The Oakland Raiders devolved from a 12-4 playoff-qualifying outfit to a six-win team that fired its coach and went on a Jon Gruden hunt. Sure, the Raiders bagged their Chucky, but the limited contributions from their 2017 rookie class also put it on notice for the return of Gruden.
Grade: Below Average
Best rookie: Let's go with consistency here and reward third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes, who played in all 16 games while starting 13. No, Vanderdoes did not dominate, per se, but he was available for the Raiders and had two stuffs among his 18 tackles. Alas, Vanderdoes tore the ACL graft in his left knee in the season finale and will spend the offseason rehabbing. "What offseason do you have in football?" Vanderdoes pondered the day after the season ended. "I just have to get healthy." Again. The UCLA product constantly battled injury in college.
Most improved rookie: Thrust into a starting role at middle linebacker in the preseason, Marquel Lee responded as, well, a fifth-round rookie, chasing his tail when not chasing running backs catching passes in the flat -- let alone tight ends. Then, the game started to slow down for Lee and the arrival of veteran NaVorro Bowman allowed Lee to take the game in at a different perspective. Lee, who started six of the 13 games in which he played, had two stuffs among his 25 tackles.
Most disappointing rookie: Is it unfair to put Gareon Conley here? After all, in the cornerback's limited time on the field (he played only 92 snaps on defense) he was the Raiders' top-graded rookie by Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 79.6. But given his first-round status, and his playing in only two games because of a left shin injury suffered in OTAs that required surgery, "disappointing" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Conley. If he's healthy, at least the Raiders can say they have "two" first-rounders next year, right? Besides, Conley did show up against the New York Jets in Week 2, giving hope for the future of a secondary that will be rebuilt under Gruden.
Jury is still out on: Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu sure looked good in a uniform, as former defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. liked to say. Alas, Melifonwu also had a hard time getting on the field, as evidenced by his two stints on IR. Melifonwu played only 34 snaps on defense this season and, shockingly enough, started at left cornerback against the New England Patriots in Mexico City. Yeah, that was Norton's final game before being fired, and Melifonwu was awarded a paltry PFF grade of 49.4 for the season.
Undrafted rookie evaluation: Woefully undersized as an inside linebacker at 6 feet, 215 pounds, Division-III product Nicholas Morrow still managed to play in all 16 games and start five. He flew around the field and had five stuffs among his 60 tackles while recording four passes defensed while leading all Raiders rookies with 553 snaps played. Fellow linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster also flashed at times and the Raiders were high on receiver Isaac Whitney and tight end Pharaoh Brown late in a lost season. You could say GM Reggie McKenzie got more out of his undrafted rookies than his seven-man draft class in 2016, and that would be one reason for the Raiders' collapse this season.