A few days ago, the Houston Texans were unveiled as the last-ranked team in these power rankings. Today, there is a bit of a surprise as to who number 31 is in these power rankings. That team is the Las Vegas Raiders. Las Vegas finished the 2020 season with an 8-8 record, finishing two games out of the AFC playoffs. Las Vegas made many moves during the offseason, some better than others. The biggest may have been the hiring of Gus Bradley as the new defensive coordinator after years of abysmal defensive play under Paul Guenther. Of course, that’s not the only change to the roster.
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Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock, and Greg Olsen remain in their respective roles. Unfortunately, the free agency period saw the Raiders do some questionable things. Nelson Agholor, who finished last season with 48 catches for 896 yards, and eight touchdowns, signed with the New England Patriots, leaving another hole for the Las Vegas receiving core. Along with Agholor, Tyrell Williams also left, signing with the Detroit Lions. To replace those two, the Raiders brought in John Brown and Willie Snead. After posting a 1,000-yard season for the Bills in 2019, injuries hampered Brown to nine games. Snead, meanwhile, has never gotten back to his 2013 and 2014 form from New Orleans. He had 432 yards and three touchdowns for a Ravens team that was devoid of receiver talent.
The Raiders finished the 2020 season with only 21 sacks. Yannick Ngakoue was added to provide a spark to a pass-rush unit that desperately needs it. Ngakoue had eight sacks last season playing for Minnesota and Baltimore. Continuing to help with the front seven, Las Vegas added Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson, and Matt Dickerson. Las Vegas also lost Arden Key and Maurice Hurst to the 49ers.
After losing Devontae Booker to the Giants, Las Vegas made a surprising move to bring over Kenyan Drake from the Arizona Cardinals. Booker had over 400 yards and three touchdowns as the second back for the Raiders last year. Drake will likely take over in that role, which is a smaller role than he had for the Cardinals last year.
Offensive Line Makeover
Perhaps the most questionable move any team made in the offseason was how the Raiders shredded their once top-ten offensive line. While Trent Brown didn’t play most of last season due to injuries, his departure opened up a massive hole at right tackle once he was traded to the Patriots. Gabe Jackson was traded to the Seahawks in return for a fifth-round draft choice. The biggest move of all was trading Rodney Hudson to the Cardinals for a third-round pick. The Raiders moved three of their five starters in a matter of a few weeks.
The Raiders signed Nick Martin to compete for the starting center spot after being released by Houston. The selection of Jimmy Morrissey late on the third day of the draft was a good one, and he could also compete for that spot. The Raiders went on the clock with Teven Jenkins, Samuel Cosmi, and Christian Darrisaw on the board, but the choice was Alex Leatherwood. Leatherwood, who many thought was a better guard than tackle, will slot in as the starting right tackle. Selecting Leatherwood in the first was met with a lot of questioning about the decision-making between Gruden and Mayock.
- Overall – 73.39 (31st)
- Offense – 74.86 (27th)
- Defense – 71.93 (31st)
- Coach and Culture – 76.5 (21st)
Quarterbacks – 76, 22nd (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)
The Raiders still seemingly aren’t giving full reigns to Derek Carr as the starting quarterback. Quietly, Carr had his best season since 2016, but it seemed as though the coaching staff isn’t fully committed to him. The addition of Marcus Mariota last offseason was enough to put that into the air, but when Carr went down last year, Mariota stepped right in, and the coaching staff seemed content with either of the two once Carr got injured. Thankfully, he returned to action, but the Raiders fell apart late in the season.
Rounding out the depth chart is Nathan Peterman. The former bust has turned out to be a solid third option in the quarterback room, and Gruden has seemed to take a liking to him.
Overall, Carr is the starter, and there shouldn’t be any reason to think otherwise. Unfortunately, he seems to be in a worse position than last year, thanks to the departures of three of his starting linemen and his second-leading receiver heading to New England.
Running Backs – 87.5, 9th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)
If you were to ask people who the best player on the roster was, about half would say Josh Jacobs. After having an impressive rookie season, Jacobs continued his trend upward and has become one of the best young backs in the league. He rushed for over 1,000 yards once again but upped his touchdown total from seven to 12 this last season. Jacobs also continued his progression in the Las Vegas passing attack by almost doubling his reception total from his rookie season. The Raiders should continue to involve him in the passing attack, but the addition of Drake could put a cap on his receiving production. While he doesn’t have elite receiving production, Drake has seen similar stats to Jacobs in this regard.
