NFL Draft

Jon Gruden reveals he wanted Derwin James, now leaning on Kolton Miller


Jon Gruden reveals he wanted Derwin James, now leaning on Kolton Miller

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders began the NFL Draft selecting No. 10 overall and eventually dropped to No. 15. Only one spot separated the Raiders and Chargers in the draft order.

They had different needs, and went in different directions.

The Raiders took UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller. The Chargers selected Florida State safety Derwin James, a prospect expected to go much higher.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was thrilled to see James still on the board.

“It was surprising,” Lynn said. “We had him higher. When he fell to us, it was a gift.”

The gift keeps on giving. James has started his rookie season strong while moving all around the Chargers' defense, with 26 tackles, three sacks, one interception and two passes defensed in four games.

“The reason we drafted him is because we wanted to get faster on defense and we wanted better space players,” Lynn said. “He has definitely helped.”

James has fans across the league, including the Raiders’ leader.

“We wanted to take Derwin James. Everybody wanted Derwin James,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said in a conference call with Chargers media, via The Athletic Los Angeles. “We had, unfortuanetly, drafted a safety in the first round two years ago (Karl Joseph) and we drafted another safety in the second round (Obi Melifonwu in 2017), so it’s hard to draft a safety that hard every year.

"He’s an intimidating player. He’s a physical presence. He has range to play deep, he’s got coverage ability. He can run through you, he can run around you, he can run right over you. He’s a dynamite young player, and he’ll be one of the building blocks in L.A. for a long time for the Chargers.”

James had fans in the Raiders' front office. There was conversation about him when he still was on the board later than expected.

The Raiders wanted an offensive tackle. Nay, they needed an offensive tackle, so bad, and got one able to step in and play well right away. While his run blocking is a work in progress, Miller leads all rookies in pass-blocking efficiency, per analytics site Pro Football Focus.

He has allowed 11 pressures all season and been stable at the vital left tackle spot.

“I loved Miller in college and thought he did a good job,” Lynn said. “He’s going to be an outstanding tackle in this league. He’s a rookie, so of course he’s going to have some growing pains, but he’s a good football player.”

Miller is integral to the Raiders functioning as an offense. Just imagine where the Raiders would be without him. Penn took some time recovering from Dec. 17 foot surgery, and then was moved to right tackle so Miller could stay on the left. Penn suffered a concussion in Week 3 and hurt his groin Sunday against Cleveland and now is on injured reserve. Gruden has cut other offensive tackles on the roster this season, including Breno Giacomini and 2016 fourth-round pick David Sharpe.

Miller is vital to protecting quarterback Derek Carr on the left side, and the Raiders even need third-round pick Brandon Parker to take Penn’s spot on the right.

Miller has size, growth, potential and work ethic required to be a long-term standout at left tackle, a position that can get pretty expensive in free agency.

James is making a name for himself in L.A. as a modern, versatile safety.

“I hear that new-wave name, but I like calling him an old school player,” Gruden said. “He’s Ronnie Lott to me, having been with the 49ers. Ronnie Lott played cornerback, for crying out loud. Derwin James is good in any generation.”

Three's company: Raiders relying on trio of rookie defensive linemen


Three's company: Raiders relying on trio of rookie defensive linemen

NAPA – The Raiders drafted offensive tackle Kolton Miller in this year’s first round. Three of the next four rounds reaped defensive linemen.

Tackle P.J. Hall went in the second round. Edge rusher Arden Key was taken in the third. Tackle Maurice Hurst somehow slid to the fifth.

Coincidence? Certainly not.

Maybe those guys were sitting atop on the draft board when. Maybe a defensive lineman was the best available player in each instance.

No matter. They also filled a major need.

The Raiders needed to help Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin up front. Head coach Jon Gruden said so whenever a microphone came near.

They needed interior pass rushers most of all. They got two of them. They needed depth off the edge. Check.

One issue: Draft picks can’t always be counted on to contribute right away. Development sometimes takes time.

The Raiders need D-line help right away. There’s a growing belief, however, that Hall, Key and Hurst can make an instant impact.

“The rookies in our room are really going to help us,” Irvin said. “They really have no choice, we need them. Those guys are picking it up good and learning. They’re coming out here and working their butts off. They’re doing really good with their rookie duties. We need them and those guys are doing good.”

