HENDERSON, Nev. -- "What's intriguing about our picks this year, obviously I am very thankful to have two first-round picks, but we have three in the third. That to me, three picks in the third, is just like stealing. If we're doing our jobs the right way, hopefully that's three more starters." -- Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, April 14, 2020.
Mayock had reason to be optimistic nine days before the most recent NFL draft. A year earlier, he and coach Jon Gruden had compiled a nine-man group that became the most immediately impactful draft class in franchise history. And Mayock, more than a year after leaving the NFL Network studio, and Gruden, entering his third season back on the sidelines after nine years in the ESPN Monday Night Football booth, had more than enough collateral at their disposal to do it again.
Here's the thing, while you cannot truly judge a draft class until it has been in the NFL for at least two years, the franchise's initial class of Las Vegas Raiders crapped out. Or did you miss Gruden grumbling near the midpoint of the season that he could not even remember who the Raiders drafted?
Yeah, he was lamenting the classes' relative lack of availability and, thus, productivity for a team that started 6-3 and was less than two minutes away from sweeping the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs but limped to the finish with an 8-8 record. Injuries played a huge role, as did the lack of a true offseason program and the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, 31 other teams dealt with those factors as well.
A look, then, at the Raiders' most recent draft class:
WR Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
Draft slot: First round, No. 12 overall.
The skinny: Ruggs, the surprising first receiver taken in a receiver-deep draft, was supposed to be a combo of James Jett and Cliff Branch. Ruggs was an Al Davis-type throwback pick, the fastest guy in the draft, having run a 4.27-second 40 time at the combine. The vertical threat the Raiders needed to take the top off of defenses.
Alas, Ruggs' 43 targets ranked just 14th among rookie receivers who caught at least 25 passes, per ESPN stats & Information. His 26 catches ranked 15th, his two TDs were tied for 11th and his 452 receiving yards were 11th. Still, his 17.4 yards per catch average did lead all rookies with at least 25 catches and his last-second, 46-yard TD against the New York Jets on Dec. 6 saved the Raiders.
Critics charge he was not used well enough, not enough slants, jet sweeps or bubble screens, even as he missed three games, two to a hamstring/knee injury and one to COVID-19. When he was on the field, defenses did have to account for his speed, which opened up opportunities for others.
CB Damon Arnette (Ohio State)
Draft slot: First round, No. 19 overall.
The skinny: Seen as another reach of sorts on draft day, Arnette was another throwback selection, a big, physical cornerback with equal parts swag and game. Thing was, when Arnette was not dealing with a broken thumb, he was out with COVID, or he was knocking himself out of games with head-first tackling that resulted in concussions. Arnette appeared in nine games, starting seven, and had two passes defensed with 25 tackles, 21 solo, but gave up a particularly galling deep ball to the Miami Dolphins late.
"He's got to pick it up," Gruden said of Arnette. "He's got to get stronger ... availability is a real concern right now, but he has to get in the weight room with ... a lot of these young defensive players. He's got to prove that he can stay available during these games. Disappointing rookie season, but very talented young man, though. We did not get all the things we expected from him for a lot of the reasons I just listed."
RB Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky)
Draft slot: Third round, No. 80 overall.
The skinny: When the Raiders played host to Miami in Week 16, Bowden caught two passes for eight yards and ran it once for eight yards ... for the Dolphins. Of course, you remember the Raiders -- who invested a Top-80 pick on Bowden to try to convert him into an NFL running back after he was the most versatile player in college as a QB/WR/RB/KR -- giving up on him after training camp and trading him and a conditional sixth-round pick to Miami for a fourth-rounder. Remember Mayock's words about third-round picks? Avert ye eyes, Raider Nation.
WR Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)
Draft slot: Third round, No. 81 overall
The skinny: The most impressive rookie in training camp, Edwards started the first three games and then disappeared, suffering an ankle/foot injury in Week 3 and not returning until Nov. 8. After coming back, Edwards, a big, physical target, was not targeted in three games. He finished with 11 catches -- nine of which resulted in a first down -- for 193 yards and caught his first TD pass, a 26-yarder, in the season finale win at Denver.
LB Tanner Muse (Clemson)
Draft slot: Third round, No. 100 overall
The skinny: Who? Exactly. No disrespect, but the pick was a strange one at the time -- was he a big safety? An undersized linebacker? And might he had been available later? While he did have a highlight-reel pass breakup on a deep ball in training camp, a toe injury suffered late in camp ended his season before it began. Consider it a redshirt NFL season for Muse, much like safety Johnathan Abram enjoyed a year earlier. Though expectations would be much lower for Muse than a first-rounder like Abram.
G John Simpson (Clemson)
Draft slot: Fourth round, No. 109 overall
The skinny: A road grader at 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, the selection of Simpson was initially seen as the first move in the Raiders moving on from seventh-year guard Gabe Jackson. Instead, the Raiders rolled with Jackson at right guard and Richie Incognito at left guard ... until Incognito was lost for the season with an Achilles' injury in Week 2. Simpson started two of the seven games in which he played, both at left guard, and had some ups and downs. If the Raiders revamp their offensive line, and Incognito and/or Jackson fall victim to the salary cap or Denzelle Good is not re-signed, Simpson would be in line for additional snaps in 2021.
CB Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech)
Draft slot: Fourth round, No. 139 overall
The skinny: A ball hawk in college with three pick-sixes among his 14 interceptions in three seasons, the diminutive Robertson was expected to get quality time in the slot. He played in nine games and had four tackles with just 14 defensive snaps over the final 11 weeks of the season. Keep an eye on Robertson, though, especially if Lamarcus Joyner becomes a salary-cap casualty.
Rookie year I took everything to the chin. I could say I've grown so much. I walked into the organization green as hell but left with a lot of knowledge and learning experiences. good and bad. But I know it all will bring the best out me. I'm foaming from the mouth for year 2 🐠— Amik Robertson (@_YoungTruth7) January 12, 2021