Along with those two, Las Vegas still has Jalen Richard and Theo Riddick, who are pure third-down backs. In 2018, Richard had 81 targets for the Raiders. While that total took a massive dip, especially last year when he only had 23, he should still be a factor and get plenty of snaps. Riddick likely won’t make the roster, as he only had 11 touches last season in the four games he played.
Trey Ragas was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana. He is a power-back that will likely carve a role in short-yardage situations if he makes the roster this season. Ragas averaged six yards per carry during his time at Louisiana, where he toted the ball 596 times.
Pass Catchers – 69.5, 29th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense)
With the departure of Agholor, the Raiders are putting a lot of pressure onto Henry Ruggs to put it all together in his sophomore campaign. In 13 games last season as a rookie, he had 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns. It was a bit of a question if Carr could get the ball to Ruggs. With another offseason together, the two should connect a lot more in 2021. The Raiders also selected Bryan Edwards in the third round last year. With Agholor and Williams elsewhere, Edwards is expected to make a big jump and drastically outplay his rookie season, where he only had 11 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Hunter Renfrow is expected to keep producing in the slot. Renfrow finished second on the team in catches with 56 and totaled 656 yards with two touchdowns. Zay Jones will have a decrease in playing time due to the additions of Snead and Brown. His career has been up-and-down since being a darling of many in the draft community.
A quintet of young receivers will likely battle for the final receiver spots. Marcell Ateman was another favorite in the draft community but has struggled to find the field for the Raiders. Keelan Doss made fans on Hard Knocks as the hometown kid that many found out through that draft cycle’s Senior Bowl. Trey Quinn was a steal for Washington as Mr. Irrelevant in 2018. He had a significant role for Washington in 2019 but was released in 2020 and spent the season with the Jaguars. Dillon Stoner and DJ Turner were added as undrafted free agents that could turn some heads in training camp.
Of course, Darren Waller is the number one option in the aerial attack. He finished last season with 145 targets, catching 107 of them for 1,196 yards and eight touchdowns. Waller is debatably a top-three tight end in the league, and without him, the Raiders would rank even lower than this. A lot of the offense revolves around Waller, and it is easy to see why.
After having a solid rookie season catching five touchdowns, the Raiders didn’t put Foster Moreau onto the field as much as they should have in 2020. With Jason Witten out of the building, it should be easier for Moreau to get onto the field. He is a solid young tight end that could be a starter on a select handful of teams around the league. Derek Carrier and Matt Bushman will likely be the final two to round out the roster from the tight end standpoint.
As mentioned earlier, it would be wise of Gruden and Olsen to get Jacobs more involved in the receiving game. The duo of Drake and Jacobs should help Carr out of the backfield in the receiving game a good bit along with Richard.
Overall, Ruggs and Edwards need to make massive leaps for the passing attack to be as lethal as it even was last year. Waller and Renfrow are seemingly the only players you know what you’re getting in the receiving category. The additions of Brown and Snead are solid, but one of the young bucks desperately needs to be a player that Carr can count on for this year and years to come.
Offensive Line – 67.5, 32nd (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense)
While most people like to discuss the units that improved the most throughout the offseason, there isn’t enough talk about units that were gutted at the same time. Well, that’s what happened to the Las Vegas offensive line. The Raiders welcome three new starters along the offensive line while still keeping Kolton Miller and Richie Incognito, who missed 14 games last year. Other than those two, the starting five are brand new. To replace Hudson, the Raiders have Andre James. At 24 years old, James signed a multi-year extension this offseason after the Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 draft. Denzelle Good will replace Jackson at right guard, but he isn’t the same caliber as Jackson was. At right tackle, the Raiders replace Brown with Leatherwood.
Center Battle Brewing?
Center could be a bit of a competition. Las Vegas brought over Martin after his release from the Texans. Both James and Martin have a shot at the starting role, but with James already being comfortable with the scheme, he will likely get the first crack. Along with Martin, the Raiders also drafted Jimmy Morrissey, who many liked throughout the draft process.
