Today, we’ll wrap up our AFC West preview by covering the Las Vegas Raiders. In what is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, the Raiders may find it difficult to find success in 2021. So much will depend on how well the coaching staff can develop the younger players on the team.
The Raiders posted a record of 8-8 during the 2020 NFL season. Head coach Jon Gruden hopes that 2021 is the year that the Raiders get over the hump and into the playoffs. The Las Vegas offense has some nice pieces in place with several dangerous playmakers, but the defense is still a major question mark.
Derek Carr returns at QB for his eighth season with the Raiders. The 30-year old gunslinger had another solid season in 2020 by throwing for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns (Pro-Football-Reference.com). The former Fresno State star has quietly put together some nice career numbers but he needs more help if the Raiders want to improve their offensive performance this year.
Gruden knew he needed help on the offensive line so he reached a bit by drafting former Alabama star Alex Leatherwood in the first round. Leatherwood is a mountain of a man (6-5 and 312 pounds) and will open up some extra holes for running backs, Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake. Jacobs is coming off of a fantastic second season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and found the endzone 12 times.
The Raiders receiving corps simply has to improve in 2021. Former first-round draft pick Henry Ruggs was a huge disappointment as a rookie by only catching 26 balls and two touchdowns. The most productive player on offense for the Raiders is tight end Darren Waller, who is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Waller caught 107 balls for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020.
The Achilles heel of this Las Vegas team last year was their awful defense. In fact, the Raiders ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks, points allowed, third-down defense, and takeaways. Gruden and Mayock tried to address this glaring problem by drafting five defensive players in rounds 2-5 this year.
The only draft pick that should start right away is second-rounder Trevon Moehrig, a talented safety from TCU. Moehrig has good size (6-2, 202 lbs.) and amazing ball skills which will improve the Raiders’ secondary right away. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell has got to find a way to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The former Clemson Tiger only had two sacks in 11 games last season.
2021 Special Teams
Kicker Daniel Carson had a fine season for Las Vegas in 2020. The former Auburn star was one of the most accurate kickers in the league by making 33 out of 35 field goals last year. Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs, and Jalen Richard form a talented trio as the Raiders’ return crew.
Punter AJ Cole will return for his third season with the silver and black. Cole averaged 44.1 yards per punt in 2020.