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Is Jon Gruden the answer for the Oakland Raiders?

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2018. Today it’s the Oakland Raiders.

The Oakland Raiders have been busy this offseason. Originally giving former head coach Jack Del Rio an extension in February of 2017, that all changed the moment Jon Gruden somehow came available, and the Raiders offered him everything they possibly could to get him to come back. If I were Gruden I’d ask for three Hawaiian islands as part of the deal, but hey, can’t get too picky.

So Gruden is here and with that comes an overhaul—and we mean overhau—of the roster, not unlike the 2017 San Francisco 49ers roster purge.

The result is a pretty intriguing line-up that has some great talent on it. The problem is getting back from some awful numbers in 2017. The Raiders had a defense ranking in the back half of the league in several categories. Points against, they come at 20th, yards they sit at 23. Offensively they sit at 18th overall in yardage and 23rd in points scored. Those are not good numbers, especially when you handed Derek Carr all that money last year.

Draft picks

Round 1: Kolton Miller (OT)
Round 2: P.J. Hall (DT)
Round 3: Brandon Parker (OT)
Round 3: Arden Key (DE)
Round 4: Nick Nelson (CB)
Round 5: Maurice Hurst (DT)
Round 5: Johnny Townsend (P)
Round 6: Azeem Victor (LB)
Round 7: Marcell Ateman (WR)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Jordy Nelson (WR)
Doug Martin (RB)
Tahir Whitehead (LB)

Trying to outline all the changes in the Raiders roster is an exercise in frustration, so all you need to know is this: Things have changed. The team has let a number of players walk, be it in free agency or release.

They grabbed Kolton Miller in the first round. It fulfills a need, but it clearly was making up for the fact the 49ers took Mike McGlinchey with the ninth pick. The Miller pick was a bit of a reach, but they doubled down with the P.J. Hall pick. Another pick that helps the team, but also another gamble for the team. Hall didn’t even make an invite to the combine, but some consider him the next Aaron Donald, so there’s some high reward there.

On the free agency side of things, the Raiders released Michael Crabtree and brought in Jordy Nelson who was released from the Green Bay Packers. For running back depth behind Marshawn Lynch they signed Doug Martin who should make a nice piece with Lynch. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski was also not in the team’s long-term plans and has recently signed Seattle. Why am I bringing up the kicker? Well he was drafted with the 17th overall pick at one point and he had three contract extensions. Kickers are people too!

It all adds up to an intriguing roster, but one that is definitely a project. I think there’s some chances for explosiveness, but I think it’s going to need a year to really gel and take in Gruden’s culture before becoming a force in the AFC. If anyone can do it, Gruden can.

Way too early gambling line

49ers -4

The matchup

The Raiders match up really really well to this 49ers team. One problem: Thursday Night Football. Given how the rosters are close in terms of ability, I would have liked this to be a Sunday or Monday prime time game, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. The 49ers gave the best Thursday Night Football contest in 2017, so maybe they can do it again, but I’m skeptical given the product shown on TNF. Given that it’s in Week Nine, this game will give us a great look at what the 49ers are for 2018. It’s at that perfect point in the season where the rust is off, the offense and defenses are as close to a finished product as they’ll ever be, and any huge issues are exposed.

All that said, Gruden could be the answer. But like his players, I wonder if he’s going to need a year in the league to really see what still works and what he needs to adopt. I also think the Raiders defense needs another year with those draft picks to be truly effective. The 49ers will win what I expect to be a high scoring game and Garoppolo will get a field goal facilitated to seal the deal.