The Oakland Raiders set the tone early in the 2018 draft by showing the world that they wouldn’t be tempted or swayed by flashy combine numbers and expert mock drafts. Instead, new Head Coach, Jon Gruden set out to build a team he envisioned will be best suited to win not only the AFC West, but the Super Bowl.
Starting from the trenches and moving outward, Gruden and General Manager, Reggie Mckenzie improved in areas that were obvious weaknesses, yet surprisingly still failed to fill all their needs.
Taking a handful of lineman, both offensive and defensive, in the first three rounds is evidence that Gruden and Mackenzie know where their priorities lie; Protecting Derek Carr and keeping the ball out of their defensive secondary.
The team from the East Bay repeatedly passed on big-name skill players in favor of trading back to fill specific needs. The popular commentary for the Raiders draft strategy this year was “best player available”, this was not the case. The Raider war room knew what they wanted, and only time will tell if their plan worked.
Oakland Raiders 2018 NFL Draft Grade
Best Pick: Maurice Hurst
A three-technique down lineman, Hurst will make an immediate impact in the middle of the Raiders defense. Oakland lucked out in the fifth round with a little help from a heart condition that was diagnosed during the combine. Hurst is an interior lineman who is as reliable as he is productive. At Michigan, Hurst started 41 games, three of which were as a true freshman. With 13.5 sacks and 130 tackles for the Wolverines, Hurst is a not only the best pick the Raiders made this year, he may be the steal of the draft.
Best Value/Sleeper: Marcell Ateman
Ateman stands a towering 6’4” and weighs 216 pounds, he will be an immediate red-zone weapon for Oakland. His senior year at Oklahoma State was a productive one, Ateman caught 59 balls for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns. The Raiders wide receiving corps is crowded, but there is no doubt that Ateman will find a role early.
Biggest Reach/Head-Scratcher: Kolton Miller
Kolton Miller was an outstanding Tackle during his time at UCLA. He is built like a prototypical offensive lineman with the athleticism to make an immediate impact. However, the Raiders went into the first round with so many needs on defense, it was a surprise to many that not only did they take an O-lineman, but that they traded down five spots to get him. There was value available at the ten spot, but the Raiders opted to move out and take the former Bruin.</span
Biggest Need Filled: Johnny Townsend
Leave it to the Raiders to use a draft pick on a kicker. The team has had success when going after specialist like Townsend, and there is no reason to believe that this time will be any different. Townsend boasts a career punt average of 46.2, a stat Oakland couldn’t let slip, especially with the free agent market as shallow as it is. This pick is all about filling a need; the Oakland front office did just that.
Projected Day One Starters: Maurice Hurst, Johnny Townsend
Hurst and Townsend will be starters day one. Townsend for obvious reasons, and Hurst for his skill set and team needs.
The Rest: P.J. Hall, Brandon Parker, Arden Key, Nick Nelson, Azeem Victor
The rest of the Raiders draft class will serve as depth for a team that has needs in multiple areas. Hall and Parker will have a chance to contribute but may spend time trying to carve out an everyday role.
Key, Nelson, and Victor should all make the roster and spend time on special teams. They have a chance to play early and all are one injury away from contributing on a full-time basis.
The Raiders went big this year, favoring linemen over skilled positions. The season begins soon, and the Raiders look like a team that can compete in the competitive AFC West.