Rookie Watch: Raiders' 2014 draft class is paying off
It may be too late for Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie to save his job; head coach Dennis Allen has already been shown the door, and McKenzie's moves haven't paid great dividends since he was given the job in January, 2012. But one thing appears to be evident: the 2014 draft class that McKenzie put together is a good one, and looks to benefit whoever's running the team in years to come.
First-round pick Khalil Mack has been in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year pretty much since he hit the field. It's not just the tackles, which is expected from a linebacker (he has 21 solo tackles this season), but he's also a real asset in pass coverage, and he's an outstanding run-stopper. Mack is Pro Football Focus' fourth-overall ranked 3-4 outside linebacker this season, and he's become a truly versatile player in a very short time.
Second-round pick Derek Carr was thrown into Oakland's quarterback position, and he's had some rough spots, which is par for the course with most young signal-callers, but he had a real breakthrough against the Chargers last Sunday. In Oakland's 31-28 loss, Carr took the reins given to him by interim head coach Tony Sparano, completing 18 of 34 passes for 282 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. And that included a number of drops, meaning Carr's numbers could have been even better.
Perhaps most impressive was the way Carr performed on third down. He completed six passes for 184 yards and three of his four scores on the day. Carr has shown the ability to read blitzes and change calls when needed, he makes excellent throws into tight windows, and he's establishing a belief system in the position that's been missing in Oakland for years.
Then, there's third-round left guard Gabe Jackson, one of the more underrated rookies in this overall class. Through five games, Jackson has allowed just two quarterback hits and five hurries. He's excellent when asked to push forward in run blocking, and he's speedier on the edge than many thought he would be when pulling and hitting the second level.
It's been a long time since the Raiders had a legitimately outstanding draft class. But through the first part of the season, and despite the team's winless record, things are on the upside.
Other rookies who caught our eye in Week 6, and through the season:
Branden Oliver, RB, San Diego Chargers
For the second straight week, the undrafted new star from Buffalo went over the century mark, toting the rock for 101 yards and a touchdown (the winning touchdown, in fact) on 24 carries against the Raiders in a 31-28 win. Oliver also caught four passes for the second straight week, and he's firmly established himself as a major player in San Diego's offense. It may have taken injuries to get him there, but when Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown were out of the picture, Oliver made that picture brighter with a tough running style and a clear picture of his skill set.
“The last drive there, going in and punching a score, to score at the end was an outstanding way to finish the game," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said after. "You always talk about running the ball in the end zone when you have an opportunity and we did a great job there.”
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Another executive with a great 2014 draft class (and a lot more job security than McKenzie, one would assume) is Green Bay's Ted Thompson. Adams, the Pack's second-round pick out of Fresno State. Adams set up the game-winning touchdown against the Dolphins with a 12-yard catch late in the contest, and he showed a lot of smarts in doing so.
"It's huge," Adams said of the catch, which came off a fake spike that Aaron Rodgers used to help extend the drive. "The more I'm doing the right thing, I can get a lot of trust with the wideouts and the coaches and that's when they start doing things and trusting me and put me in on third down and stuff like that. If I wasn't doing what I'm supposed to be doing, Aaron's not going to throw me the ball on third down.
"That's just the way it is. I feel like I'm doing pretty well. You can always get better and that's what I'm trying to do."
So far, so good. Adams had a career high against the Dolphins with six catches for 77 yards. Once Aaron Rodgers trusts you, those receiving numbers tend to spike up pretty quickly.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S. Green Bay Packers
The Packers needed a rangy player at the back of their pass defense, and that's why they selected Clinton-Dix out of Alabama in the first round. Unlike many Nick Saban prospects who struggle in NFL secondaries, Clinton-Dix has excelled more and more as his rookie season has progressed. He's been out of position at times, but against the Dolphins, he allowed seven total yards in coverage, had a quarterback hurry, and racked up three defensive stops, per Pro Football Focus.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
The Jets continued their offensive dysfunction in their Sunday loss to the Broncos, but Amaro made a great vertical play over safety T.J. Ward on a touchdown pass from Geno Smith in the first quarter. The 6-5, 265 pounder from Texas Tech had 10 catches on 12 targets for 68 yards, and he has more catches than anyone else in New York's undermanned offense -- 24 catches on 29 targets for 212 yards and a touchdown. Amaro kept it in perspective, though -- he'd rather find himself in the win column more than once in his inaugural NFL campaign.
"We've hung with almost every single team besides last week [against the Chargers in a 31-0 thrashing]," Amaro said. "We've had a chance to win every single game, or tie it up at least. There's some positive in that. But at the same time, you've got to be able to at least split those games."