Jon Gruden took a lot of heat for his moves in 2018, but the path ahead now seems a bit more clear
The 2018 NFL season was very much one that the Oakland Raiders and their fan base would like to forget. After signing Jon Gruden to a $100 million deal, the Raiders proceeded to make strange personnel decisions all season long en route to a 4-12 record. Gruden led the effort to trade Oakland's two best players — Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper — only to watch his team struggle in areas where those two guys could have helped.
The Raiders were dead last in the NFL in quarterback sacks with 13 — and it wasn't even close. The closest teams when it came to the bottom of that category were the Patriots and Giants. But each of those teams logged 30 sacks on the year.
Additionally, the Raiders finished in the bottom half of the league in passing yards (18th). This was a combination of a lack of an elite receiving target and an inability to protect the quarterback. Those shortcomings in pass protection spilled into the run game, where Oakland managed 1,628 rushing yards (25th).
Heading into the 2019 season, it looks as though Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock have put a rocky 2018 behind them and established a clear vision for the future, one that goes beyond getting ready for the move to Las Vegas.
Here are five ways the Oakland Raiders will be better in 2019 than they were in '18.
1. An improved offensive line
Oakland went out and signed former New England Patriot Trent Brown in free agency to man the right side of the offensive line, opposite of left tackle Kolton Miller. The Raiders also have added veteran guard Richie Incognito. He comes with known baggage, but he's an upgrade at the position and can help give this offensive line an identity.
2. Upgrades at wide receiver
The acquisition of Antonio Brown was one of the biggest stories of the offseason — and rightfully so. Brown is a generational talent and one of the most dominant players at the position in NFL history. If he and Derek Carr can develop any sort of chemistry before Week 1, we could be looking at something special. The Raiders also signed former Chargers deep threat Tyrell Williams and drafted slot specialist Hunter Renfrow out of Clemson. That's three new targets for Carr, all of whom have a track record of dependability.
3. A focus on getting to the quarterback
The Khalil Mack trade put Jon Gruden in a bad spot with the fan base, and it only got worse with Oakland's subsequent pass-rushing woes. In the 2019 NFL Draft, Mayock and Gruden spent two picks in the first four rounds on players who specialize at getting to the quarterback and disrupting plays in the backfield. No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell out of Clemson logged 21 sacks over the last two seasons. Maxx Crosby (fourth round, 106th overall) got the quarterback 17.5 times during his two seasons as a starter at Eastern Michigan.
4. A running back who can do it all
The Raiders needed a weapon who can stay on the field for three downs at the running back position. They got that in rookie Josh Jacobs out of Alabama. He had limited use in Alabama's offense, which means there's plenty of tread left on his tires. When he did touch the ball — whether on the ground or through the air — he scored once every 10 touches. He's the perfect back for what Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson want to do.
5. A confident Derek Carr
For much of last season, there were questions about Carr's future under center for the Raiders. Some expected Oakland to draft a quarterback in 2019. When that didn't happen, it was viewed as a vote of confidence in Carr by Gruden. Carr has shown signs of greatness at times in his career. Now, with a revamped offensive line and a new collection of weapons, he'll have every opportunity to prove he's the guy for the Raiders moving forward.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.