In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders ended up with what could be the steal of the draft when they took Maurice Hurst in the fifth round. But, we should not forget that Arden Key — taken with their second 3rd-round pick — could prove to be another huge steal.
Key is a special pass-rusher and for my money, the best pure pass-rusher off the edge in this draft.
At 6’5”, 246 pounds with long arms and athleticism, he’s looks a lot like a young Aldon Smith. They both have a superb get-off and burst off the edge. And once they have you beat, they are exceptional at bending the edge, making them that much more unique for their height.
The primary difference is Smith came out of college at 255 and had a little more power in his game to start with. He was also a solid run defender, which is why he was able to start in a full-time role from Day 1.
Key just got up to 246 pounds from around 240 so it’s hard to say how much more he can gain before this season.
Withe the 260-pound Bruce Irvin moving to defensive end full time, Key is likely to start his career as a rotational pass-rusher much like Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter, whom he replaced at LSU.
Hunter had 6.0 sacks as a rookie in that role and 12.5 in his second year. Then he took the starting defensive end job with in Minnesota in Year 3. That led to the big contract extension Hunter signed this offseason.
Key may have to wait a little while like Hunter but if he remains focused, he has the potential to be even better. The rookie was a top-5 talent after breaking LSU’s single-season sack record as a sophomore in 2016 (12). After that sensational season, he was drawing comparisons to 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. And there were those who thought Key was the better pass-rusher. Former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith, now a pass-rushing coach that has worked with guys like Von Miller, is one of them and had high praise for Key last summer.
“Myles Garrett is not on this guy’s level when it comes to pass rush,” Smith told Gridiron Now. “This guy is the best pass rusher in the SEC over the last 15 years. No one is even close. If he’s not the No. 1 pick next year, teams are going to miss out. He’s got bend like Von Miller and a spin like Dwight Freeney. He knows how to do all the pass rush moves, why to use the moves, how to use the moves and he has edge speed. He can head fake you like Osi Umenyiora. That’s what makes him special. I guess the last thing that makes him special is he has that dog in him. That real dog, and he is hungry to be the best.”
The problem was Key was in the midst of a hiatus from his team at the time for undisclosed “personal reasons” and went into his junior year at 280 pounds and out of shape. Once he played his way back into shape, he closed the season with 3.5 sacks in his last four games, which was a better close to the season than Bradley Chubb had.
If Key were up to 255-260 pounds or played in a 3-4, he would be ready to be a full-time player from Day 1. But since he isn’t, there are concerns about his ability to play the run in the NFL. This is why it looks like Irvin will be the starting defensive end opposite Khalil Mack this year. But make no mistake about it, Key is special and can be a big star for the Raiders.
See for yourself right here.