Over the last few years, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders have been in a rebuild race. Both teams started back in 2014 with a good run of top-10 draft picks. And even though it didn’t start very well, by 2017 the Jaguars pulled ahead of the Raiders.
The Jaguars started their rebuild with quarterback Blake Bortles at No. 3 overall and receivers Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson in Round 2. In 2015, they added edge-rusher Dante Fowler and guard A.J. Cann. In 2016, they added cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, and EDGE Yannick Ngakoue. But the Jaguars showed little to no progress from 2014 to 2016, going 10-36 in that time under head coach Gus Bradley.
The Raiders’ rebuild got off to a better start. In that 2014 draft, they took EDGE Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall, QB Derek Carr in Round 2 and guard Gabe Jackson in Round 3. In 2015, they got WR Amari Cooper and defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. Along the way, the Raiders picked up free agents LT Donald Penn, OG Kelechi Osemele, center Rodney Hudson and WR Michael Crabtree to help form an explosive offense. And from 2014 to 2016, the Raiders went from 3-13 to 7-9 to 12-4 for a short trip to the playoffs.
Then came 2017.
In Jacksonville, Doug Marrone took over as head coach. His first moves were to add DL Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church to the defense in free agency. In the draft that year, the Jaguars took running back Leonard Fournette at No. 4 overall and left tackle Cam Robinson in the second round to make up for 2013 draft bust Luke Joeckel.
Marrone then mixed defensive coordinator Todd Walsh’s No. 2-ranked defense with the running of Fournette to get the young Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game and a promising future.
The Raiders were the ones that were supposed to be in the AFC Championship Game last year but it didn’t work out. The offense regressed badly despite adding RB Marshawn Lynch and tight end Jared Cook to the trio of Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree.
Coaching had much to do with it as head coach Jack Del Rio inexplicably didn’t bring back offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, leaving the offense to the overwhelmed first time OC Todd Downing. With the defense still not to playing well, the Raiders were led right back down the NFL hierarchy which they had climbed in 2016.
After a 6-10 season, owner Mark Davis fired Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden to try to turn them back around. So now, the pressure is on Gruden to get the Raiders back in contention. The Raiders are already much more talented on offense than the Jaguars so if Gruden is still the coach the NFL world thinks he is, they’ll get somewhere in 2018.
If they can finally manage to improve on defense, it would really enhance their chances of contending.
The secondary needs a major boost and help could be coming Karl Joseph — the team’s 2016 first-round pick — moving back to free safety should be a big help. Last year’s top pick CB Gareon Conley and round two pick strong safety Obi Melifonwu will finally be available to give the Raiders that much-needed secondary help too after missing most of their rookie seasons with injury. And they can get more help in free agency or by selecting CB and LB early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
From there, we’ll see if Gruden can be the difference and bring about the same type of turnaround Marrone did in Jacksonville. If he does, his $100 million contract will be money well spent.