Las Vegas Raiders 2021 Team Previewby Jonas Clark August 24, 2021 1 comment
In 2020, the Las VegasRaiders made their debut in “Sin City”, but only slightly improved their record from 7-9 in 2019 to 8-8, missing the playoffs. The bright spot, however, is that head coach Jon Gruden got his team so close to a winning record in just his third season since taking over the team. It isn’t easy to compete in the AFC West, going against the Kansas City Chiefs twice a season, as well as the Los Angeles Chargers who are trending up. Now in the fourth season of his unprecedented 10-year contract, Gruden looks to get Derek Carr and company back into the postseason for the first time since the 2016 season.
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The biggest move of the offseason for the Raiders was a change in defensive coordinator. In January, Gruden hired Gus Bradley to replace Paul Guenther. A crafty move, Bradley joins the Raiders after being with the Chargers since 2017. With a deeper understanding of the division rival’s personnel, that intel can be extremely beneficial the two times per season the teams face each other. After Gruden was disappointed in the time that offensive tackle Trent Brown missed in 2020, the Raiders moved the pro bowl tackle to the New England Patriots with a seventh-round pick for a 2022 fifth-round pick. Arguably the biggest personnel loss of the offseason, the defensive additions of Yannick Ngakoue and Solomon Thomas may make up for it.
The offense for the Raiders was top 10 league-wide, both in passing and rushing, finishing 10th overall in scoring too. Josh Jacobs had the third-most rushing yards, picking up 1,065 yards on the ground, and was recognized with a Pro Bowl nod. Carr had a stellar season, tossing 27 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. With a new look on defense, if the offense can match their production from last season, a Wild Card spot is within reach. Even taking down the Chiefs won’t be outside of the realm of possibility this season. Last year they went 1-1 with the AFC Champions, nearly taking both games. The defense gave up a touchdown drive in the final minutes of their second contest to give Kansas City the win.
For being 10th in the NFL in scoring offense last season, the Raiders couldn’t overcome their defense that allowed 478 points. It’s what caused Guenther to be fired before the end of the season, and the ground defense had a lot to do with that. Hiring Bradley is a strong response, as are additions of Ngakoue and Thomas, not to mention Casey Hayward Jr. and Karl Joseph in the secondary. Bradley has coached up strong defenses at every stop, including Seattle, Jacksonville, and Los Angeles. If he can do the same in Las Vegas, the Chiefs have legitimate competition.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Carr is the starter, barring injury, but Mariota isn’t a bad insurance plan. Though he hasn’t quite been the same since his broken fibula in 2016, Carr is getting his game back, and it helps to have weapons. Just two years ago, nothing seemed certain when the team was on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Carrying Peterman feels unnecessary, but for whatever reason, Gruden has been attracted to the quarterback out of the University of Tennessee since the coach’s days in the ESPN broadcast booth.
If early impressions continue to prove true, the Raiders will enjoy one of the deepest backfields in the NFL this season. Jacobs finished third in rushing yards last year and will be the featured back once again. Drake is a great complementary back who nearly had 1,000 yards himself with Arizona last year. Early in his career with Miami, he showed a knack for catching the ball too. Emmons and Richards both look to provide special teams support while serving as insurance in the running game.
FB (1) – Alec Ingold
The team’s fullback in 2020, Ingold hasn’t done anything to lose his job entering the 2021 season. Versatile as a blocker, rusher, and receiver, Ingold helps move the chains in all areas of the game. Just 24-years-old, Ingold enters his third season with the Raiders.
A mismatch of young talent and crafty veterans, this unit has the potential to be efficient. Brown and Snead join Edwards as the Raiders look to replace Nelson Agholor, who is with New England. He led the receiver room in yards and touchdowns, but his absence opens a bigger role for Ruggs as well. Not all of them may last the season with the team, but the initial 53-man roster is likely. Turner looks to be primarily a return specialist while providing depth at receiver.
Waller is a one-man wrecking crew himself, with a dynamic combination of size and athleticism. He caught 73 percent of his targets last season for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. Bushman, a rookie, was a preseason candidate for the Mackey Award at BYU in 2020 before suffering an Achilles injury in fall camp and losing the season. A pass-catching tight end, he looks to learn from Waller, while Moreau is more of a traditional blocking tight end.
