It’s been an interesting return to the sideline for Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden who, while trading stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and falling to a 1-7 record, has piled up three first-round draft picks in the 2019 NFL draft.
In a Raiders season that has already felt like an eternity, there are somehow still eight games to go.
Jon Gruden currently holds the Nos. 2, 10 and 21 picks or later in the first round (Bears currently slated to make the playoffs) next year, and that’s about the only reason for optimism in an otherwise wasted season.
With the Raiders halfway through their 2018 slate and a daunting second half ahead, let’s hand out some midseason superlatives:
Most Valuable Player: Rodney Hudson, center
Hudson hasn’t surrendered a quarterback pressure in seven of eight games, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks Hudson as the best pass-blocking center in the league. While that’s great and all for Hudson, having a center as your best player is an indication things aren’t going so well.
Honorable mention: Jared Cook, Maurice Hurst
Least Valuable Player: Tahir Whitehead, linebacker
Whitehead has been targeted 26 times in the air and allowed 23 receptions for 405 yards and seven touchdowns, according to PFF, which points out there have been over 600 instances since 2006 when an off-ball linebacker has been targeted more than 20 times in the season’s first nine weeks. In 2018 Whitehead, although sturdy against the run, is the only one of those over 600 instances to allow a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He’s also played 513-of-516 defensive snaps.
Honorable mention: Reggie Nelson, Amari Cooper
Biggest surprise: Daryl Worley, cornerback
Worley missed the first four games due to suspension, but in the four games since he’s established himself as the No. 1 cornerback as Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley have digressed.
Honorable mention: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin
Biggest disappointment: Bruce Irvin, defensive end
He was supposed to be the Raiders’ No. 1 pass rusher after Khalil Mack departed, but it became obvious in short time that wasn’t a realistic expectation. Irvin didn’t record a single stat in his last two games and played a mere nine defensive snaps last Thursday against the 49ers. As a result of his diminishing role and the near $4 million the Raiders still owed him (and still do if another team doesn’t claim him), Gruden pulled the trigger and released one of his defensive captains.
Honorable mention: Rashaan Melvin, Martavis Bryant
Best play: Gareon Conley pick-six vs. Browns
Defensive highlights have come few and far between for the Raiders this season, but Conley’s 36-yard interception return for a touchdown five minutes into an eventual Week 4 win against the Browns stands atop the short list.
Honorable mention: Maurice Hurst strip-sack vs. Browns, Jordy Nelson two-point conversion vs. Browns
Worst play: 49ers’ Raheem Mostert 52-yard touchdown run
Mostert went untouched 52 yards to paydirt in a 34-3 win last Thursday, making Whitehead, Emmanuel Lamur and Marcus Gilchrist look like they didn’t care much to stop him. The run put San Francisco up 31-3 in the third quarter, and served as a microcosm for what has thus far been a miserable defensive season against the run for the Raiders.
Honorable mention: Derek Carr end-zone INT vs. Chargers, Carr end-zone INT vs. Dolphins
Second-half reason for optimism: Arden Key, defensive end
The rookie now stands No. 1 among Raiders pass-rushers with the release of Irvin. He only has one sack this season, but Key’s emergence on the defensive line in the second half is one of the main factors that might give fans a reason for hope when looking at the future.
Honorable mention: Seth Roberts, Eddie Vanderdoes
Best free-agent signing: Daryl Worley, cornerback
See: Biggest Surprise
Honorable Mention: Leon Hall, Frostee Rucker
Worst free-agent signing: Tahir Whitehead, linebacker
See: Least Valuable Player
Honorable mention: Jordy Nelson, Rashaan Melvin
Best rookie: Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle
Hurst leads current Raiders with two sacks (Irvin had three), leads the Raiders’ defensive linemen with three passes defensed and he’s been solid up front against the run. Nothing eye-popping, but then again the rookie class hasn’t exactly turned any heads.
Honorable mention: Kolton Miller, P.J. Hall
Worst rookie: Johnny Townsend, punter
Townsend ranks 30th with 41.9 yards per punt and 33rd with only six punts downed inside the 20. Gruden maintains he’s sticking by his rookie fifth-rounder, but we’ll see how much longer he can.
Honorable mention: Brandon Parker, Arden Key
Jon Gruden letter grade: C-
Trading Khalil Mack is the obvious downgrade here, but winning the Amari Cooper trade is a bump. A 1-7 record won’t do you any favors, especially if your players don’t seem to be giving it their all for you for a full 60 minutes as of late. This one isn’t lower because, after all, the Raiders are set up nicely in the next two drafts, even if that means little to the fans in Oakland.