Off-field issues. Checkered past. Questions about character.
Such issues routinely showed up on the resumes of Oakland Raiders players, so they certainly didn’t deter new head coach Jon Gruden from taking defensive end Arden Key in the third round of Friday’s NFL Draft.
Once projected as a first-round selection by NFL DraftScout senior analyst Rob Rang, Key’s stock dipped due to myriad issues, including a decline in production, injuries and, most notably, checking himself into rehab clinic to deal with a reported marijuana problem.
“He has had some difficult times in his young life. I know what he’s been through in his career,” said Gruden, who traded a pair of draft picks (Nos. 89 and 217) to the Los Angeles Rams to move up and grab Key with the 87th overall selection.
The 6-foot-5, 238-pound Key, who opted to forgo his senior season at Louisiana State to enter the draft, wound up his career third on the school’s all-time list with 21 sacks.
Key burst into national prominence during a spectacular sophomore season with the Tigers in which he set a school single-season mark with 12 sacks and added 14.5 tackles for losses.
That elevated Key into first-round draft consideration but he took a step back during a turbulent junior season, taking a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons and showing up at camp overweight after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Although his numbers dropped to 5.5 sacks in 2017, Key still managed to earn first-team All-SEC honors for the second straight season despite missing the final two games with a finger injury.
Key told reporters at his post-draft media brief on Friday that he has been unfairly characterized and was not shy in assessing his own talents.
“I’m not the guy the media portrays me to be,” said Key. “On-the-field stuff, there’s no question. Football is not the question. Everybody knows that, talent-wise, I’m a top-five pick. Automatic.”
Key gives Oakland a potential lethal pass-rushing duo opposite Khalil Mack and looms as one of the top risk-reward selections in the draft.
“We’ve done a lot of research on him,” said Gruden. “He has a lot to prove but, at the end of the third round, he’s a gamble worth taking. He has some qualities that are rare. He is a very good kid. This is a young person who needs some help right now, and we’re going to help him.”