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Jon Gruden’s Puzzling Offseason Continued With the NFL Draft

The Raiders gambled on a few boom-or-bust players in the first three rounds

NFL: NFL Draft Photo by Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

In January, Jon Gruden got a 10-year deal for $100 million—20 percent of Mark Davis’s estimated net worth—to coach the Oakland Raiders. That kind of dough means he’s the one whose voice matters in the Raiders’ draft room, and just three and a half months into his tenure, he’s made a few puzzling calls.

In Thursday’s NFL draft, the Raiders traded down from the 10th overall pick to the 15th overall pick and netted the 57th and 89th overall picks, which is a nice haul. But with the 15th pick, the Raiders took UCLA tackle Kolton Miller, much to the chagrin of 35-year-old starting left tackle Donald Penn. Considering where Miller was projected to be drafted (both Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper Jr. mocked him at no. 23 to the Patriots) and the trade activity in the first round, the Raiders may have been able to trade down again and still get him. Miller is huge (6-foot-9, 309 pounds), and he’s considered a high upside offensive tackle, but his technique is flawed and he’ll need to adjust his form and lower his center of gravity to earn the leverage necessary to stop NFL pass rushers.

”He’s a big man that can move his feet,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said after the pick. “He’s played left tackle and right tackle. He’s been an offensive lineman pretty much his whole life. He understands the game. He’s an excellent athlete who has great potential.”

While Miller might be a reach for a developmental tackle, Oakland took another project offensive tackle by trading up for the first pick of the third round to take Brandon Parker out of North Carolina A&T. Parker started all four years there, but still needs polish as he makes the jump to the pros, which is why he wasn’t listed in Mayock’s top 100. The Raiders have a respected offensive line coach in Tom Cable, but after overseeing Seattle’s abysmal offensive line for the last seven years, it’s fair to wonder if his reputation matches his coaching skill.

On defense, the Raiders also bolstered their defensive line by taking defensive tackle P.J. Hall at no. 57 overall and LSU defensive end Arden Key at no. 87. Hall fills a key need, and Key was considered one of the highest upside players in all of college football entering this season after he set an LSU record with 12 sacks in 2016 as a sophomore, but he took a break from the team last offseason to voluntarily enter rehab for marijuana use and his production lagged in 2017. The Raiders are betting that Key’s issues with marijuana are behind him. From a football perspective, Key will need more power to pass rush at the NFL level. Talent wise, he seems a worthy gamble in the third round, but he’s certainly just that: another gamble.

The Raiders also sent a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for receiver Martavis Bryant. That’s a puzzling move considering the Raiders released punter Marquette King earlier this month for reported personality differences when King’s issue is being the only fun punter in NFL history and Bryant butted heads with the Steelers and demanded a trade from a Super Bowl contender mid-season. Earlier this year, the Raiders released receiver Michael Crabtree and then signed receiver Jordy Nelson, who is worse, older, and more expensive.

Together, these picks and signings show Gruden is evaluating talent and value differently than most teams. Whether the $100 million man is years ahead of the rest of the NFL or years behind remains to be seen.