When the Oakland Raiders took offensive tackle Kolton Miller with the No. 15 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the consensus among fans was simple: meh. After months of being tantalized with predictions and mock drafts that had the Raiders landing more exciting players (at more exciting positions), to be left with an offensive lineman drafted much higher than projected was disappointing to say the least.
To be honest, even Day 2 didn’t help. In the second round, the Raiders drafted a guy (PJ Hall) who wasn’t among the 300+ players the NFL thought were worthy of receiving a combine invitation. And then in the third round, the Raiders added another offensive lineman in Brandon Parker, who hailed from the powerhouse football program at North Carolina A&T. Following Parker, the Raiders added Arden Key, an incredibly talented player with an incredibly checkered past.
In two days, the Raiders seemed to have come home with zero non-question-marks.
Day 3 featured more of the same: Nick Nelson, the team’s fourth-round pick, had slid because of a knee injury suffered during workouts (and that would keep him out of OTA’s). In the fifth, the team added Maurice Hurst, a first-round talent with heart issues that forced most teams to take him completely off their board. From there it was a punter, a linebacker who had been kicked out of school and a wide receiver who ran a 4.62 40.
(Insert head-scratching emoji here)
But then, OTA’s and the start of training camp came and went and I have to be honest: a group that started flush with question marks has miraculously transformed into a group overflowing with potential.
What’s really interesting about this group is that in order to truly appreciate them, you need to throw out the rounds they were picked in.
Atop any list of the Raiders draft picks so far have been two players: Maurice Hurst and Arden Key. While both were (at one time) believed to be first-round talents, they each came with their own issues — none of which have surfaced so far. While Hurst has been medically cleared to play this season, Key has been a model citizen by all accounts and with both of those things in mind, the Raiders may have really scored.
As it stands already, both Hurst and Key figure to be key contributors on the Raiders’ new-look defense. While Hurst has a chance at earning the starting nod inside, Key has positioned himself as the No. 3 pass rusher — with some signs that he might even out-play that designation.
Beyond Hurst and Key are guys like Kolton Miller (first round left tackle), PJ Hall (second round defensive tackle) and Brandon Parker. While Miller is not expected to play much this season (with Donald Penn in the final year of his contract), the reports out of camp thus far have been encouraging. Of all the players I’m excited to watch in Friday’s preseason game, Miller might be atop the list.
As for Hall and Parker, the reports have been less consistent, but the word you keep hearing with both is ‘potential.’ As small-school guys, the Raiders obviously saw something in them that led them to spend such high picks on these guys, but it looks like it might take some time to get it out of them.
Hall was a workout warrior at his own pro day, measuring out at 6’0″ and 308 pounds while posting a 4.71 40, 36 reps on the bench press, 38″ vertical jump and 9’8″ broad jump. For context, that 40-time would have been fourth at the combine among all defensive lineman (just .06 seconds behind Bradley Chubb) and .16 seconds ahead of any other defensive tackles. He would have been third in the bench press, second in vertical jump, and sixth in the broad jump. So, yeah.
Parker, on the other hand, is massive. He’s 6’8″ and 305 pounds and Mike Mayock described him as a guy with “all kinds of upside.” With a need at right tackle in their immediate future, the Raiders are hoping the upside is realized sooner rather than later.
But even just with the five guys I mentioned, there’s potential that we’re looking at the building blocks for future greatness. It’s not crazy to think that this group includes the starting tackles in 2-3 years as well as three starters on the defensive line — all with upside beyond “average starter.” While this group came into pessimism and questions, it appears the script has turned — which is good news for a team desperate for immediate help.