After going with offensive tackle Kolton Miller in the first round, the Oakland Raiders spent most of the first five rounds adding talent to the defensive line. They went into this offseason needing to help superstar Khalil Mack rush the passer, so that was their primary focus.
It all started in the second round with defensive tackle PJ Hall, a super freak athlete with crazy college production who showed up well at the Senior Bowl. That and his versatility to play anything from nose tackle to defensive end put him squarely on the NFL’s draft radar. But coming from a small school (Sam Houston State) had him available in the bottom of the second round.
After grabbing another offensive tackle in Brandon Parker, the Raiders turned back to the defensive line, getting LSU’s Arden Key at 87 overall. Back in 2016, defensive end Arden Key was looked at as potential top-5 draft talent. His burst off the edge to go with his bend at 6’6”, 240 pounds got him 12.0 sacks that year. But his 2017 season didn’t go so well after he took time off to deal with off-the-field issues. So he would end up falling down to the third round, where the Raiders happily caught him.
Come the fifth round, the Raiders would trade up to get top-10 caliber talent Maurice Hurst. This was a controversial pick as he was taken off a lot of teams’ draft boards because of that heart condition. But Hurst was cleared by Michigan doctors to play football for four years and recently cleared by Raiders’ doctors as well as Harvard doctors.
Now that they are all Raiders, they are expected to come in and help the defense right away.
“They don’t want us to be rookies,” Hurst said Friday after practice. “They want us to come out and play right away and play effectively. Just come out and dominate and do what they expect us to do and be a vital part of this defense. Just execute.”
Key also knows that they need to help the Raiders right away.
“We just took it on our shoulders that we got to learn and play. That’s what they want us to do and we got to produce,” Key said when asked about Hurst’s comment after Saturday’s practice. “I mean, they’re not going to throw us on the field if we’re not ready, but they expect our expectation to be high, our expectation was already high coming in and we just fit right in and learn the system.”
According to reports from camp, the three of them have looked good so far as they show they have what it takes to do their respective jobs. Key broke down what all three of them are bringing to the table.
“PJ, and Mo Hurst especially, physicality,” Key said. “They’re down there in the trenches, one playing the 3, one playing in the nose, so a lot of physicality and a lot of versatility. Mo can line up at the zero, I can like up at the 3, and me pass rush is physically, different moves with my pass rush.”
Hall, who got a late start to training camp, is starting to come along with his strength, leverage and quickness. Key has been extremely impressive off the edge with his burst, bend and spin-moves. Hurst has also impressed while dealing with guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson as well as center Rodney Hudson.
Defensive end Bruce Irvin seems comfortable and impressed with the three 1st-round talents.
“Mo Hurst is going to be good. He’s a very athletic guy. . . he takes coaching. PJ [Hall], I like PJ. Arden Key is a hell of a player, too,” Irvin said. “The rookies in our room are really going to help us. They really have no choice, we need them. Those guys are picking it up good and learning. They’re coming out here and working their butts off. They’re doing really good with their rookie duties. We need them and those guys are doing good.”
It looks like Khalil Mack has something good to come back to once he ends his holdout.