The depth behind Miller and Leatherwood is lacking severely. Brandon Parker hasn’t developed much since being a third-round pick in 2018. Sam Young and Jaryd Jones-Smith are the only other tackles on the roster. On the interior, John Simpson is a player to keep tabs on. He played due to the injuries to Incognito and did a solid job. If Incognito’s health is still an issue, Simpson won’t cause much of an issue at either guard spot.
For a team that predicates running the football, it was a bold move for the Raiders to gut 60 percent of their offensive line in a matter of a few weeks and not do a good enough job of replacing the veterans they had shipped elsewhere. The Raiders are now relying on Kolton Miller continuing to develop and be the franchise left tackle while praying Incognito stays healthy and hoping the development of James and Leatherwood goes smoothly while the whole unit stays healthy. That’s a long shot.
Run Defense – 74, 28th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense)
After finishing 2020 with the 24th-ranked run defense, the Raiders said goodbye to Hurst without much of a thought. Yet again, Las Vegas declined in terms of talent along the trenches. Johnathan Hankins returns, while the Raiders brought in Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas as reinforcements. Jefferson was mainly a rotational piece in Buffalo, while Thomas couldn’t hold a starting position for the 49ers, and his tenure there ended with a brutal injury early in 2020.
Darius Philon hasn’t played since 2018 but did play under Bradley on the Chargers. The Raiders already like Philon, as well as Kendal Vickers. Undrafted free agent Darius Stills will be a name to watch on the roster bubble on cutdown day as well.
Clelin Ferrell hasn’t lived up to his billing since being drafted as high as he was. While he may not be producing in the sack category as much as many would like, he is a good run defender. Like Ferrell, Maxx Crosby is in the same mold. Crosby has gotten a lot of love as a top-tier pass-rusher when he isn’t. He is a solid number two pass-rusher, and some Raider fans have hyped him up. Carl Nassib is another solid run defender as well.
While a lot of teams struggle in coverage at their linebacker spot, that is where the group in Las Vegas excels. The trio of Cory Littleton, Nicholas Morrow, and Nick Kwiatkoski is solid. In run defense, Morrow helps the most. Littleton and Kwiatkoski are both coverage guys that can help in the run, but not as much as Morrow.
Continuing with the linebackers that are great in coverage but struggle against the run, Tanner Muse and Divine Deablo are former safeties that are making the transition to off-ball linebackers. Gruden and Mayock love their versatile players and now have a lot at their disposal in coverage.
Pass Rush – 74.5, 27th (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)
The Raiders were only able to garner 21 sacks last season. The addition of Ngakoue gives them a low-end number one pass-rusher, who will likely get eight-to-ten sacks this season. Adding him allows Crosby and Ferrell to have less attention on them. The two had nine sacks last year, seven of which Crosby had. Morrow had the second-highest total on the team, with three at the second level.
Carl Nassib had 2.5 sacks last year and is a solid fourth man in the rotation for the Raiders. Malcolm Koonce was a late-round choice that could struggle to find the field but will likely be a rotational piece at best for Las Vegas. On the interior, Hankins and Thomas could provide a bit of pressure. It is nothing too noteworthy that it drastically improves the ranking.
Yes, the Raiders improved their pass rush by adding Ngakoue, but he isn’t going to push this unit over the hump. The unit has more depth this year, but none of the four projects as a top-tier pass-rusher that the Raiders should already have since trading Khalil Mack.
Linebackers – 72, 27th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)
As said earlier, the Raiders don’t have a lot in the run-defense portion in the linebacker room. A lot of the players in this room are coverage specialists. The starting three are decent, but the intriguing players behind them, like Muse and Deablo, will be thrown into specific packages on defense. The Raiders spent a ton of money getting Kwiatkoski and Littleton last offseason, but the additions didn’t improve the defense as much as the coaching staff would have liked. Las Vegas doesn’t have a stout linebacker room but multiple intriguing pieces to work within specific packages.
Secondary – 68.5, 31st (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
A young secondary last year hampered the Raiders. Now, Bradley will be using a mainly cover three scheme this year for Las Vegas. Casey Hayward was signed once he was cut from the Chargers and will likely play a key role on the field and in the cornerback room, teaching the scheme to the younger players on the roster. Opposite of Hayward will likely be Trayvon Mullen since Damon Arnette got picked on a ton, allowing a 129.2 passer rating in his rookie season.
