It wasn’t Paul Guenther or Jon Gruden’s plan when they drafted Arden Key in the third round of last year’s draft for him to be an every down player. He was to be a nickel rusher. A third down guy. Those plans changed when they traded Khalil Mack to the Bears just before the season opener. Suddenly Key was being asked to stay on the field all the time, lined up across from his mentor Bruce Irvin.
Come midseason, Irvin too was gone — waived by the team. So, it was pretty much just Key out there. He got his only sack in week six while Irvin was still with the team. From that point on, Key didn’t bring down the quarterback once.
Late in the season, Guenther was asked what Key needed to do to finish off his rushes and get the QB down. Guenther said one thing and one thing only; “He needs to get stronger.”
“We addressed that with him,” Guenther continued. “Obviously, you get into the season and it’s tough to build strength when you are on the kind of schedule we are. As soon as the season is over he’s going to take a little bit of a break, a short break, and then get back here in the weight room. I think we have a plan for that. That’s the most important thing for him right now is to get stronger.”
We are now five months from the end of the season and from the sounds of it, Key has not bulked up as the Raiders had hoped he would.
“We’d like to see Arden be 260 pounds some day, 270 pounds someday,” Gruden said following Tuesday’s OTA session.
For reference, Key is listed at 238, which was his weight coming out of LSU. While it’s unlikely he’s still at that weight, based on Gruden’s hopes for his weight, it would suggest that at best he’s around 250. That’s not good enough.
“He’s working toward that,” Gruden continued. “A.J. Neibel and our strength staff have done an excellent job. He has to get stronger to be more complete. I think it’s going to take a little time, but he is working at it. I have a lot of respect for that.”
Key stands at 6-5, so he’s got plenty of frame to add the weight his coaches are asking. Compare that to Raiders top pick Clelin Ferrell who is listed at 6-4, 267 pounds. That’s right where the Raiders want their defensive ends to be.
“Clelin is good. He’s a 4-3 defensive end. We needed a defensive end, obviously, to play on first down. Not just third down,” said Gruden. “I know that we need to address the sacks, but we need to stop the run to have a chance to rush the passer. We didn’t do a good enough job of that either. We have to get our pass rushers some at bats. To do that, we have to reject the running game. We have to get them to second-and-10, third-and-8, third-and-9. We think Ferrell has the credentials to be an every-down defensive end and also be a guy that we can build our defensive line around.”
With Ferrell in place, the question becomes who will start on the other side. We posed that question recently and Key came back as the leading vote getter with 50% of the vote.
After him it was a close call, with rookie fourth round pick Maxx Crosby edging (so to speak) out free agent addition Benson Mayowa.
Whether Key is that guy will depend on if he can eventually put on the weight his coaches are asking him to put on. At this juncture Mayowa looks like the better option. Should Key not get stronger, he would be best suited for that nickel pass rusher the Raiders drafted him to be initially.