder injury.

Members of this Raiders rookie class believe they’re the bedrock of the Raiders rebuild, and 2019 ended with the arrow pointing up. They understand that fact, even if it goes unspoken.

“We talk about it here and there, but it’s more of something we just know,” Crosby said. “We know what we’re here for and how good we can be. Me and John and Josh and Cle and everybody else, we’re all close. For us, we know what Gruden brought us here to do. We’re grinding away and preparing to get in the playoffs and go win some games and eventually win a Super Bowl.”

[RELATED: Raiders safety Abram learned 'valuable lessons' after injury]

The Raiders draft class is recognized among last year’s best, if not right at the top. The group was first in sacks and total yards from scrimmage. They were first in receptions and rushing yards.

It has growth potential, with high ceilings and improvement all around. Ferrell vowed to return a completely different player. Abram will be back and healthy in 2020.

And while offseason rankings don’t mean much, Moreau took umbrage with an NFL Media list placing the Raiders rookie class at No. 7 in the league.

That could fuel fire down the line as the Raiders try to build a roster capable of sustained success. The group had high hopes, with expectations even higher with a season’s experience in hand. It doesn’t just fall on the higher picks. The entire group sees good days ahead.

“That was the best part of it,” Abram said. “No matter what round we came in, we put all that behind us the day we showed up at the facility. We were all hand-selected and brought here for a purpose. We just have to get the job done.”

Why Jon Gruden likens rookie A.J. Cole to past Raiders punting legends

Why Jon Gruden likens rookie A.J. Cole to past Raiders punting legends

OAKLAND -- To a man, there wasn't a whole lot to watch Saturday night in the Raiders' 14-3 preseason-opening win over the Los Angeles Rams.

A number of starters -- including Derek Carr, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Vontaze Burfict and Gareon Conley -- didn't suit up at the Coliseum. Antonio Brown, of course, still is working through his helmet issue and a foot ailment.

So, aside from the Raiders' backup quarterback competition between Nathan Peterman and Mike Glennon, what was there to take away from what likely was the final preseason game in Oakland? The punters, of course.

Johnny Townsend, who started for the Raiders last season, is facing a stiff battle from undrafted rookie A.J. Cole this fall. In his first NFL action, Cole came to play.

The rookie showed a big leg against the Rams, booming punts of 46, 44 and 49 yards. Cole stuck two punts inside the Rams' 20-yard line, including one at the LA 10. All four of his punts landed inside the Rams' 31. The Rams also did not even attempt to return one of Cole's punts, as two were fair caught and two were downed. 

Raiders coach Jon Gruden had high praise for the rookie punter.

"I think Townsend has got his hands full with A.J. Cole," Gruden said after the game. "It's going to be interesting down the stretch. Cole proved he could kick off, which adds to his versatility. He downed them inside the 20, I think, a couple of times. He put on a display the other day against the Rams. We haven't seen kicks like that since [Shane] Lechler was here, or [Marquette] King.

"This guy really has a live leg, and it looks like he can directional punt, hold, so Townsend has his hands full. We like Townsend, too. It'll be a battle the next couple weeks."

That's high praise for Cole, but it certainly looks like he has the leg to live up to it.

[RELATED: Gruden, Raiders 'support' AB in helmet grievance with NFL]

The great punter battle of 2019 rages on, but Cole has a leg up at the moment.