As a pure pass-rushing talent, Arden Key caught the Raiders’ attention.
So much, in fact, that Oakland overlooked some red flags to select the former LSU standout in the third round of the NFL draft.
Key had 12 sacks in his sophomore season for the Tigers and 21 sacks in his college career, but was suspended for one game in 2016, took a leave of absence from football last spring – reportedly to go to rehab for marijuana use, according to Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com – and missed several games in 2017 because of injury in a season in which he also gained too much weight. Yet despite all that, and coming off injuries to his shoulder, knee and hand, the Raiders were excited by Key’s abiity to get to the quarterback as an edge rusher.
“We had (Key) ranked very, very high as a pure pass rusher in this draft,” Gruden told reporters. “It’s a commodity that’s hard to find. I’ve heard a lot of critics have talked about the risk involved.”
Gruden and Raiders evaluators, however, believe Key can be an impact player.
“I like this kid a lot,” Gruden told Gutierrez. “He checked out with us and he can bend the edge, I know that.”
Key is in shape now, at 246 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, and will get snaps at defensive end in passing situations. If he can be effective, he should take some pressure off Kahlil Mack, Bruce Irvin and other members of the front seven.
Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie told Gutierrez that he’s satisfied from conversations with Key that the athlete realizes he needs to be better off the field and more dedicated on it, and the organization is willing to give chances to players who are eager to overcome past mistakes.
“If they’re willing to stand up, own it and get better within themselves, we’re going to give them a shot,” said McKenzie. “We’re going to hold them accountable, and this staff is going to do a great job of holding them accountable and helping them.”
A recent story in The Athletic, however, quoted one NFL executive that his team would not have drafted Key.
“He was off our board,” the unnamed executive said. “We wouldn’t have touched him. Clearly has talent, but you were not going to find many people at LSU vouching for him.”
Key said that at the team’s recent mini camp, Irvin talked with Key and has stepped into the role of being his mentor, according to Levi Damien of SB Nation. Key told Damien Irvin already has talked to him about “how to be a pro,” and the things he needs to do to be his best.
Key says he’s learned from past actions.
“I know I’m not a third-round pick,” he told the media after being selected by Oakland. “I’m a first-round talent, top five. I went through some situations that caused me to be a third-round pick. I’ve learned from those things and this is the consequence of me going through what I went through.”