On a team like this, it can be hard to find positives. Many of the awards end up being the lesser of the evils. But that’s just where we are. Even the lesser of the evils deserve credit for not being as terrible as everyone else.
Rookie of the year
This 5th round pick was made by the Vikings. They gave up on him after two games. The Raiders picked him up midseason as an injury replacement and he went on to have one of the best seasons for any kicker in Raiders history. He missed a 45-yard field goal in his first game and then made his next 15 field goals, going 16 of 17 on the season including three 50-yarders and perfect on 18 extra point attempts. The Raiders have their long term answer at kicker. And they didn’t even have to draft him. Maurice Hurst is the top Raiders drafted rookie, and he showed a lot of promise, but he didn’t have near the impact on this team as Carlson, scoring 66 points in ten games.
Returning from suspension in week five, Worley gave the Raiders a good looking starting cornerback duo along with Gareon Conley. The suspension was for a DUI incident that had him cut by the Eagles. Without it, he would never have been available at all because the Eagles traded for the established starter this offseason. He’s also just 23, so he could be a long term answer at cornerback for a Raiders team that needs those.
Most disappointing addition
Gruden sent a third round pick to the Steelers for Bryant only to cut him before the season and then re-sign him. He was supposed to be the piece to this receiving corps that would make it among the better units in football. He’s done next to nothing. He wasn’t even named the starter after Amari Cooper was traded away.
In week ten, he suffered and injury that would eventually land him on injured reserve. His season would end with 19 catches for 266 yards and no touchdowns. A little over a week later, he would receive an indefinite NFL ban for yet another violation of the league’s policy on substance abuse. In every possible way, he was a complete waste of a third round pick — a trade that was always bad, but ended up even worse than many had imagined.
It took more than half the season for Joseph to break out, but he eventually did. He was a starter by week ten and began looking like the player he was drafted to be in 2016. He earned what should be the Raiders picking up his 5th year option this offseason, giving him two more years with the Raiders. And if he keeps playing well next year, an extension could be there for him as well.
I have to give credit where it’s due. A lot of folks mocked the signing of Doug Martin by the Raiders. After averaging just 2.9 yards per carry each of the previous two seasons, most people thought his career was done. But Gruden still saw a talented back and signed him on a cheap one-year deal. He went on to average 4.2 yards per carry, putting up 723 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Raiders sure needed him when Marshawn Lynch was lost for the season after week six.
Best position group
With little depth or talent at most positions on this rebuilding roster, the corners were a very different story. Early in the year they had Gareon Conley, Rashaan Melvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Leon Hall. Even with DRC’s sudden retirement, they got Daryl Worley back from suspension. Even with Leon Hall’s season-ending injury, they had 4th round rookie Nick Nelson get healthy and had to see what they had in him. And with Worley being lost to injury, Melvin was there to step into the starting role.
Granted, Nelson had his issues — especially against the likes of Tyreek Hill — but he’s a rookie and should learn from it. And Melvin also had a problem with gambling and giving up big plays, but as far as a player coming off the bench, he was passable. You simply won’t find a better, deeper position for the Raiders this season than cornerback.
Week 16 vs Broncos
With a bullet. The Steelers game was the biggest up to that point because it was the first (and only) win the Raiders had against a team with a winning record. But nothing compared to that win over the Broncos.
Everything aligned for a great one. It was Christmas Eve, in prime time, against a bitter division rival, in what could be the last Raiders game ever at Oakland Coliseum. The torch was lit by Oakland’s finest Marshawn Lynch, who also may have played his last game for his hometown Raiders. Then the Raiders went out and dominated in all phases of the game.
The first touchdown was a brilliant 99-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dwayne Harris. Then the offense got going, specifically Oakland native Doug Martin carrying the torch (so to speak) for Marshawn who has been on IR since midseason. And the defense stepped up as well, shutting the Broncos out in the first half. then adding a couple interceptions late to seal the 27-14 victory. It was glorious.
Offensive Player of the Year
From the first game of the season and throughout, Cook was the Raiders best weapon. He was Derek Carr’s number one receiver even over the first six weeks while Amari Cooper was still on the roster. He led the team in targets (101), receptions (68), receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (6) and is the only skill position player on the team who was even in striking distance of a Pro Bowl spot (he’s an alternate), finishing second in the AFC in receiving among tight ends behind only Travis Kelce.
Defensive Player of the Year
The 2017 top pick was the best player from the best unit on the team. Conley was locking down receivers most of the season from the left cornerback spot. Teams began figuring out if they wanted a big play, they would need to go elsewhere to get it. There are a handful of promising looking young players on the Raiders defense. At the beginning of the season he was one of them. By season’s end, he had established himself and now he looks like he could be a cornerstone (so to speak) of the Raiders defense long term.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Speaking of Dwayne Harris, he was the man on special teams for the Raiders this season. He returned kicks and punts and played on coverage teams as well. He showed uncommon intelligence on several instances, including scooping up the ball on the 99-yard punt return after Broncos players kept it from going in the end zone. He also finished second in the NFL with 15 special teams tackles (8 solo).
This season the Raiders needed his steady hand and consistency more than ever. With two Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson having down seasons in Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme and then losing both of them to injuries for multiple games, he was holding the place together. Not to mention starting rookies at both tackle spots, he was a security blanket for Derek Carr to help call out blitzes and defensive alignments. Carr was still sacked 52 times, but none of them were surrendered by Hudson.
Season Ballers & Busters coming next week.