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Jon Gruden can have early success with Raiders simply by correct use of players misused in 2017

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The Raiders have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL and it will show much more this season.

New York Giants vs Oakland Raiders Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

There were many reasons why the Oakland Raiders fell from 12-4 in 2016 to 6-10 in 2017. Despite having some talent a majore reason for the Raiders fall from grace was because that talent was misused.

The biggest misuse of players in 2017 for the Raiders was on the offensive line. They still protected the passer well, going from No. 2 in 2016 and No. 3 in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. It was their runblocking that suffered with the installation of zone-blocking.

In 2016, the Raiders were No. 6 in rushing with solid individual run-blocking grades of for Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, and Donald Penn, in the power-gap scheme.

A switch to zone-blocking scheme in 2017 dropped the team to No. 25 in rushing with Hudson, Osemele, Jackson and Penn’s grades going down across the board.

As a whole, the O-line allowed their runners 1.96 yards before contact in 2016 and 1.42 in 2017. Making the biggest O-line in football run a scheme fit for smaller O-lines didn’t pay off. Head coach Gruden figures to fix that with a power-gap scheme.

There was also the misuse of Marshawn Lynch. In his first nine games, Lynch only averaged 10.8 carries and 43 yards per game and with no fullback on a lot of them early-on. Then in the last six games, averaging 18 carries with a fullback more often, Lynch averaged 84 yards per game with two 100-yard games. Over 16 games, that ‘s 1,136 yards for the season,

Gruden has already made his plans clear for he Lynch, saying he wants him full time. So expect something closer to 18 carries per game which should lead to a big season from Lynch in 2018.

Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., drafted in the second round in 2015 has the talent to be a great player. He looked dominant for a stretch as a rookie and again for a few games early in 2017 after missing most of 2016 with an injury.

In Edwards’s rookie year, he helped Khalil Mack get to his best season of 15.0 sacks. Being a 2-gap, 3-4 defensive end in his base defense, he could only focus on getting off the ball and using his speed to penetrate on sub-packages. And since the Raiders weren’t ahead much at the end of games last year, he wasn’t in them as much as he needed to be. This year, as a 1-gap, 3-technique in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s 4-3, all he’ll do is use his speed to penetrate, giving him more chances to make plays in the backfield.

After an injury hobbled rookie year, safety Karl Joseph played better in 2017. But he was mainly used as a strong safety, where covering 6’5” tight ends proved to be too much for him at 5’10”. Toward the end of the year, Joseph played more free safety and looked more like a 2016 1st-round pick. With better options at SS in 2018, look for Guenther to use Joseph more at FS.

Cornerback Gareon Conley, whom the Raiders picked in Round 1 last year, looked pretty good for a game and a half until he aggravated his shin injury. SS Obi Melifonwu, picked in Round 2 in 2017, didn’t.

For whatever reason, when Melifonwu came off injured reserve, the Raiders quickly put started him at CB in off-man coverage against Brandin Cooks and the New England Patriots. And the 44-yard touchdown Melifonwu gave up to Cooks is all of what most of Raider Nation heard from him. Hopefully Guenther has enough sense to keep him at strong safety to use his size and speed to cover TE’s so look for that in 2018.

Then outside-linebacker Bruce Irvin was playing 17.42 percent of his defensive snaps in coverage in Weeks 1-11 under Ken Norton Jr and wasn’t making an impact, posing just 2.5 sacks in that time. In Weeks 12-15 under Pagano, Irvin dropped back into coverage on just 6.73 percent of his defensive snaps and he had 5.5 sacks to tie his career-high (8.0) in a season. Gruden has already made it known that Irvin will be a full-time edge-rusher, moving to DE in 2018 to help Mack bring the heat.

There’s a reason why Mark Davis fired HC Jack Del Rio and Gruden accepted the job. This roster has plenty of talent on it and only needs a coach to come in and press the right buttons. And from the looks of things, many of those buttons have already been pushed.