Remember when it was cool to make fun of Jon Gruden and the Raiders for trying to trade everyone with a pulse for draft picks? Gruden and his youngsters are the ones smiling now.
Mike Mayock was the cool mock draft guy on television with all the hot takes for which team would be better off with which player coming out of college. So, what were the Raiders thinking when they decided to hire Mayock as their general manager? Were they even thinking at all?
Mayock, Gruden, and Raider Nation are all smiles these days. The team is currently 6-4 and appear primed for a playoff push. Yes, the Raiders are now turning heads for all the right reasons and they’re also getting ready to visit the Jets, this Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
There’s always a method to one’s madness. When Gruden decided to roll the dice and trade away his two best players, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, you can count me amongst the many who thought the charismatic head coach would be back analyzing Monday Night Football just in time to remind us all how much he loves the game. But, as it has turned out so far, the decision to dismantle what was there and rebuild almost from scratch has produced positive results.
Oakland’s run game is alive and kicking thanks to the explosive Josh Jacobs. If there’s anything veteran quarterback Derek Carr needed this season, especially after the Antonio Brown experiment flamed out, it was a complimentary run game. Through 10 games, Jacobs has rushed for 923 yards this season while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
The defense is still a work in progress, but there’s also light at the end of this tunnel.
Defensive ends Clein Ferrell and Maxx Crosby are bringing the pass rush that Gruden and Mayock were expecting. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen has benefited from increased playing time and is justifying his case to be a full-time starter.
And then there’s the veteran quarterback himself, Derek Carr. We may not know how Gruden truly feels about Carr until one or the other has moved on from the team. However, for the time being, things are looking up – long as Carr continues to produce points instead of turnovers.
It wasn’t Carr’s fault Antonio Brown couldn’t keep himself out of the news for the all the wrong reasons and eventually was given his release before ever playing a game for the Raiders. But what Carr doesn’t have in a dynamic, number one, wide receiver he does have in a young, scrappy, hard-working, excellent route runner in Hunter Renfrow.
Shortly after Gruden returned to the Raiders in 2018 as their head coach, he was asked what defines a “Gruden Grinder”.
Renfrow is what Gruden might refer to as one of his “Gruden Grinders”.
“I just like guys who love to play, Gruden said. “Guys that will compete. Guys that will play for nothing. We haven’t signed a lot of household names around the league, but we, I think, have brought in guys that are going to be consistent, everyday grinders, man. Guys that are going to compete their ass off and fight for inches and know what to do and set a tone.”
Renfrow has emerged as a key component in the passing game for Gruden’s West Coast offense. In the slot wide receiver position, he’s become a reliable go-to option for Carr. The West Coast offense relies on short, horizontal passing routes. Renfrow is giving opposing teams nightmares with his precise route running and ability to get open.
Renfrow’s talent has helped Carr thrive in the passing game and, therefore, opens up the field for big-run opportunities by Jacobs.
Jacobs, Renfrow, Ferrell, Mullin, and Crosby. They’ve all shown qualities of what it takes to be a “Gruden Grinder”. But they’re also all rookies playing integral roles in a playoff push not many could envision at the start of this season.
This Sunday, the Raiders bring their three-game win streak into MetLife Stadium. The Jets have won their last two games and will be looking to keep momentum on their side. The Raiders, meanwhile, find themselves in unfamiliar territory this late in the season. Oakland controls its own destiny for a spot in the playoffs, their schedule is also very favorable the rest of the way.
It may take a few minutes for that to set in for the casual NFL fan. The laughter which used to follow after talking about the Raiders has now been replaced with nods of approval.
Gruden’s Grinders are bringing back “Just Win Baby”, one week at a time.