Miller spent literally half the season among the Busters (8 games) though it may have seemed like he was a permanent fixture there. The rookie tackle gave up more sacks than anyone on the team (16) and second most in the league. And Derek Carr was sacked 51 times. Miller was Top Buster twice, including week 15 which was probably the worst game for a Raiders offensive lineman I have ever seen. Miller struggled with a knee injury, but we always knew there were going to be growing pains for him. He was a raw prospect who has to get stronger and improve his technique, so the Raiders don’t really know what they have yet. If it’s not more than they saw this season, they will be back in the market for a left tackle in short order.
Gruden was named a Busters six times this season with half of those times being Top Buster status. Those were mainly for in-game decisions, but if we’re talking about reasons why the Raiders lost so many games, trading away Khalil Mack, causing them to have by far the league’s fewest sacks (13) is a big one.
Drafting Kolton Miller over Derwin James backfired spectacularly as well. And don’t give me the “Who would have started at left tackle?” because first of all there are seven rounds of the draft and you can’t tell me there wasn’t a second rounder who could have given up less sacks than Miller. Or maybe with that third round pick he wasted on Martavis Bryant. Or Donald Penn whose sudden forced transition to right tackle was the primary reason he struggled early on before being lost to injury after four games. Putting a 35-year-old career left tackle in that position is just asking for an injury.
Late in the season, after Brandon Parker had struggled most of the season at right tackle and Miller had his worst game, Gruden said the Raiders would change their protection plan and it worked like a charm. So, then the question becomes ‘Why in the world didn’t you do that sooner?’ The Raiders finished with their worst sack differential (-39) in franchise history. Trading away a premiere pass rusher and starting rookies at both tackle spots will do that.
Speak of the devil, this third round rookie was a Buster six times, three of which he was Top Buster. One of those was the week 12 loss in Baltimore in which he gave up three sacks ON THREE STRAIGHT PLAYS. Parker had no injury excuse like Miller. He was simply not ready for the NFL. He may never be. We just don’t know. He was drafted out of small school North Carolina A&T. Gruden even traded up to get him for some reason. Parker was like a screen door on a submarine out there most games. A couple times he showed some skill as a run blocker, but that’s not his primary job. He is supposed to keep the Quarterback upright and he did not do that while also racking up quite a few frustrating penalties.
Another regular on the Busters list, Whitehead landed there seven times over the course of the season and was once Top Buster. He struggled in coverage so much that there was a stat going around at one point that he had given up a catch on every pass in his coverage. He also wasn’t great at being in position to stop the running back at the line either. He had a lot of tackles, though it was mainly because of the catches he gave up and his run stops were often after the back had picked up a few yards. Gruden liked what he saw from him, so he will be back next year. Though Whitehead proved early this season that middle linebacker was not where he will play. Due to his struggles there, the team opted for the rotation of Marquel Lee and undrafted rookie Jason Cabinda.
Six times a Buster, Key was mostly just a non-factor. He had one sack on the season and wasn’t much for stopping the run either. Even with the times the officials screwed him over. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther said late in the season that Key could have had like eight sacks if he could just get the quarterback down. Well, that’s a big part of Key’s job and often times, the QB would escape him to make a big play. Key has got to bulk up and work on wrapping up better. The Raiders were counting on him to offer some pass rush, especially after waiving Bruce Irvin at midseason. Granted, that was unwise on the Raiders’ part, but it is what it is.
Only on a team like the Raiders who were out of any playoff discussion by midseason would Townsend have kept his job all season. He was statistically the worst punter in the NFL in pretty much every category. He was a Buster five times and I can’ recall that ever happening before for a punter. Punters at worst are supposed to have a shank now and then. Townsend would have them routinely. At one point he was kicking more duds than he was even decent punts and putting the Raiders in terrible field position time and time again.
Melvin came in with some serious bluster and swagger as a free agent signing this offseason. Talking about being the best corner in the NFL and being All Pro worthy. He started the season and was a Buster three times in the first five games before being benched for Daryl Worley who was returning from his suspension. Late in the season, Worley would be lost to a shoulder injury and Melvin started the final two games… and was a Buster once again. You see, Melvin had a penchant for giving up big plays. Then he tweeted out that he was going to go back to what got him here, essentially blaming the coaches changing his technique for his struggles. That earned him a spot in Gruden’s doghouse for a couple games midseason.
Nelson appeared in 11 games before being lost to injury. In that time he was named a Buster four times. He lost his starting job after week nine with the emergence of Karl Joseph. Thanks for your service, Reggie. But at age 35 the time to move on from you at the team’s starting safety has long passed.