Since the moment Khalil Mack arrived in Oakland, the Raiders have been looking for a partner in crime. Raider Nation hoped that could have been Aldon Smith or Bruce Irvin. While Irvin is solid, he isn’t a dominant enough sidekick leaving a hole at edge rusher that Jon Gruden had to fill.
On Friday, Oakland took a step in the right direction by selecting former LSU edge rusher Arden Key with the No. 87 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
In college, Key tallied 21 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss, including 12 sacks and 14.5 TFLs his sophomore season. Key earned AP First Team All-SEC honors in both 2016 and 2017.
Before Key’s junior season, he was ranked as the No. 1 prospect heading into the 2018 NFL draft, per CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso. However, a shoulder injury held him out of the season’s first two games and Key added some weight rendering him a bit slower.
As the season progressed, Key rounded into form and finished the season with 3.5 sacks in the his last four games.
In the NFL, Key has the speed and size, 6-foot-6, to form a formidable speed rush. His go to move, the rip, is dominant yet he does need to find a consistent power move as a counter.
Key’s frame, body control and athletic prowess suggest that he has the potential to build a lethal counterattack to be paired with his rip move.
Off the field, Key’s focus is worrisome. Like mentioned before, he gained a lot of weight after taking time off due to personal reasons and an offseason shoulder injury. According to the NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein, he also lacked interest in coverage and against the run.
Overall, Key has the potential to be a pro bowl caliber pass rusher. He just needs to dedicate himself to his craft and there is no better teacher than Khalil Mack who shows up to practice everyday ready to work his tail off without one complaint.
If Mack and Gruden push Key in the right direction, which I bet they will, Key will be closer to his 2016 form that had him as a top draft prospect.
Gruden’s remarks during the press conference after Day 2 seem to agree with the aforementioned statement.
“But at the end of the third round, we feel like it’s a gamble worth taking and this young man has some qualities that are rare,” Gruden said. “We do think he’s a very good kid so I’m not going to get much more into it than that. I realize we have our skeptics, and rightfully so, but this is a young person that needs some help right now and we’re going to help him.”
“Arden Key can do the one thing that very few people can do in this draft and that’s rush the passer and we’re happy to get him in the third round.”
Fit with Raiders
Key has some work left to hone in on his technique and that is fine.
During the draft, Oakland added an inside pass rusher with Maurice Hurst and were able to get an outside presence in Key. As such, Key can come in on passing situations and combine with Mack, Irvin, Hurst and Mario Edwards Jr. to force pressure. Key is perfect for what the defense needs, a situational speed and edge rusher.
In the end, Key’s role won’t be too big in 2018, so he can learn behind Mack until Key is ready to add a bull-rush, compete in the run game and assume three-down duties.