It’s important to note that I won’t call these ‘re-grades’ because that suggests there never should have been an initial grade upon drafting. Those grades were for draft strategy and these grades are checking in on the class after their rookie seasons are under their belt.
There will be those that say ‘you can’t grade players until 2-3 years in’. Yes, we can. And we will. We’ll just check in again after year two and three to see how they’re coming along.
S Karl Joseph (Round 1, pick 14)
Safety was a desperate need for the Raiders and at pick 14 they set about grabbing the highest rated safety in the class. It wasn’t a seamless transition for Joseph, who was coming off a major ACL injury in his senior season at West Virginia. It was ten months before he set foot on a practice field again and the Raiders wanted to bring him along slow to make sure he would recover fully. He didn’t begin the season as the starter, but a couple games in he was given the go ahead. He played well for about an 8-game stretch before being lost to a toe injury for the final four games of the regular season.
DE Jihad Ward (Round 2, pick 44)
In a defensive line rotation that had difficulty finding a combination that worked best, Ward was given every chance to step up and show his skills. The result was Ward consistently getting pushed around by offensive linemen and finishing with 30 combined tackles (16 solo) and no sacks despite playing in every contest and starting 13. What Raiders needed from him most was to keep them from missing Mario Edwards Jr as much. They ended up missing Edwards greatly.
LB Shilique Calhoun (Round 3, pick 75)
A defensive end in college, the Raiders looked to switch him to linebacker. It didn’t go so well. Calhoun was unable to shed blockers against the run and was a complete liability in coverage. He appeared in 10 games with no starts before his season ended due to injury. His contribution was 5 tackles.
QB Connor Cook (Round 4, pick 100)
When the Raiders traded up to draft him it seemed like an odd move considering they had greater needs. The fact that they took him so the Cowboys couldn’t seemed to make the move seem a bit better. What it ended up doing was allowing the Cowboys to grab Dak Prescott instead which is clearly the better move based on early results. Cook was inactive all season until Derek Carr was injured in week 16. Then Matt McGloin went down injured and Cook played the second half of the season finale and made his first start in the Wild Card playoff loss to the Texans. Along the way, he showed some arm strength that made him a prospect, but didn’t show much else. He wasn’t drafted to be a starter. He was chosen to be a backup and perhaps future trade bait. It’s uncertain yet whether he will be good for either just yet.
RB DeAndre Washington (Round 5, pick 143)
Early in the season, it was a dead heat between Washington and underafted rookie Jalen Richard for the change-of-pace back duties. Both seemed to alternate big plays. Eventually, when roster spots were at a premium, the team had to make a decision between the two and it was Richard who got the nod with Washington inactive on game day. Mostly that was due to Richard’s special teams abilities, but it was also his running which was outshining Washington. Late in the season, both were once again active and Washington made a push, running for 99 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts in week 16. He finished with 467 yards on 87 carries (5.37 yards per carry) which was 7th among rookie running backs in yards and 4th in ypc (minimum 30 carries). Among those taken at or below his draft position, he was 4th in yards, and second in yards per carry (minimum 30 carries) behind only Richard’s 5.92 ypc.
LB Cory James (Round 6, pick 194)
A versatile linebacker at Colorado State, he played every linebacker position as well as defensive end. The Raiders liked him as an inside linebacker and by week three, he would get his shot. He stepped in for the struggling Ben Heeney at the middle linebacker position and held his own. There was still some deficiencies in his game from the perspective of defensive alignment, which prompted the team to sign Perry Riley Jr off the street as a veteran middle linebacker. James was relegated to special teams with a handful of defensive snaps after that. His special teams abilities were initially all the Raiders hoped to get from him when they drafted him.
OL Vadal Alexander (Round 7, pick 234)
Coming out of LSU, he was at one time projected to be selected in the top two rounds. Some look at his slow 40 time at the combine as the reason he fell so far. While he didn’t do much to prove he should have been taken near the top of the draft, he served the team well last season as a reserve tackle and tackle eligible in jumbo packages. In total, he appeared in 9 games and started 5, often filling in at right tackle in the absence of Menelik Watson and Austin Howard who both had injury stints last season. Alexander was a great selection in the seventh round when you take fliers on guys like him and he provided services you don’t typically expect from a player taken this late.