With the NFL Draft only a few weeks away, teams are planning their private workouts and putting together their draft board. Every team wants to win the draft, but for two franchises, the stakes are especially high.
Out In The Wild West, What Two Teams Need To Win The 2018 NFL Draft?
AFC West – Oakland Raiders
Saying that 2018 is a big year for the Raiders is a bit of an understatement. Jon Gruden is going into his second stint as head coach in Oakland, the Raiders are coming off a year where hype got the best of them, and this is potentially the final year in the Coliseum. Let’s address these points individually.
The Return Of Chucky
Gruden comes down from the booth to reclaim his title as the Raiders’ head coach. Many critics are saying that he’s been away from the game too long and his coaching style will not relate to the new generation of players.
Even though he hasn’t coached a game in close to a decade, Gruden was in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth for nine years watching all 32 teams and analyzing how the game has evolved since he last coached. While coaching is one part of having a successful team, the players make up the other part.
In his previous stints with the Raiders and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he never had a draft class worth mentioning. In the ten years that Gruden was an NFL head coach, he drafted only seven players that went to the Pro Bowl during their careers (Charles Woodson, Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski, Roderick Coleman with the Raiders, and Davin Joseph, Aqib Talib, and Jeremy Zuttah with the Buccaneers).
With the current general manager, Reggie McKenzie, bringing in some great draft classes, I think Gruden will be able to rely on more wisdom than before and hopefully get a substantial draft class, in his first year back.
Too Much Of The Kool-Aid
Last season, the Raiders were favorites to contend for the AFC title. The hype got the best of them as they ended up going 6-10 and in no way looked like the perennial playoff team we were expecting at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
Derek Carr lost confidence after suffering a back injury and dealt with back spasms and discomfort the rest of the year. Amari Cooper was a ghost on the field and when he did show up, he dropped passes consistently and overall played at a sub-par level.
Although the defense played well, consistency led to why this team ended up with double-digit losses. Rebounding from last season is going to depend on supplementing Carr with a few more offensive weapons and adding stalwart players to the linebacking corps.
Farewell Season In Oak-Town, Potentially
There is high speculation that this will be the last season played in Oakland as the team prepares to move to Las Vegas for the 2019 season. If the Raiders want to keep their existing fan base and build a new one in Las Vegas, they need to have a great season in 2018.
The Raiders know that in order to make sure people turn out for their home games regularly, they need a good product on the field. Reward that fan base that has been there through thick and thin. The Raiders playing in The Coliseum needs to go out with a bang similar to the infamous “Pick at the ‘Stick” that closed out the final game in Candlestick Park history.
NFC West – Arizona Cardinals
The NFC West is going to be an interesting division to watch. Although every team needs to have a solid draft to keep pace with the Los Angeles Rams, the Cardinals really need to make sure they leave the final weekend in April with a high sense of optimism. Here’s why the Cardinals must have a stellar draft.
New Coach, Fresh Start
Former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, is now running the show in Arizona. With a new coaching regime in place, Wilks can place his stamp on the team and build a new culture.
We already saw him make some bold moves by releasing Tyrann Mathieu and signing Sam Bradford. Having All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald return for one more season will be good for the offense and David Johnson is recovering well from his early season wrist injury from a year ago.
They have some holes to fill on defense, but Patrick Peterson still anchors that unit and young players like Haason Reddick and Budda Baker gives this defense plenty to work with. Overall, I anticipate Wilks’ first year as head coach to be a good stepping stone as long as he fills key positions with more young, burgeoning, talent.
The Man Under Center
Carson Palmer has hung up his cleats and the job of quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals has fallen to the likes of Mike Glennon and Sam Bradford. Based on the $20 million contract that Bradford just got, he is the de facto starter.
Having Glennon is smart because based on Bradford’s injury history, it’s a good idea to have a capable back-up. It’s not a matter of if Bradford goes down, but when. The strength in his knee makes a fabergé egg look like a steel girder!
Addressing the quarterback position is important to help this franchise remain in retool mode as opposed to rebuild mode. Moving up into the top-10 to get Baker Mayfield is a good idea, also staying where they are and getting a second tier quarterback like Mason Rudolph or Kyle Lauletta in the second round would be a great long-term option as well.
Wild, Wild, West
The Seahawks are going through a bit of a purge by letting Richard Sherman jump ship to San Francisco and trading Michael Bennett to Philadelphia, the Rams are acquiring everyone and anyone that will lead them to a Super Bowl title this year, and the 49ers are being picked by many to make it to the playoffs in Kyle Shanahan’s second year as head coach.
Where do the Cardinals fit into this picture? That’s where this year’s draft is vital for the Cardinals: it will help them stay relevant in the division and not fall by the wayside as the potential bottom-dwellers of the NFC West. Ensuring that they fill positions of need on both sides of the ball can keep the Cardinals in competition for NFC West division crown.