There were many teams who had disappointing 2017 seasons. Some teams, like the Cleveland Browns, who finished with an 0-16 record, decided not to fire their coach. Others, however, like the Indianapolis Colts, decided to clean house in the coaching department. There were a whopping seven head coaching changes in the past year, and it may be difficult to diagnose what those coaches should and/or will accomplish in their endeavors with their respective teams. In this edition, I will be analyzing the expectations for 2018 and beyond for newly hired Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
The Oakland Raiders were expected to be among the league’s top teams after they finished with a 12-4 regular season record in 2016. Unfortunately for them, there was not enough talent for star QB Derek Carr to work with, and it didn’t help that head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t do the best coaching job. All of those factors contributed to the Raiders to finishing with a 6-10 record. There were swirling rumors for weeks about the former Raiders’ and Buccaneers’ coach coming back to save his alma mater. Gruden was hired by the Raiders in 1998. Gruden went 8-8 in his first two seasons with Oakland before going 12-4 in the 2000 season and then going 10-6 in 2001. Gruden was then traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Gruden’s first season with Tampa Bay, the Bucs went 12-4 and defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. After that first season, Gruden posted an average win % of just .447 and a playoff record of 0-2. Gruden was fired by the Bucs after the 2008 season. Throughout his career, Gruden posted 95-81 (.540) and a playoff record of 5-4 with 1 Super Bowl win. Gruden is famed for being a “quarterback guru.” We already know that Derek Carr has all the talent to be a star quarterback, so bringing Gruden in to unlock his potential will immediately give Oakland a huge boost. Gruden will have to learn to call plays and adjust to how the NFL has changed in his absence.
Gruden uses Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, a scheme in which the receivers generally run short-to-intermediate routes which allow the quarterback to throw in rhythm and allow the receivers to gain yardage after the catch has been made. The goal of this offense is to spread the defense out horizontally and to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, something Carr is very good at. Gruden is also expected to run a power run scheme, which will work out perfectly with Marshawn Lynch at running back. I’ve also heard rumors of Le’Veon Bell to Oakland Rumors after he becomes a free agent in March 2019. Gruden must adjust to how the NFL has changed since he has been gone, which I don’t think will be a problem because Gruden has spent the last 11 years studying game film and continuing to learn. Let’s take a look at the Raiders’ depth chart.
On defense, the Raiders have two nice safeties in Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson. The cornerback position is an area of great need for the Raiders; I struggled to find anyone in that group with a respectable Pro Football Focus rating. NaVorro Bowman, Tahir Whitehead and Bruce Irvin are three quality linebackers. On the defensive line is arguably the best defender in football, Khalil Mack. Alongside him are promising rookies Maurice Hurst and Arden Key that have a history of injuries but have high upside. Another promising rookie is 2018 second round pick P.J. Hall
On offense, Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are two solid running backs. Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer, along with rookie Marcell Ateman make a nice receiving core. Jared Cook is young, up-and-coming “U” tight end that will fit perfectly in Jon Gruden’s West Coast Offense. Rodney Hudson is a good center, Kelechi Osemele is a solid guard, and at the two tackles are 2018 first round pick Kolton Miller and 2018 third round pick Brandon Parker. Starting at quarterback is Pro Bowler Derek Carr, with Connor Cook and E.J. Manuel behind him. Jon Gruden has got some nice building blocks to work with.
And now, the concluding prediction for my series about rookie NFL head coaches. I think the Raiders will have a 7-9 record in 2018. As I mentioned earlier, this team has some nice building blocks, and Jon Gruden should provide an immediate boost to Derek Carr, but it might take this team a year to come together. I also have concerns about the locker room: Martavis Bryant has been known to cause some problems and last year players were taking shots at Carr. If Jon Gruden can keep the locker room under control, I think this team should do just fine under Gruden, whose contract is for 10 years and $100 million. If we look at the rest of the AFC West, the Chargers are immediate Super Bowl contenders, but Phillip Rivers isn’t getting any younger and will need to be replaced after he retires. The Broncos have Case Keenum as their starting quarterback for the next two years; nothing against Case, but he isn’t capable of carrying a team. Last season with Minnesota, Keenum had a good running game and the league’s best defense to work with, not to mention arguably the best receiving core in the league. As for the Chiefs, we don’t know what the heck Patrick Mahomes is capable of and we don’t know what their ceiling is on the defensive side of the ball. I think Jon Gruden will have a career win % of about .696 (a little more than an average of 11 wins per season). Just two years ago, the Raiders went 12-4 and were set to make a deep playoff run before Carr got injured, and that was under Jack Del Rio. I could look back at this prediction 10 years from now and think one of two things: “Wow, I was so right,” or “Wow, I was so wrong.” If the Raiders can continue to add great players around Carr, this will be a great team. If not, the Silver and Black will more than likely continue their recent trend of losing.