The 2018 season was filled with losses and disappointments for Jon Gruden in his first year (of his second stint) as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
But, he called it a transitional year. At one point, after his team fell to 1-8 in November en route to a 4-12 record, Gruden called it "painful" and difficult, but that it would be "the foundation that this program will lean on – mental toughness and physical toughness."
He pointed to better times ahead.
Now, after an active offseason in free agency and a draft with four picks among the top 35, Gruden’s Raiders could have a much better experience in Year 2 of his leadership.
This week, in fact, a pair of analysts on a panel of NFL experts brought together by ESPN.com, pointed to Oakland as the most improved team in the league after its moves since the end of the 2018 season.
Dan Graziano, a national NFL writer for ESPN, wrote: "I count as many as eight potential Raiders starters who weren’t on their roster when the 2018 season ended. They traded for Antonio Brown, hit free agency hard and picked four players in the first two rounds of the draft who have a chance to play a lot of snaps this year. Last year was a tough tear-down, but this year’s Raiders roster looks more like what Jon Gruden is trying to build."
Brown, the former Steelers wide receiver, was the marquee move this offseason, but other additions of note include wideout Tyrell Williams, right tackle Trent Brown, linebackers Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict, safety Lamarcus Joyner and rookies such as running back Josh Jacobs, defensive end Clelin Ferrell and safety Johnathan Abram.
Mike Sando of ESPN agreed with Graziano, noting the Raiders "had so much room for improvement." They addressed most of those needs, he wrote and look "much better on paper."
Added Sando: "Now we’ll see how that translates against a potentially difficult schedule."
The Raiders, in fact, have been judged to have the toughest schedule in 2019, based on the strength of their opponents