ALAMEDA -- It's not often a team gets immediate impact from a fourth-round draft pick, especially a defensive end from a MAC school.
When coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders selected Maxx Crosby out of Eastern Michigan, most experts assumed the 6-foot-5, 256-pound defensive end would be a back-end depth player or special teams contributor in the NFL. Perhaps he could be a situational pass rusher at best in Year 1 in silver and black. He needed to get stronger, quicker and develop better technique.
So much for that.
Ever since starting to get more playing time in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts, Crosby has been a key member of the Raiders' front line. His steady improvement, along with that of fellow rookie Clelin Ferrell, has helped the Raiders defense elevate its play despite the rash of injuries they've endured.
In the Raiders' Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Crosby had his best game to date. He terrorized Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley all day long, totaling five tackles, four sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Oakland's 17-10 win at the Coliseum. Crosby was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort.
"It's just a start," Crosby said Wednesday of the award. "It's awesome to get the awards and all that stuff, but we're in the mix of trying to make the playoffs. So that's what's most important now, so we're just going to stay focused."
His stellar play hasn't been a surprise to Gruden. He raved about Crosby's energy and relentless from almost the moment he arrived. The skepticism of the fourth-round pick's ability to be an immediate contributor remained, but it's gone now.
"We pretty much saw it in training camp," Gruden said of Crosby's ability. "We'd go back to the hotel at night and watch the training camp tape. He was going up against Kolton Miller and Trent Brown every day and he struggled at times, but he never backed down, had some really great second effort plays and he's developed rush. We saw it from the very beginning. Happy for his award and happy for his success. Hopefully, that continues."
The uptick in Crosby and Ferrell's production has coincided with the Raiders' three-game win streak in which they knocked off the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers and Bengals at home to surge into playoff contention. The Raiders are plus-five in turnover differential in those three games, forcing seven takeaways over that span.
That starts up front with Crosby and the pass rush, as their pressure is key in forcing opposing quarterbacks into rushing throws and making mistakes the Raiders' opportunistic secondary can take advantage of.
"We have a lot of guys back there that can make plays," Crosby said of the Raiders' secondary. "It comes down to us making the quarterback get rid of the ball. So that's what we've been doing. We just got to keep improving, keep learning -- you know we have new guys like Dion Jordan who had a great first game.
"We just got to keep it rolling. Yeah, I'm excited."
If the 6-4 Raiders are to make the playoffs or perhaps steal the AFC West from the Chiefs, the pass rush will have to maintain the form it has shown since the Silver and Black returned home from its five-game road odyssey. Crosby will be a key to that. As will Ferrell, Jordan and Benson Mayowa.
Putting your faith in a rookie fourth-round pick might raise some eyebrows, but Crosby has rewarded the Raiders' faith in him so far this season.
"Mad Maxx" has been exactly what Gruden thought he would be.