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.”