The best part of the NFL season is that there is no offseason. From the day your favorite team is eliminated, there are countless articles summarizing the previous season, estimating team needs, guessing draft strategies, and assessing the next season’s potential successes.
Here we are Oakland fans, stage one of the offseason. In this article, I will take a look at what went right and what the Raiders can build on. In the next article in this sequence, I will review what went wrong, and what questions need to be addressed.
First, the 2019 NFL Draft was a success. An overwhelming one. Of course, there were misses, but there were some hits that will absolutely pay dividends in both the short and long term. Let’s take a deeper look.
Josh Jacobs, RB – As a player, Jacobs is excellent. He was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated running back over the course of the season. He is flat out an impact player at a position of….let’s call it insignificance. It is a fact that the RB position is the easiest position in the league for a player to step in and contribute, and, therefore, replace.
Jacobs, however, appears to be one of the few in the entire league that can make a true impact above his replacement. While DeAndre Washington did an admirable job of stepping in late in the season, Jacobs has true workhorse abilities. And, this is despite being (almost criminally) underused in the passing game.
Let’s just hope that he can stay healthy and still be the impact player by the time the Raiders are ready to compete (always the gamble when taking RBs early in the draft).
Hunter Renfrow, WR – Anyone that watched Renfrow’s college tape knew that Renfrow had the chops to be an effective slot receiver in the NFL. His question marks were about his hand size (very small) and his overall stature (also small). But, he is a precise route runner with incredibly strong hands. He is an excellent inside receiver who plays much faster than his testing numbers would indicate. This was a great selection in the 5th round.
Maxx Crosby, EDGE – Crosby was a 4th round selection out of small school Eastern Michigan. He was expected to be a backup/situational pass rusher. Well, that turned out to be an underestimation. While he has a long way to go to become a true star, Crosby set the tone with 10 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. These are incredible pure statistics from a “rotational player.” Now, a lot of Raiders fans want to crown him as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, but that’s a tad too aggressive.
If there were to be a mulligan on the 2019 draft, Crosby would find himself in the 1st round, but he’s nowhere near the complete player that fellow EDGE Nick Bosa was for that other Bay Area team. Regardless, Crosby is a true home run and building block for the Silver and Black.
Foster Moreau, TE – Moreau is another true building block. The TE position is one of the hardest to adjust to as an NFL rookie. Many of the greats don’t find themselves until at least year 2, if not year 3. Moreau, however, flashed some big-time playmaking ability as a rookie, though there is still plenty of room to grow. If he takes the expected year 2 leap, he, and 2019 breakout player Darren Waller, could form the best 1-2 punch in the league.
On the surface, having four true impact players from one draft class is outstanding. A true draft grade can’t be finalized until at least three years after the draft. You simply must allow the players to develop, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s a huge adjustment coming into the NFL, but these four have given the Raiders reason to be optimistic.
This doesn’t even count No. 4 overall pick EDGE Clelin Ferrell, who really came on strong late in the year and does have a chance to be a very, very good all-around player.
Second-round pick Trayvon Mullen has a lot of natural talent and played a lot of downs for this defense. He also has a chance to be a very, very good (possibly a true shutdown) cornerback in this league for a very long time.
Safety Johnathan Abram was hurt, but the Raiders are very high on his ability to be a tone-setter on the back end of the defense with the ability to help cover TEs and in run support near the line of scrimmage, which is where I think he will make his bones.
As you can see, the 2019 NFL Draft was an excellent step in bringing the Raiders back to prominence, well, relevance. However, it wasn’t just the rookies. Some veterans also played at an extremely high level.
TE Darren Waller must kick this list off. This is a player with elite traits for the position. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s athletic. He really is a man amongst men and was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this year (he’ll be named as a replacement when others back out for injury or for their teams reaching the Super Bowl).
Now, he’s not really a young player anymore, but, if he keeps himself on the right path off the field, this is a player who really can be a go-to guy for you moving forward.
OG Richie Incognito was excellent this year. We all know about his off-field issues from the past, but he was one of the best interior offensive linemen in the entire league this year. He will be back anchoring the offensive line in 2020.
Now, there were a lot of others that had solid seasons, but these were your bright spots to build upon as the Raiders look ahead to the offseason. In my next article of this series, we’ll take a look at what went wrong in 2019 and where the Raiders need to focus throughout free agency and the draft.
Be happy, you weren’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until Week 17, which is not something you would have confidently said last year at this time. Bright times are ahead, and they could be here sooner than you realize.