ALAMEDA, Calif. — When Raiders coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock assembled the club’s 2019 rookie class, they probably envisioned the players needing time to develop. But through 10 games, the group already has become critical to the Raiders’ 6-4 record.
It’s rare to see a team have rookies so integral on offense and defense, but that’s what the Raiders have done by hitting on their top and midround picks, plus undrafted fullback Alec Ingold. The Raiders lead the NFL with 14 rookie touchdowns — the Giants are No. 2 with seven — and 10 rookie sacks.
There’s still plenty left to prove because of the small sample size. But to this point, each of the Raiders’ top eight draft picks — defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, safety Johnathan Abram, cornerback Trayvon Mullen, defensive end Maxx Crosby, cornerback Isaiah Johnson, tight end Foster Moreau and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow — has displayed an ability to make plays.
After Sunday’s 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, tight end Darren Waller said the 2019 rookies have been performing “through the roof.”
“They’ve all had their moments, all had contributions that are humongous,” Waller said.
Here are some of the highlights:
■ Jacobs is rewriting the Raiders’ rookie rushing record book, tallying 923 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns.
■ After Crosby’s four-sack performance against Cincinnati, only Jacksonville’s Josh Allen (eight) and San Francisco’s Nick Bosa (seven) have recorded more than Crosby’s 6½ sacks among rookies.
■ Ferrell had 2½ sacks against the Los Angeles Chargers.
■ Moreau has four touchdowns, leading all rookie tight ends.
■ Renfrow caught the winning touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions.
■ Mullen had the game-clinching interception against the Bengals.
■ Each of Ingold’s seven touches has resulted in a first down or touchdown.
So how has this rookie class attained its success? Moreau said it starts with coaching.
“No one teaches you better than Coach Gruden,” Moreau said. “He’s got a background in entertainment — and we are entertained every time he talks. We really are, and that’s no joke. He’s a special man, he’s a special coach.”
Moreau added that the coaching trickles down from Gruden to the position coaches.
But the first-year players are doing their part, too.
“We just bought in,” Jacobs said. “Like I said when we came in, the rookie class came in together and we came to an agreement that we were going to do things the right way and build this program. We wanted to try to shape it back to the Raider culture and back to what we feel like dominating football is.”
Given the way the rookies have adjusted to the NFL, Gruden said the staff has been trying to put more on them every week.
“The game plans are very long and extensive,” he said. “We’re not limiting anything. I think that’s the key for their development. You got to keep challenging these guys, giving them more and more things to do and experience.”
With the calendar soon turning to December, the rookies will be playing football longer than they ever have. Moreau said he’s not quite sure how they will avoid hitting the proverbial “rookie wall,” but he thinks the best way is to stick to their routines.
“I’m sure the only guys who really know where the rookie wall is are the guys who’ve crashed into it,” Moreau said.
But with the immediate success, there’s reason to believe the Raiders are set up to contend now and into the future.
“It’s been pretty well documented from our rookie class, and we are going to continue to raise the bar for them,” Gruden said.