The Las Vegas Raiders kick off their first proper season in Sin City as the Allegiant Stadium welcomes fans to home games. The time of a rebuild must be over for head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.
With Yannick Ngakoue, the Las Vegas Raiders brought in much-needed reinforcements for the pass rush. Ngakoue has been prolific in recent years, even though he danced from one team to another without a long and permanent contract. His presence on the defensive line should boost last year’s low of just 21 sacks. The rest was mainly invested in depth and projects. Nicholas Morrow, Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas, Matt Dickerson, Darius Philon, Nevin Lawson and Karl Joseph are mostly guys to help the starters.
The most notable change in free agency came on the offensive line. Rodney Hudson (C) and Gabe Jackson (G) were cut and Trent Brown ‘s giant contract was shipped to New England. Also Richie Incognito was just out the door, but was recruited again. Despite all the shifting and aging pawns, there was also some good news. Denzelle Good was a good substitute as a left guard and right tackle and was rewarded with a new contract. He has to prove he can do it without All-Pro Hudson around. Nick Martin came to push undrafted free agent Andre James for the starting job at center.
The Las Vegas Raiders offense had highs and lows last year, but finished in the top ten in the National Football League (NFL). Back then, it could count on the O-line, but little of it is left now. With Willie Snead came a receiver with experience who can play outside or in the slot. John Brown is the deep threat who replaces the departed Nelson Agholor.
The strangest move came in the running back room, where Jon Gruden suddenly pulled Kenyan Drake out of his top hat. Drake was the number one RB in Arizona, but in Las Vegas, Gruden says, he needs to get a one-two punch with starter Josh Jacobs. Last season, this was the role of Devontae Booker. Drake is just a step up in quality (three season in a row with over 1,000 all-purpose yards). The pennies in particular were remarkable: two years and eleven million dollars for a second running back is a lot of money.
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As a Raiders fan, it’s best to drink a few sips of whiskey before the first round of the draft. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden always act crazy when it’s their turn. That was no different with tackle Alex Leatherwood in 2021. According to the duo, he again fitted into the picture of “winners in college” that they are so proud of in draft evaluations. Most didn’t expect him until the second or third round. However, the first signs in training camp are positive: he is apparently one of the stars.
In the second lap safety Tre’von Moehrig was ‘stolen’. The TCU prospect immediately starts as a ‘quarterback of the defense’ and is therefore immediately of added value. The other picks focused almost exclusively on defense with the signings of DE Malcom Koonce, LB Divine Deablo, S Tyree Gillespie and CB Nate Hobbs. Center Jimmy Morrissey was Las Vegas’ last pick in the seventh round. Deablo is versatile, while Koonce often found the QB in college and has to act as a replacement for Ngakoue. Gillespie is a run stopper from Missouri who had a good run against the likes of Kyle Pitts in college.
So the offensive line has been wiped out and that basically doesn’t benefit Derek Carr. Carr is actually playing for free this season if you break his contract and that’s why there was so much speculation about his future. However, he is still there. Gruden is known for its extensive and intricate playbook that is said to contain over 450 plays. Perhaps that’s why Carr will stay on board. A new, young QB is Gruden’s nightmare.
The offense got some gifts last year with speedster Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards as receivers. Ruggs had a few flashes, but injuries slowed down the deep threat. He is aiming for a breakthrough year in 2021. Edwards was unable to push through, but has a particularly impressive training camp and is likely to receive more targets in 2021. John Brown and Willie Snead are two solid signings with their own skillset that clearly help the offense. The same goes for Kenyan Drake. NFL Network’s Nate Burleson even suggested that Drake could become something of a Taysom Hill of the desert.
Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller are the two biggest names in this offense. Sorry Derek, but they’re young, have a special life story and are tough guys to take down. Ideal guys in Jon Gruden’s legion, who has 53 players with that mentality.
Gus Bradley was hired as the new defensive coordinator. Bradley was previously DC with the Los Angeles Chargers, but is best known as one of the architects of the Legion of Boom in Seattle. In Las Vegas, however, Bradley does not find Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Joey Bosa or Melvin Ingram III.
The defense was third from bottom last year in points and turnovers allowed (15), fourth last in sacks (21) and lost three wins with less than 1’45” left on the clock. Yannick Ngakoue will immediately take the pressure to let those sacks skyrocket. Hopefully for the Raiders, his presence also leads to greater efficiency at Maxx Crosby. Clelin Ferrell, a reach when he was fourth pick in the draft in 2019, is also expected to take another step forward. On passing downs, Ferrell again plays inside, so that Crosby and Ngakoue are on the field with him. With Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas and Darius Philon, the depth on the inside of the defensive line especially got a boost.
Last season, expectations were high for revamped linebacker duo Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Littleton, in particular, disappointed, however. The new DC Bradley was a linebacker coach in the past and may be able to put Littleton back on track. Draft prospect Trevon Moehrig will play right into the back of the defense. The defense is in fact stronger when Johnathan Abram acts when box safety is used and no longer has to cover.
Another reach in the draft, Damon Arnette, had an unhappy first year. He was never able to free up time to really grow due to injuries. It remains to be seen who will defend the slot now that Lamarcus Joyner left after just one year. Will it be Amik Robertson or the promising rookie Nate Hobbs?
The Las Vegas Raiders have some significant gains in key positions, but at the same time it also weakened itself by blowing up the offensive line, which has been considered a top for years. The time of rebuilding is over, there must be won and preferably a lot. The fans in Las Vegas have a lot of other options to enjoy themselves, we don’t have to draw a picture. However, if there is a loss at the Allegiant Stadium, it will still storm.
Moreover, the division doesn’t help the Raiders’ ambitions at all. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers are top 10 teams and the Denver Broncos have a young team that can explode. A prediction: it will blow the Raiders. Either an explosion of success or an implosion of misery. There is no middle ground with the Raiders.