The 2020 Raiders started their season with a 6-3-0 record and looked to be taking the leap to being one of the better teams in the NFL, but ultimately finished 8-8-0 and missing the playoffs. They did have an AFC West Division record of 4-2 with an impressive win over the then-defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, so where did it all go wrong?
Vegas fielded a top 10 NFL offense that averaged 27.1 points per game but their bottom 3 defense gave up an average of 29.9 points. GM Mike Mayock, head coach Jon Gruden, and the organization have looked to improve their squad on both sides of the ball this offseason and the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.
Raiders Offseason Grade: C-
The Silver & Black have been very active in the offseason with a variety of transactions that were roster cuts, questionable trades, and value risks. One of the reasons I gave them a C- grade is based on their cap saving cuts of Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams, plus moving on from Trent Brown via trade which were good moves based on past health and productivity but they should not be applauded for giving out bad contracts either.
The offensive line was a strength for Derek Carr and the Raiders to move the ball but Vegas has lost 3 of their starters from 2020. After trading of tackle Trent Brown to New England for a 2022 fifth-rounder and center Rodney Hudson to Arizona for a 2021 third-round pick, there are new holes to fill. They also cut 38-year-old, veteran, guard Richie Incognito, saving money, only to re-sign him but there’s no guarantee he will hold up an entire season. Star, guard Denzelle Good was re-signed as well to a 2-year contract and the Raiders may move him to right tackle opposite of Kolton Miller. Vegas did pick up the Texans starting center Nick Martin who could prove to be serviceable but not an upgrade from Hudson, in house they extended center Andre James’ contract to secure depth.
Those running lanes are as important as keeping Carr protected, this off-season the Raiders picked up another all-down running back in Kenyan Drake who will hope to find space. Some say the 2-year $11 million was a bit too much but I still like the move, even as a Drake fantasy football owner last year. Kenyan is an above-average RB with great pass catching ability that is capable of starting and will help keep Josh Jacobs fresh. Through the air the Raiders lost their most productive WR in Nelson Agholor and are now taking a one-year gamble on former Bills WR John Brown, if healthy I think he will be an upgrade. Vegas also added veteran Willie Snead IV to the WR corps of Ruggs, Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, and Zay Jones as well.
Vegas needed the most help on the defensive side of the ball from their 2020 campaign. Raiders defensive coordinator has to be happy they addressed the pass rush prior to the draft by acquiring a bonafide edge rusher in Yannick Ngakoue who had 8 sacks last season playing for the Vikings and Ravens. They also added some other veteran defensive lineman in Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson who can contribute to that major area of concern up front.
The backend of the defense was a focus in the previous two years in the draft for the Raiders where they selected first-rounder safety Jonathan Abram and in the second-round selected cornerback Trayvon Mullen in 2019. Raiders used another first-round pick on a cornerback last year selecting Damon Arnette. The young group has underperformed, not that the lack of a pass rush up front is doing them any favors. The only notable off-season move was the return of Raiders’ 2016 first-round selection safety Karl Joseph who last year played for the Cleveland Browns.
2021 Draft Picks: Las Vegas Raiders
Round 1: No. 17 overall
Round 2: No. 48
Round 3: No. 79 (from Cardinals), No. 80
Round 4: No. 121
Round 5: No. 162 (from Dolphins), No. 167 (from Seahawks)
Round 6: No. 200
The Raiders have 8 draft picks for the 2021 class and at pick 17-overall they will have some great talent options. The question is do they trade down a few spots to acquire another pick? Possibly for another 3rd-rounder in this year’s draft to help plug one of the many holes on the squad.
Vegas is likely to focus on their most pressing needs on defense going for safety, linebacker, or an edge rusher early and maybe even with pick 17. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a wide receiver like Terrace Marshall Jr out of LSU in the first round. The defense I feel is the more pressing matter, not that Derek Carr couldn’t use more help on the outside, so if Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is there at 17 they shouldn’t even think twice. They would be smart to draft Jeremiah as he is a versatile, intelligent athlete with speed that can play multiple positions in the middle of a very needy defense. He has been scouted to be very good in coverage as well. The Silver and Black invested some free agency money up front but it is still not settled, I think it would be best to address the defense but sometimes you need to take the best player on the board.
Image Credits: Raiders.com (2021, March) Photos: Raiders 2021 free agency class. Retrieved Apr 05, 2021, from https://www.raiders.com/photos/; https://www.raiders.com/photos/photos-raiders-2021-nfl-free-agency-class