2021 NFL Team Previews: Las Vegas Raiders

2021 NFL Team Previews: Las Vegas Raiders

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Jon Gruden era has been discouraging, with zero playoff appearances, a dreadful defense and grim early perceptions of multiple draft classes, but the Raiders still managed to produce a top-10 scoring offense in 2020. Pressure is mounting on both the $100 million head coach and GM Mike Mayock.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions

A cap casualty in Buffalo after missing seven games due to leg injuries.

Coach Jon Gruden is a believer in Drake's offensive versatility.

Proven pass rusher with 45.5 sacks and 18 forced fumbles in 78 games.

Immediate playing time is expected in Gus Bradley's Cover 3 defense.

Former shutdown corner brings experience to a young secondary.

Key Losses

Career rejuvenation results in a two-year, $22 million deal with the Pats.

Suffered a torn shoulder labrum in August that cost him 2020 season.

Named a second-team All-Pro in 2019, but turns 32 years old in July.

A Look Under the Hood

Head Coach: Jon Gruden (Year 4)

Offensive Coordinator: Greg Olson (Year 6) - West Coast (power run)

Defensive Coordinator: Gus Bradley (Year 1) - 4-3 scheme

2021 Vegas Projected Wins: 8 (T-19th)

   

2020 Record: 8-8

2020 Points Scored: 434 (10th)

2020 Points Allowed: 478 (30th)

2020 Point Differential: -44 (21st)

2020 Run-Play Rate: 44.1 percent (10th)

2020 Offensive Snaps: 1,036 (14th)

2020 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 24

Full 2020 Team Stats

   

Projected 2021 Depth Chart

QB: Derek Carr / Marcus Mariota

RB: Josh Jacobs / Kenyan Drake / Jalen Richard

WR1: Henry Ruggs / Zay Jones

WR2: Bryan Edwards / Willie Snead

WR3: John Brown / Hunter Renfrow

TE: Darren Waller / Foster Moreau

O-Line: LT Kolton Miller / LG Richie Incognito / C Andre James / RG Denzelle Good / RT Alex Leatherwood  (RotoWire Rank: No. 28)

Kicker: Daniel Carlson

Full 2021 Depth Chart

Top Storylines

Sticking with Carr

The two-year, $17.6 million contract signed by Marcus Mariota in March 2020 set the stage for Derek Carr to become the certified scapegoat for the Raiders' three-season slide of losing records from 2017 to 2019. However, the latter proved that such responsibilities fall more on the shoulders of a front office and coaching staff that has failed to build sufficient surrounding talent, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

Mariota, who's since taken a pay cut to remain in Las Vegas, appeared in just one contest throughout his maiden campaign with the team, as Carr started all 16 games and finished the year with a 3:1 or better TD:INT for the first time since 2016, while also constructing five game-winning drives. Among the league's top-32 quarterbacks in dropbacks last season, Carr ranked tied for fifth in yards per attempt (7.9), sixth in big time throws (37) and eighth in adjusted completion percentage (78.5), despite his top two aerial targets being a tight end and Nelson Agholor.

Carr also set a career high with 4,103 passing yards, as his passer rating surpassed the 100.0 mark for a second straight season. Barring a blockbuster trade, the three-time Pro Bowler has solidified himself as the Raiders' top signal-caller with two years remaining on his current deal.

Prime Time for Ruggs and Co.

The franchise's transition from Oakland to the bright lights of Las Vegas was accompanied by a fittingly flashy pick in the No. 12 overall slot of the 2020 NFL Draft, with the Raiders making Henry Ruggs the first wide receiver selected in the process, on the heels of his 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine. Initial returns on the team's investment have been spotty, however, as Ruggs' workout speed translated to just two catches per game while a handful of rookie wideouts selected behind him enjoyed wildly successful first-year campaigns in comparison.

Among all receivers with at least 30 targets in 2020, Ruggs ranked sixth in yards per reception (17.4) and third in average depth of target (17.3), but he ultimately logged more drops (three) than touchdowns (two) while also losing a pair of fumbles. Additionally, his only reception of 40-plus yards after the Raiders' Week 6 bye came Week 13.

Nelson Agholor and his 82 targets are on the move to New England, but Ruggs now faces competition from free-agent signee John Brown, while Bryan Edwards looks to make a leap forward with a clean bill of health in Year 2, and Hunter Renfrow continues to handle slot work. Nonetheless, the speedy Ruggs will have a chance to build rapport with Derek Carr this season, as the Raiders seem to be seeking continuity at the quarterback position.