In the slot, Amik Robertson will likely be the starter while Arnette, Rasul Douglas, and Nate Hobbs battle for the third boundary cornerback spot. Arnette was expected to struggle during his rookie campaign, but the struggles he had last year are very concerning for the future. Douglas had a bit of a resurgence last year in Carolina, and the Raiders got some added help in the cornerback room by adding him.
The youth in the cornerback room is exciting, but the lack of development from Mullen and Arnette is already concerning. Robertson is fine in the slot but could get some competition from Douglas if he struggles. Adding Hayward to this group was an excellent move in an offseason full of questionable moves for the Raiders. He adds a player that can still play, but not at the level he once was at, while also being familiar with the new scheme that Bradley is implementing.
The Raiders have an intriguing safety room as well. Now, it starts with Trevon Moehrig, who the team took with their second-round choice. Moehrig didn’t play much single-high safety for the Horned Frogs but will likely do so early and often for the Raiders. At strong safety, Johnathan Abram will likely be the starter but needs to stay healthy. Since being a first-round choice in 2019, he has struggled to stay healthy.
Behind those two, the first name of note is Karl Joseph, who returns to the Raiders after one year in Cleveland with the Browns. Las Vegas also drafted Tyree Gillespie, a draft Twitter darling on day three of the draft. In total, the Raiders drafted three safeties if you include Deablo. Gillespie will find a role early on special teams while battling with Abram and Joseph for snaps.
Coach and Culture – 76.5, 21st (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
For an offense that predicates running the football, trading away your three best offensive linemen is a bold move. Yes, the Raiders still have Carr, Jacobs, and Waller, but a lot of talent along the offensive line was lost with the trades of Brown, Hudson, and Jackson. The ongoing saga between Gruden and if he thinks Carr is a franchise quarterback is beginning to cause a bit of concern, along with the fact that reports swirled that Gruden and Mayock have already started butting heads. The Raiders are relying on a lot of young players to step up and make an immediate impact this year and hoping their new-look offensive line develops and somehow manages to stay healthy. Las Vegas ranks 16th in offensive coach and culture.
The scheme change in Las Vegas will be an interesting one. The new scheme will be putting a lot of stress on the young players in the back-end, specifically Moehrig, Mullen, and Arnette. The release of Hurst will be a bigger one than it was made out to be thus far in both the run defense and pass-rush. The defense as a whole will still struggle unless the young players like Crosby, Ferrell, Kwiatkoski, Mullen, Arnette, and Moehrig accustom to the scheme almost immediately. Las Vegas ranks 25th in defensive coach and culture.
After going 8-8 last season, the Raiders look like they will take a massive step back. Each team in the AFC West got better, while the Raiders got worse, especially along the offensive line. Carr isn’t the issue at all, and the front office for the Raiders has failed to give Carr a supporting cast good enough to make a title run since his MVP-like campaign. Carr, Jacobs, and Waller are seemingly the only players keeping this Raiders team afloat.
A Look at the Schedule
The new-look Raiders defense will have the opportunity to prove themselves right out of the gate on Monday Night Football in Week 1 against the Ravens. Following that is a road trip to Pittsburgh to face off against their dynamic receiving core. After that is an easier three-week stretch at home against Miami and Chicago, with an away game against the Chargers in the middle. In Weeks six and seven, the Raiders play their first game against the Broncos, followed by a game against the Eagles before their Week 8 bye.
Unfortunately, after the bye, the Raiders schedule has a murderous end to the season. After the bye, Las Vegas faces the Giants, followed by their first meeting against the Chiefs. The Raiders continue to go against explosive offenses in Weeks 11 and 12 as they face off against Cincinnati and Dallas. The schedule doesn’t ease up the rest of the way as the Raiders finish out the season against Washington, Kansas City again, Cleveland, Denver for a second time, Indianapolis, and the Raiders close the season at home against the Chargers.
According to Odds Shark, the Raiders have an over/under of 7 wins. That number is the seventh-lowest in the league. If you are a betting man (side note: Wisconsin needs to make sports betting legal), smash the under. Las Vegas has a murderous row of games to end the season and a couple of difficult games to start the season. If they are lucky, the Raiders will win five games.
Season Prediction: 4-13
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