Key has shown unique athleticism, bend and an arsenal of pass-rush moves. Hall’s pectoral strain kept him out a week of camp, but is proving tough to block. Hurst was a first-round talent who slipped with health concerns – an irregular heartbeat scared several teams off -- but was thrown into the mix after being cleared by the Raiders.

Hurst was widely considered a late first-round pick before his heart condition became common knowledge at the combine. Key was a top edge rusher before his senior year at LSU went awry. Those two know they’re first-round talents who fell into the Raiders’ lap. That has placed a proverbial chip on two shoulders, which could help the Raiders out.

“I don’t know if it ever goes away,” Hurst said. “It’s something you’ll always carry with you, and that’s okay if it pushes you to work harder. You want to prove your team right and other teams wrong.”

Coaches and scouts expect big things from this trio, especially after seeing them early in camp.

Hurst could be a regular three technique in the base defense and on passing downs. His first step and burst was unmatched at the college level, and should help him adapt in the NFL.

Hall is just getting into the mix after starting on PUP, but could join the interior rotation with a solid preseason. Gruden says Hall’s “hard to block,” and had record-setting production at small-school Sam Houston State.

The rookie defensive linemen have embraced high expectations, and come armed with the confidence required to compete with established vets.

“They don’t want us to be rookies,” Hurst said. “They want us to come out and play right away and play effectively. They want us to dominate. They expect us to be a vital part of this defense.”

Key, Hall and Hurst want to be a long-term solution along the Raiders defensive front. That has been a discussion point, something addressed after rookies reported to training camp, before the veterans showed up.

“We plan on staying together,” Key said. “We all had a meeting when we first got here and talked about how we could grow together and make each other better and stay together for our careers. Each guy is working under a veteran right now, learning their tools and tricks. We all come together when we have to do our rookie duties (like carrying pads, getting snacks) but it’s fun. We all like each other.”

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

How rookie Brandon Parker earned respect of Raiders vets right away

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have high hopes for Brandon Parker. They used a third-round pick thinking the athletic tackle can be a long-term solution on the offensive line.

The North Carolina product wasn’t thinking about the future this spring. Parker was focused on learning a new system, working with new position coach Tom Cable and endearing himself to new teammates.

That last goal isn’t always easy, especially on the offensive line. Rookies are tested and pushed early regardless of position. Offensive linemen want to see you stand up for yourself and protect your own. That is, after all, their primary job description.

Parker did that on the first day of last week’s minicamp, pushed back against defensive lineman Fadol Brown in an exchange that evolved into a post-rep scuffle.

Coaches didn’t love it. It distracted from practice and a two-minute drill. Brown was penalized and ejected from practice for fighting. The offense got some extra yards by penalty and kicking a field goal.

The linemen, however, were pleased to see Parker refusing to back down.

"Brandon stood up for himself,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “That was really cool to see. You always want to see that, you worry about a guy’s toughness. He’s a tough kid. He’s been playing well. He’s really intelligent. Really smart.”

Veterans test newbies. Parker made a good impression there.

“That’s a positive impression you want to leave,” Parker said. “You want to show the veterans that you’re not afraid of anything, and they you’ll go to battle with them like they’ll go to battle with you. It’s more a matter of gaining respect than proving you’re the toughest guy out there.”

Scuffles don’t improve your standing with coaches. Studying hard, executing well and flashing athleticism certainly does, especially before the pads come on. That was Parker’s primary objective during the offseason program.

“I think I presented well,” Parker said. “I do a good job retaining information. I didn’t really have a whole lot of mistakes. The first couple days are a whirlwind and a faster pace, but after I got used to it and got my feet wet and started to show the veterans what I can really do, they kind of warmed up to me. It has been a smooth adjustment ever since.”

Parker has had hiccups along the way, including a mistake early in the offseason program. He expected Cable to come up and correct what went wrong. Somebody different came his way quickly.

“I looked back and Donald Penn was there and was one of the first to address me,” Parker said. “Having his experience and (veteran Breno Giacomini) on the team and around to give us technical pointers is great.”

Parker and first-round offensive tackle Kolton Miller received significant work during the offseason program, and were praised for their intelligence and athleticism. There’s plenty of development remaining, but the rookies seem to be off to a good start.

“They’re smart kids. They listen,” center Rodney Hudson said. “They’re learning and working and asking questions, which I think is always important for young guys. To ask questions about where they can do better, and both of those guys do that.”