Raiders' rookies pressed into action earlier than anticipated for 4-12 team

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Jon Gruden’s first Oakland Raiders draft class since 2001 offered his first building block in another franchise rebuild. And though the draft is the lifeblood of a team, the Raiders' 2018 rookies were expected to serve as complementary players to the likes of Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Amari Cooper. These rookies all hit that infamous rookie wall, at different points of the season, but they showed flashes of potential. Eight of the nine draft picks played in 2018, with all eight becoming regulars by the end of the season for a 4-12 team. Make of that what you will.

Overall rookie grade: Average

Best rookie: Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Concerns over a heart issue sent him home from the combine and caused the top-10 talent to drop to the fifth round (No. 140 overall), but the issue was basically nonexistent on the field. Instead, it was ankle trouble that caused Hurst to miss three of Oakland’s final four games. A 10-game starter, Hurst led the Raiders with four of the team’s league-low 13 sacks. Pro Football Focus rated Hurst third among rookie interior defensive players with an overall grade of 72.8, behind Detroit’s Da'Shawn Hand (87.4) and Tampa Bay’s Vita Vea (74.2). Hurst’s grade was also the third-highest among Raiders defensive players, behind strong safety Karl Joseph (74.5) and free safety Erik Harris (72.8).

Most improved rookie: Place-kicker Daniel Carlson. OK, we’re fudging a little bit. Carlson was actually drafted by the Vikings in the fifth round, but after a rough start -- he missed three of his first four field goal attempts, including all three in Minnesota’s 29-29 tie with the Packers in Week 2 -- he was cut. Oakland, which had already gone through Giorgio Tavecchio, Eddy Pineiro, Mike Nugent and Matt McCrane since training camp, signed Carlson on Oct. 23. Carlson proceeded to convert 16 of 17 field goals, including all three from at least 50 yards out, while setting a franchise record with a 94.1 percent overall make rate. He connected on all 18 of his PATs. “He’s my favorite player,” Gruden said. So there.

Jury is still out on ...: Left tackle Kolton Miller. How impressive was his closing speed in chasing down Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland in the season finale? His talent was apparent early in the season, when the Raiders’ first-rounder (No. 15 overall) was healthy and looked more like a sure thing than a reach. He allowed just five total pressures and no sacks in 117 pass-block snaps over Oakland’s first three games, per PFF. Then came the injuries, first a knee sprain and then a sprained elbow. As PFF notes, in Weeks 4-7, no offensive tackle allowed more pressures (60) or sacks (16) than Miller, and his overall grade of 48.2 through Week 7 ranked 67th among 70 OTs with at least 400 offensive snaps. Imagine how different his learning curve would have been had Donald Penn been healthy in the offseason and reclaimed his spot at left tackle, forcing Miller to break in at right tackle. "I see an awful lot of physical talent," new Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said of Miller. "Does he have a long way to go? Sure. But every rookie left tackle in the league that gets thrown in like that has a long way to go."

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Though the 2014 draft landed Oakland the likes of Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, right guard Gabe Jackson and defensive tackle Justin Ellis, former general manager Reggie McKenzie was most adept at finding hidden jewels among undrafted rookies. Perhaps linebacker Jason Cabinda fits that bill. The Raiders signed Cabinda to the 53-man roster off the practice squad Oct. 16, and he became the starting middle linebacker in Oakland’s 4-3 defense. He finished with 31 tackles on 164 defensive snaps over 10 games, and his 72.5 overall PFF grade would have ranked him third among all NFL linebackers had he played enough snaps to qualify. Long-snapper Trent Sieg also impressed after he was signed before Week 2, after veteran Andrew DePaola went down with a torn ACL in the opener.