Las Vegas Raiders 2021 Season Recap

The Las Vegas Raiders entered the season with mixed expectations. Many had them as a fringe playoff team, while others had them in the 5-8 win range, or even the basement dwellers of the league. During the 2021 offseason, the Raiders reshaped their offensive line, including drafting Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood in the first round, when many didn’t have him as a first-round prospect. The Raiders got off to a hot start behind Jon Gruden and Derek Carr. After three weeks, the Raiders were 3-0 and sitting atop the AFC West. 

Unfortunately, that 3-0 start was put in the rear-view mirror as Jon Gruden would resign as the head coach following the emails in the Dan Snyder case. Less than a month later, the Henry Ruggs incident would happen. With all of this and more going on, nobody expected the Raiders to finish the season strong, let alone make it to the playoffs. Fortunately, Rich Bisaccia would take reigns of the head coaching position and win their final four games after starting 6-7 to enter the playoffs. An unfortunate end to the season would come in the wild card round as the Cincinnati Bengals would defeat the Raiders 26-19. 

Make sure to check out all of our other NFL Season Recaps.

What Went Right 

Las Vegas was supposed to have one of the worst defensive units in the league this year. Under Gus Bradley, the Raiders finished as the 14th-best defense in terms of yards given up. Key players on the defensive side, specifically Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue, helped the defense become a unit that was much better than it has been in years past. The pass-rushing duo combined for 18 sacks on the season. The secondary was also better than it has been over the last few seasons. The addition of Casey Hayward gave the Raiders a cornerback that had played under Bradley before, plus was a teacher to the young secondary members. 

Carr had been one of the more heated discussions among analysts and talking heads at the quarterback position. Many didn’t think he was a franchise quarterback, while others think he was. During the 2021 season, Carr showed time and time again why the Raiders should trust him as the franchise quarterback. He finished fifth with 4,804 passing yards, despite not having his number one wide receiver in the lineup for most of the season. Carr also finished 13th in the league in touchdowns but ranked in the top-five in interceptions. Unless things get wild, Carr will be the starter in Las Vegas for the 2022 season. 

What Went Wrong 

While Carr may have had one of the best statistical seasons of his career, it didn’t come easily. The Raiders’ offensive line was one of the worst in the league, to no surprise, and Carr ended up being sacked a whopping 40 times. Leatherwood was supposed to be the starting right tackle, and when that didn’t work, they ended up moving him to right guard, which also didn’t work. The move to right guard made Brandon Parker the starting right tackle. While many Raider fans said it wasn’t that big of a deal, the trading of Rodney Hudson came back to haunt them this year. 

While the defense was better than usual, giving up yards, the number of points opposing offenses scored was still towards the bottom of the league. The Las Vegas offense can score points, but they still have limited firepower against some of the other teams, which doesn’t go great for the Raiders when they get behind early in a game. 

Team Award Winners 

MVP – Rich Bisaccia 

When Gruden was let go by the Raiders, many expected their season to be over. It looked like that would be the case when they were 6-7 with four weeks to go. As we know now, the Raiders wound up making the playoffs, and there has been nothing but good things said about Bisaccia. There was a video where Bisaccia and Zay Jones had a conversation in the middle of a game on the sidelines where both said the other was doing a great job. To push this point further, Bisaccia stayed in his office after the loss to the Bengals and wrote handwritten letters to each player on the roster. 

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Alex Leatherwood

Las Vegas spent most of their 2021 draft class on the defensive side of the ball, as they only spent two of their choices on offense. Leatherwood was the first choice of the whole class and gets the award on the offensive side of the ball. There wasn’t any other direction to go, and it is quite concerning that the first selection of the class had to be moved from right tackle to right guard and still struggled. Look for Las Vegas to address the offensive line early in the draft again. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Nate Hobbs 

There were two players worthy of this award. Second-round choice Trevon Moehrig was one of the steals on day two of the draft and lived up to the hype many across Twitter gave him. The winner, though, is Hobbs. The cornerback selected in the fifth round of the draft and 157th overall finished the season as a starter was thrust into the lineup early. He was relied upon more following the Gareon Conley incident. The former Illinois cornerback finished the season with 74 tackles, three pass deflections, a forced fumble, a sack, and an interception. 

Biggest Surprise – Zay Jones 

 When Ruggs was released, the Raiders had little to no options outside of Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller in the passing game. When Waller went down though, somebody had to step up. That player was Jones. The former second-round pick was seen as a bust before this year. Before this year, Jones had posted career-highs in 2018 with 56 catches for 652 yards and seven touchdowns. This year, he finished close to two of those, with a 47-546-1. From Week 12 on, Jones had five targets, three catches, and over 20 yards in every game to round out the season, including being targeted ten times, catching eight of them for 120 yards in Week 17 against the Indianapolis Colts. 

Biggest Disappointment – Darren Waller 

Waller is a top-five, if not top-three tight end in the league. He was Carr’s favorite target in each of the last two seasons before the 2021 season. Unfortunately, Waller dealt with injuries throughout the season, including a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the latter part of the season. Waller finished the season with 55 catches for 665 yards and two touchdowns. The 55 catches ranked 15th in the league, while the yards ranked 11th. Those are still great numbers, but not what we are accustomed to for Waller. 

One Burning Question 

Who will the Raiders Hire? 

In a surprising move earlier this week, the Raiders fired Mike Mayock. The former NFL Network employee lasted a short time in Las Vegas and seemed to have been the one that ownership blamed for the countless issues this season. Las Vegas has already brought in Ed Dodds for an interview and will likely bring more in to interview. The other issue at hand is the man who will lead the roster. Bisaccia more than deserves the opportunity to be a full-time head coach after the job he did this year. All of the players love him, so it would be wise for the Raiders to keep him. While that may be the case, all signs point to Jim Harbaugh potentially being the new head coach if given an offer. It will surely be interesting to see who will find themselves in those two positions. 

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