Losing Brown leaves big shoes to be filled, though the team had to fill them most of last season anyway. Miller is the man for that job, working next to Incognito who was initially cut at the beginning of the offseason. A 2020 fourth-round pick out of Clemson, Simpson played in seven games last season and could be in line for Incognito’s job in the near future. Parker, the backup left tackle, has played double-digit games each of his three seasons with the Raiders, starting four games last year.
Signing Thomas, McCoy, and Philon is quite the response to having one of the worst rushing defenses last year. No longer lost within a defensive arsenal like San Francisco had, Thomas can be featured more. A resume like that of six-time pro bowl selection McCoy speaks for itself. Philon is an interesting prospect, returning to the NFL after issues off the field saw him miss the last two seasons. A sixth-round pick of the Chargers in 2015, he registered eight sacks between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Ngakoue didn’t become the starter that the Baltimore Ravens thought they were receiving from their trade with the Minnesota Vikings, letting him go in free agency. Now with Las Vegas, the former Pro Bowler is reunited with Bradley. He’s registered at least eight sacks in each of his five seasons in the league. Crosby, Ferrell, and Nassib should all benefit from the presence of Ngakoue, both on and off the field. The rookie, Koonce, will mostly see time on special teams. He was the team’s third-round selection in the spring.
Morrow and Littleton will anchor the linebacker unit, which can be nasty if Muse is fully healthy from his toe injury. Missing all of his rookie season in 2020, Muse ran a 4.41 40-yard dash coming out of Clemson. A stand-out at UNLV, White played in four games last season as a rookie and is a strong candidate to provide depth and play on special teams. Kwiatkoski had a decent season last year after coming over from the Chicago Bears.
More Pro Bowl experience brought in this offseason, Hayward is also a key addition who has experience with Bradley. Hayward spent the last five seasons with the Chargers, further bringing in intel against the division opponent. Mullen had a great sophomore season in 2020, totaling 54 solo tackles and two interceptions while successfully defending 14 passes. Another Clemson product, he’s cemented himself in the Raiders’ secondary.
Abram missed most of his rookie season with a shoulder injury but made up for lost time last season. In 13 games, he was in on 85 tackles (59 solo) and defended six passes, intercepting two of them. Availability will be a focus this season, but he’s poised to break out. Just in case, however, Joseph is a quality backup option. Starting along with Abrams back deep is Moehrig, a 6’2” safety out of TCU.
Cole has had two strong seasons with the Raiders as the punter and is in line to hold the position for a third season. He averaged 40 yards per punt last season and owns a career-best of 70 yards. Carlson and Sieg are the only kicker and long-snapper respectively on the roster and are locks to make the roster. After a rough 2019, Carlson missed just two field goals last season. Both came in the 40-49 yard range despite being a perfect 4-4 from 50 yards or more.
One Player to Add
With just $2 million left in cap space, the Raiders can’t do much on the free agency market, so any additions they’d make to the roster have to be very cheap or come via trade. Given the focus on defense, one interesting target could be Reuben Foster. Yes, he’s missed the last two seasons to injury, but his injury issues would provide a low-risk, high-reward investment. A former first-round talent, a motivated Foster could be a difference-maker in bursts. In just 10 games his rookie season, Foster had 59 solo tackles, seven for loss.
2021 Outlook & Odds
Gruden’s staff shouldn’t expect any mid-season firings. It’s also extremely unlikely that Mark Davis fires Gruden or general manager Mike Mayock midseason either. With so many players returning from injury or just being out of the league, there are stories up and down this roster to watch. Given the emergence of Waller last year, however, it will be interesting to see how other teams prepare for him and what impact that has on the offense. Las Vegas is projected at just 7.5 wins, slightly favoring the under. The main reason for the slight is the extra love given to the Chargers. Gruden’s Raiders should outperform their Las Vegas projection and get his winning season. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to make the postseason.
Season Prediction: 9-8 and Miss the Playoffs
Follow Jonas Clark on Twitter @jarkclonas
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