OAKLAND, Calif. — Few Raiders are virtually guaranteed a roster spot when the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020. So Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs and even the injured Johnathan Abram, the team’s 2019 first-round picks, are part of a select group.
“I like them all,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “They’re all good football players, they’re smart, they’re into it. They have leadership skills, mental toughness. I think they’re all physical, every-down football players. I’m really happy with them.”
All three made an impact in the Raiders’ season-opening win over the Denver Broncos. Abram had five tackles and a pass defensed, playing the whole game despite suffering a serious shoulder injury in the second quarter. Ferrell recorded a sack in the fourth quarter. And Jacobs became the first player in the NFL since LaDainian Tomlinson to record at least 100 yards from scrimmage and two rushing touchdowns in his debut.
Jacobs and Ferrell figure to have prominent roles again Sunday when the Raiders play host to the Kansas City Chiefs, while Abram will be recovering from season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff.
To put themselves in position to draft all three, the Raiders traded star edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper for a series of draft picks, including two in the first round.
The Raiders selected Jacobs, a running back out of Alabama, with the No. 24 pick acquired from the Chicago Bears for Mack. The team selected Abram, a safety out of Mississippi State, with the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 27 pick acquired for Cooper. With the No. 4 pick, which the Raiders had after going 4-12 in Gruden’s first season as coach, the team selected Ferrell, a defensive end from Clemson.
Jacobs had 24 touches in Week 1 with 23 carries and a reception — more than he had in a single college game. In fact, the only time Jacobs even rushed as many as 20 times in his college career was last year in the Crimson Tide’s 24-0 victory over Abram and Mississippi State. Jacobs rushed 20 times for 97 yards and a touchdown in that game. He also made two receptions for 12 yards and another touchdown, and returned a kickoff 27 yards.
Despite the heavy workload in the Raiders’ 24-16 win over the Broncos, Jacobs said there were no serious physical aftereffects. Gruden said he liked how Jacobs got right back on the practice field.
“He’s sore, I’m sure, but I think it sends a message to your teammates when you can come out there after carrying the ball 24, 25 times and practice the way he did,” Gruden said Wednesday. “It was really pretty good to see.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther also praised Ferrell after his debut, saying the defensive end played with a physical demeanor.
“I thought he’s off to a good start,” Guenther said.
And while Abram will miss the rest of the season, he left an impression on quarterback Derek Carr by playing through his shoulder injury.
“That right there shows you what kind of man he is,” Carr said. “He’s a grown man. He’s a Raider, and he’s our Raider. And I’ll make sure he’s still a part of this, he feels a part of it.”
Even before the three made their regular-season debuts, teammates said they brought a positive attitude and work ethic to the meeting room and practice field. That is the vibe and culture Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock want to institute within the organization.
Ferrell and Abram’s teammates on defense say both do not look, sound or act like typical rookies.
“They didn’t bring us in here to be no rookie,” Ferrell said in an early training camp news conference. “‘Rookie’ can kind of get a connotation of you can sit in the back, wait your turn. You don’t got to step out in front and really show that you want to play. I consider myself just a first-year player, that’s all it is.”
Ferrell brings a sense of accountability to everything he does, much like Abram. In the middle of camp, middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict said he got chills during a meeting when Abram stood up and said something to the defensive unit regarding a play they were watching on film.
“I don’t want to say it because it’s in-house study,” Burfict said. “But he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Said Guenther: “When he’s out there, he sounds like a seven- or eight-year vet. I think the players take notice of that, just how he prepares, how he studies, how he communicates with the guys on and off the field. The thing’s not too big for him.”
Much the same has been said about Jacobs on offense. His teammates and coaches say he’s quiet but a quick study.
“We’ve been real happy with his development,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He understands the responsibility of being the lead back and how many other players’ livelihoods he has in his hands in terms of the protections and understanding run fits for him.”
There’s still plenty for Ferrell, Jacobs and Abram to prove. But as it stands, each appears to be exactly the kind of franchise cornerstone Gruden and Mayock envisioned before the draft.
Who: Chiefs at Raiders
When: 1:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Radio: KDWN-AM (720), KYMT-FM (93.1), KCYE-FM (102.7)
Line: Chiefs -7; total 53½