Arden Key Must Step Up in His Third Season with Raiders

Tom LaMarre

The Raiders were expecting big things from defensive end Arden Key when they selected him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of LSU, especially since there was talk that he might have first-round talent.

However, the 6-4, 255-pound Key has not yet stepped up the way the Silver and Black expected, in part because he went out for the season last year when he sustained a broken foot in the ninth game after recording his only two sacks of the year in consecutive outings.

Key enters this season on the second team and probably as the No. 4 defensive end, behind Maxx Crosby, who had 10 sacks last season as a rookie; 2019 first-round draft choice Clelin Ferrell, who showed flashes of brilliance, and veteran Carl Nassib, who signed as a free agent after playing with the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It’s a make-or-break season for the 24-year-old Key, and he knows it.

“I came in with problems coming out of college and I let that affect me when it came to trying to walk a straight line and trying to do everything that was asked of me,” Key, who has only three sacks in 25 games with the Raiders, told The Athletic.

“No, I’m not doing that no more. The sky is the limit for me. I’m tired of these limitations and I’m not listening to them no more. I’m doing it the Arden Key way.”

In defense of Key, he was expected to learn behind pass-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack as a rookie, but Mack held out in search of a new contract and the Raiders traded him to the Chicago Bears right before the season started.

Key was thrown right into the fire despite a nagging shoulder injury. He got to the quarterback often in 2018, usually too late, being credited with only one sack to go with 13 quarterback hits.

But he knows that’s where his skill lies.

“Pass rusher,” said Key, who is happy to be working with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. “It’s no guessing with me. It’s no ifs, ands or buts. They don’t want me here to be a run stopper, they want me to be a pure pass rusher.

“(Marinelli) teaches get-off. Let’s get off, let’s get up the field and disrupt everything that’s in the backfield. Let’s create a new line of scrimmage. Ain’t no such thing as a play-action pass; you get off and you get up the field and you read your keys.”

Key showed while playing a big-time schedule at LSU that he can do it, recording 21 sacks in three seasons with the Tigers—the last two as a starter when he was selected first-team All-Southeastern Conference both years.

Now he has to show he can do it at the next level, even on a team that he says is loaded in the D-line room.

“I didn’t come into the NFL with that same fire under my belt,” Key said. “I wasn’t being me. I wasn’t the a-hole that I normally am on the field. I didn’t have that excitement or that energy that I bring to the field. I wasn’t challenging the O-line. I wasn’t challenging the coaches. I wasn’t challenging nobody.

“ … We got everything we need in that D-line room. We don’t need nobody else. We don’t need no Clay Matthews. We don’t need no Jadeveon Clowney. We don’t need none of that. … We got a lot of guys on that can pass rush their ass off.”

Key has to show in training camp and early in the season that he is the guy the Coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders thought they were getting with the 87th overall pick of the 2018 draft.

The Raiders have dumped defensive tackle P.J. Hall, who was drafted one round ahead of Key in 2018, trying to trade Hall to the Minnesota Vikings, but then waived him after he failed his physical.

The same could happen to Key if he does not produce, but Gruden sounds like he still believes in him, saying: “Key just has to stay healthy.”

And get to the quarterback while he still has the ball.

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Looking forward to seeing Key silence the doubters. Unlike Hall, there's no question of him taking things seriously. You can see the effort on his face. Saying he wanted to fit in and now will approach his opportunity with real emotion going all out makes sense. He has the tools to be the pass specialist he was brought in to be. All the other DEs are naturally bigger men so it's all set up for him to establish his niche.