Oakland Raiders Defensive Line Draft Analysis

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Raiders Truck. Photo Credit: Duluoz Cats - Under Creative Commons License

The Oakland Raiders used three of their draft picks this year on the defensive line, selecting Sam Houston State’s P.J. Hall, LSU’s Arden Key, and Michigan’s Maurice Hurst.

Hall was selected in the second round, Key was picked in the third round, and Hurst in the fifth. Hall could turn out to be a very nice pick as he has good upside, but I want to focus on Key and Hurst as both of these players could easily have been first-round picks, but each comes to Oakland with question marks off the field.

Key is related to self-discipline, while Hurst’s is due strictly to a medical condition. These two players could help the Raiders defensive front take a major leap in 2018. Here’s our defensive line draft analysis.

Oakland Raiders Defensive Line Draft Analysis

Arden Key

Let’s begin with Arden Key. He is a 6’6” 230 lb kid who moves like a defensive back. He doesn’t run a noticeably fast 40, but his interior quickness is what really sets him apart from the rest. He also has incredible bend, meaning he can twist himself away from offensive lineman in a way a man of his size just shouldn’t be able to do.

He also possesses an elite-level rip move, similar to the one Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller uses so successfully. His off-field issues are mostly related to him leaving LSU for substance abuse issues. He is also susceptible to weight gain, although he has easily lost any excess weight once he gets on the field regularly.

Maurice Hurst

Now we have Maurice Hurst. According to one Michigan area journalist, Hurst is easily the best defensive tackle to ever play at Michigan.

He has one of the quickest get-offs and has the strength and moves to accompany that jump. He may excel at getting to the quarterback or stopping the run more in the NFL, but one thing is for sure: This kid is a disruptor. He is a guy you will notice when he is on the field because he is always right in the middle of the play.

He has the ability to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL. The off-field issues with Hurst have nothing to do with character concerns. Hurst has a heart condition that scared a lot of teams off. Several scouts said it was even irresponsible to draft him knowing he has this medical issue.

The Raiders must be comfortable with Hurst being cleared by Michigan to play as often as he did to take him in the draft. The upside with him is huge, and without the medical concerns, he is hands down a first-round pick.

Immediate Improvement

Oakland hovered between 18 to 25th in defense in most categories in 2017. They still have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin who are both elite linebackers. Unfortunately, they cannot get to the quarterback and stop the pass all by themselves, as was evident last year.

The Raiders finished the year with just 31 sacks, good for 24th in the league. It may not seem like that important of a stat, but of the top ten leaders in sacks, seven of those made the playoffs. With the addition of Key and Hurst, the Raiders should be able to get a major jump on that sack number, which correlates directly to making the playoffs.

The question for new coach Jon Gruden will be how he will utilize these two young players. Hurst will very likely be an every-down defensive tackle, but Key could be used in a lot of different ways. He could be the exciting edge pass rusher, but he is also athletic enough to cover tight ends or disrupt the run game.

What’s It All Mean?

The Raiders have the offensive weapons to keep up with anyone in the NFL, but their defense has been giving fans fits for a while now. If Key and Hurst can both develop and excel under Gruden, there is every reason to think they will be All Pro’s very soon.

Gruden is an ideal coach to handle both of these players’ off-field issues. He’s known as a coach who really cares about his players and gets the absolute most out of them. As long as Hurst can stay healthy, he should be a difference maker for a while in silver and black.

As for Key, he has a few more variables than does Hurst, but if they all come together, you could easily be looking at one of the league’s bright new stars.

Raiders’ fans should know that they somehow managed to get two first-round talents outside of the first round. These type of picks are not always home runs, in fact, quite the opposite most times. However, Jon Gruden is now their head coach. I think that makes a world of difference in this equation.

Either way, the addition of these two stud athletes can only help Oakland’s defense in 2018. Maybe they can even make the jump into the top ten, just like Jacksonville has done recently after adding a few “questionable” defensive draft picks.