Paying the Cable Bill

Before the official free-agency period even began this past March, the Raiders lost a majority of their starting offensive line from 2020, as center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Trent Brown were traded away in an eight-day period. The veteran trio had combined for 286 career starts and four Pro-Bowl appearances, so O-line coach Tom Cable is facing significant turnover.

On the plus side, Richie Incognito is slated to return from an Achilles injury that limited him to just two games last season, and he'll line up at left guard next to blind-side protector Kolton Miller. Incognito's presence nudges Denzelle Good over to right guard, addressing the vacancy stemming from Jackson's move to Seattle. A three-year deal worth $12.5 million is indicative of the Raiders' desire to start Andre James at center, which meant right tackle was the only question mark remaining ahead of the draft.

The team ultimately secured Outland Trophy award winner Alex Leatherwood with the 17th overall choice, but GM Mike Mayock once again received flak for reaching in the first round, with Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins still on the board. Pass protection against NFL edge rushers will be a primary concern for the rookie, but the Raiders believe Leatherwood is the perfect fit for their power run scheme.

Barometer

⬆️  Rising: TE Darren Waller

Waller has demonstrated that his delayed breakout as a pro was no fluke, flirting with Travis Kelce-like levels of dominance among the rare breed of the league's elite fantasy tight ends. He's worthy of the premium status.

⬇️  Falling: RE Kenyan Drake

Sandwiched between Ito Smith and Brian Hill outside the top-50 of Pro Football Focus' run grade in 2020, Drake's early-round ADP in most standard fantasy formats last season is a distant memory. Drake now is behind Josh Jacobs.

😴  Sleeper: WR Bryan Edwards

After battling injuries as a rookie, opportunity knocks for Edwards following the departure of Nelson Agholor. At 6-3, 212, Edwards profiles as a complement to the speedy Henry Ruggs/John Brown duo.

🌟  Pivotal Player: Josh Jacobs

Jacobs found the end zone 12 times en route to finishing as RB8 in standard scoring last season, despite averaging almost a yard less per carry than he did during his more efficient 2019 rookie effort. Through 15 games in 2020, Jacobs trailed only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook with 306 touches, which resulted in 1,303 total yards.

Medical Tent

G Richie Incognito

After making three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2017, Incognito has appeared in just 14 total games over the past three seasons. His 2020 campaign was shortened by an Achilles injury sustained Week 2, which preceded November foot surgery that ultimately kept him sidelined for good. Nonetheless, Las Vegas elected to secure their starting left guard and re-sign the 38-year-old on a team-friendly one-year deal. Incognito is reportedly healthy heading into training camp.

DE Clelin Ferrell

Prior to a season-ending shoulder injury suffered Week 14, Ferrell missed one game due to a positive COVID test and then was a healthy scratch for the very next contest. Thus, in his 11 appearances, he posted 27 tackles (18 solo), two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in Year 2. The Clemson product has underwhelmed since being selected fourth overall in 2019, enticing the Raiders to sign pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to a two-year deal in March. Ferrell figures to be recovered from his shoulder issue ahead of training camp and likely will rotate with Maxx Crosby for first-team reps at defensive end across from Ngakoue.

DT Solomon Thomas

Joining a revamped defensive line in Las Vegas that includes free-agent splashes Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson, Thomas already was physically capable of participating in spring practices despite tearing the ACL, lateral meniscus and medial patellofemoral ligament in his left knee last September in Week 2. Thomas shouldn't foster much IDP consideration as a depth piece, but the
2017 third-overall pick still is only 25 and has a chance to revitalize his career in a new setting after four disappointing years in San Francisco.

Job Battle

With 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs slated to fill the vacancy at WR1 left by Nelson Agholor's offseason departure from the Raiders, an opening presents itself for the No. 2 role on the outside. Thus emerges a likely duel between veteran free-agent signee John Brown and the inexperienced but explosive Bryan Edwards.

Brown, who turned 31 in April, missed seven games last year with the Bills due to ankle and knee injuries before landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but he still brings plenty of speed to the table. Edwards appeared in just 12 games as a rookie, en route to logging 11 receptions for 193 yards and a score.

A time-share could be on tap for the duo. In such a context, both Edwards and Brown would be long shots to provide relevant fantasy production in an offense that already features running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller. Meanwhile, Hunter Renfrow is in line to handle slot duties and newcomer Kenyan Drake is a candidate see work in the passing game out of the team's backfield.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bryce Danielson
Bryce covers the PGA for RotoWire and provides input on the golf cheat sheet. He also contributes to the coverage for NFL, NBA and other sports.
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