After not having a single player named to the pro bowl last season, the Raiders are almost guaranteed to be sending at least one player this year. The Raiders did have three pro bowl alternates last season, but two of those players are gone. Center Rodney Hudson is the only player left on the roster that sniffed the pro bowl last year and he’ll likely have a good chance to get there this year. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is the most obvious candidate to make the pro bowl and Derek Carr has made three of the last four pro bowls, so he’ll have a good chance. Below we’re going to go through some the of players that aren’t expected to make the pro bowl but may surprise people.
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The Raiders took a risk when they drafted cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The risk was for personal issues more than talent issues, but Conley has yet to prove that he’s the shutdown cornerback the Raiders need him to be. He missed most of his rookie year due to injury so last year essentially served as his true rookie season. He looked really good in spurts. Most notably, he shut down Kansas City Chiefs superstar Tyreek Hill. That being said, he was ranked as the 68th best cornerback in the league by Pro Football Focus, so there is a lot of room for improvement.
Now that he has more help in the defensive backfield with the additions of players like LaMarcus Joyner and rookie Johnathan Abram, Conley should finally be able to show his worth. He’s flashed elite ability before and can finally be the CB1 the Raiders have been longing for since Nnamdi Asomugha signed with the Philidelphia Eagles in 2011. The AFC West has some great receivers, so if Conley can consistently make them have bad weeks like he was doing to receivers at the end of the 2018 season, he’ll easily find himself in the pro bowl.
The 2018 third-round pick hasn’t given any indication that he’s close to ascending to pro bowl level production if you just look at his stats. The former LSU defensive end only put up a single sack last season and he had plenty of chances to do so. However, Key’s offseason has been interesting. In a media session during minicamp, Key told reporters that, “Coach [Brenston Buckner] had a whole clip of my almost 13 sacks. It was very nerve-racking because I could’ve had a better first year, but we all learn from those mistakes.” If Key could turn those “almost sacks” into actual sacks, he could easily find himself in the pro bowl. Key also put on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason and claims he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness. Last year, the Raiders defensive line didn’t have a lot of threats on it. The team added Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick in the draft so that should automatically make Key better as most of the focus will probably be on Ferrell. Key is long, athletic and it seems like he might be strong now. If he can avoid the mistakes that cost him a double-digit sack season in 2018, he could be a star for the silver and black.
It’s been widely publicized that the Raiders didn’t pick up safety Karl Joseph’s fifth-year option. 2019 will be his last year in the silver and black if he can’t bring it all together. Joseph hasn’t been bad for the Raiders, he was actually the team’s best defender in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. He just hasn’t lived to the hype of being a first-round pick. Outside of Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense has been subpar for several years now. It is likely due to either a lack of talent, bad coaching or both. This season will showcase the most talent the Raiders have had on defense since Joseph entered the NFL. It will also mark the second year in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system. If Joseph can build upon last year’s success, he could be getting that new contract and a ticket to Orlando to boot.
The Raiders’ “best-kept secret” is starting to not be much of a secret anymore. Tight end Darren Waller has been spending the offseason making the case that the Raiders don’t need to find a replacement Jared Cook because they already have one. Waller has spent most of his NFL career away from the field due to suspensions for substance abuse related offenses. At only 26-years old, Waller still has plenty of time to turn things around and solidify himself as the Raider tight end of the future. Most of the focus will be on wide receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams. This should give Waller amble opportunity to get open and make some big plays. With Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, the crown for best tight end in the AFC could be wide open. Obviously, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is a beast, but two tight ends get selected to the pro bowl each year. Time will tell, but Waller could be the man for the job.
The only thing that would make a Josh Jacobs appearance in the 2019 pro bowl a surprise is that he’s a rookie. The fact of the matter is: most of the top running backs in the NFL play in the NFC. Jacobs could easily find himself taking the third spot in the pro bowl behind San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell. He’ll get competition from Steelers running back James Conner and Bengals running back Joel Mixon, but Jacobs can put up the receiving numbers to put him over the top. Three of the last four top running backs taken in the draft made the pro bowl their rookie year. Jon Gruden loves to run the ball and with Marshawn Lynch retiring, there doesn’t seem to be anybody ahead of Jacobs on the depth chart. Jacobs should easily put up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and could be the biggest breakout star of the Raiders offense in 2019.