Maxx Crosby

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.”

How Maxx Crosby built foundation for excellent Raiders rookie season

How Maxx Crosby built foundation for excellent Raiders rookie season

Trent Brown is a mountain of a man, and shockingly agile for his size. Besting the Raiders right tackle is tough business, a feat few actually accomplish.

Maxx Crosby did it a couple times during his rookie Raiders training camp. Not many, naturally, but the edge rusher took note and stood a little taller after each win. Those seemingly throwaway moments meant something to Crosby. They fueled his belief that he could play in the NFL.

“You get to beat a guy like that a couple times and you think you can do well against anybody,” Crosby said last week in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “That was the main thing for me, going against Trent and building my confidence. I was able to take that right into the season.”

Well, after recovering from a physical setback. Crosby broke his hand in the first preseason game and missed the remaining three in recovery.

“It took some time to get back in the flow of things. Around Week 4 or 5 I started to feel 100 percent and was able to get in a good rhythm and have confidence in my hand,” Crobsy said. “Things really took off from there.”

They certainly did. Crosby had two batted passes and a forced fumble in a Week 4 victory over the Indianapolis Colts as he played an expanded role. He had the first of 10 sacks in 12 games in Week 5, where he became a three-down player.

This fourth-round NFL draft pick from Eastern Michigan, with one college scholarship, proved a steal and ended up the runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa won by a landslide as the obvious pick, but Crosby received votes and was in attendance Saturday at the NFL Honors awards show.

His mother escorted him down the red carpet to cap an excellent rookie season that included a meteoric rise to prominence.

He’s still carrying forward momentum, going from awards shows to buying a house in the Las Vegas area this week in anticipation of the Raiders moving there this summer. Even with the NFL season now over, Crosby says he hasn’t taken a moment to review his unexpected first year in the league.

“Everything has happened so fast that I haven’t really had time to sit back and think about things,” Crosby said. “For me, this is what I was born to do. I love playing football. There’s nothing else. I really didn’t have a Plan B. I put all my eggs in one basket. That’s just the truth. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

I’m having so much fun. Just having my name in the conversation for Rookie of the Year is all that matters to me.”

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions on Raiders future, brother says]

He wasn’t expected to win despite having 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, four batted passes and 45 total quarterback pressures. Bosa was that good. But there’s no discounting Crosby’s year. He was relentless rushing the passer and proved a far better run defender than many thought.

Crosby had 1.5 sacks in the regular-season finale to reach double digits, a point-of-pride milestone he hopes will be the bar for all seasons moving forward.

“As a defensive end, you want to reach double digits,” Crosby said. “Getting to that level as a rookie was super special to me. I came in as the third-string defensive end, a situational guy who can’t stop the run. Playing my position is about more than just sacks. It’s about being disruptive. Everyone can break down the technique and all that, but I just try to make plays.

"That’s what I’ve been doing for a few years in college before entering the NFL. Now I’m doing it in front of more people. That’s what I plan on doing for the rest of my career.”

Outstanding Raiders NFL draft class lays foundation for bright future

Outstanding Raiders NFL draft class lays foundation for bright future

The Raiders' 2014 NFL draft class was stacked. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, Justin Ellis and even T.J. Carrie became Raiders in a three-day span that changed the Silver and Black's fortunes.

It took time, but that group bonded together and eventually lead a roster rebuild that sent the Raiders to the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

That success was not sustained due to misses in subsequent drafts.

Jon Gruden dismantled then-general manager Reggie McKenzie’s roster, shipped stars off for draft picks and set off on another rebuild that would only work by hitting home runs on draft day.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock sent one pick after another over the fence. The 2019 Raiders draft class made a massive impact this season, with huge hits from players regardless of round. They’ve also grown close and believe they’re on a path toward sustained success after a 7-9 campaign reliant on young players filling huge roles.

“I think we have a great foundation here,” fifth-round receiver Hunter Renfrow said. “The rookie class has bonded well over the course of the year. All my years playing football at different levels, we’ve gone through a year with close losses. The next year, we feel like we can get there and we come through with a great year.

"As we transition to Las Vegas, I believe we’re going to do something special.”

The crazy thing: The Raiders draft class was awesome despite depressed returns from its three first-round picks. Josh Jacobs obviously was awesome and should be voted Offensive Rookie of the Year. Clelin Ferrell showed improvement but lacked the wow-factor expected from a top-5 pick. Johnathan Abram was lost for the year in Week 1.

Second-round cornerback Trayvon Mullen and fourth-round defensive end Maxx Crosby were full-time starters. Renfrow ended up the team’s best receiver. Fourth-round tight end Foster Moreau proved a versatile talent and clutch red-zone threat.

Only fourth-round cornerback Isaiah Johnson didn’t play much due to a facial fracture that hindered his progress. Seventh-round edge rusher Quinton Bell didn’t last long, but late picks always are a crapshoot.

This group is high-character and damn good at football, points proven during this season.

“We have a bunch of young guys who are talented, and not just one or two,” Renfrow said. “I think they’re made of the right stuff. … Everyone has played through injuries and everyone has just wanted to win. I think that’s what you have to have -- that grit and determination to be a good team. I’m excited about who we have and the veterans here to carry us alone.”

The Raiders drafted players largely from high-profile, winning programs and they seemed comfortable competing at this level.

“As a team, we really showed that we’re going to be a presence in this league for many years to come,” Ferrell said. “I feel like we showed, through the draft and the guys we brought in, that we’re becoming a strong team. We have something special going here. I’m excited for the offseason and I’m excited for next year.”

[RELATED: How Tua's NFL draft decision could impact Raiders' plans]

The Raiders need more talent to ascend in 2020. That means Gruden and Mayock have to strike gold again, especially with two first-round picks and three in the third round.

“We have some resources like you say in the draft and we think the Raiders, the Raiders is a great brand for any player to want to play for,” Gruden said. “And we can’t wait to continue building our team and I know Mayock and his group of guys are excited as well.”