The Las Vegas Raiders bolstered their wide receiver corps this past offseason. Nevertheless, they will face some of the fiercest NFL defenses and a couple of the league’s top 10 safety tandems.
The Raiders drafted Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards to improve their wide receiver room. Tyrell Williams is healthier than he was in 2019. Moreover, Hunter Renfrow should be even better in his sophomore campaign. Knowing that Las Vegas wasn’t the only team that became better this past offseason. Plenty of teams also took a step forward, that especially rings true for the ones in the AFC West. In fact, two of the leagues top 10 safety tandems reside in the same division.
Recently, Pro Football Focus ranked the top safety tandems currently in the NFL. The Vikings made the top of the list with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. On the other hand, the Broncos took the eighth spot with Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. Finally, the Chiefs rounded up the list at No. 10 with Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill.
There’s a Reason Broncos Didn’t Let Simmons hit the Market
Regarding Denver, PFF pointed out Simmons was the most valuable safety in the NFL in 2019. Had he become a free agent this past offseason, he would’ve been one of the most coveted players. On the other hand, Jackson thrived as a safety for his former team, the Houston Texans.
Simmons (91.0, third) and Jackson (79.8, 13th) both earned coverage grades that ranked among the top 15 qualifying players at their position in 2019.
Simmons, the most valuable safety in the NFL last season per PFF WAR, proved to be an extremely versatile asset for Vic Fangio in his first year in Denver. The fourth-year safety graded above 85.0 as a run defender, as a tackler and in coverage, and he ended the season having allowed a passer rating of just 32.1 on throws into his coverage — second to only Earl Thomas in 2019.
Jackson played his previous eight seasons at cornerback in Houston but transitioned to safety after joining the Broncos’ secondary — and he thrived. The veteran ended up earning the second-best PFF overall grade of his career and even finished second — to Justin Simmons, as it happens — among safeties in pass breakups, with nine.
The Super Bowl Will Run Through Kansas City
The Raiders will have one of their most important games of the 2020 season in Week 5. They have to show they can beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mathieu will present a good test for the Raiders revamped wide receiver corps. After all, the Honey Badger decoded quarterback Derek Carr in their December 2019 matchup.
While on the way to helping the Kansas City Chiefs win their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, safeties Tyrann Mathieu (81.6, 10th) and rookie Juan Thornhill (78.0, 17th) earned top-20 coverage grades during the 2019 regular season.
After starting all 16 regular-season games, an ACL injury sidelined Thornhill for the entire postseason. However, he still managed to allow just 14 catches from 25 targets during his time on the field, giving up only 147 yards and a passer rating of 69.9 in the process.
Over the last two seasons, Tyrann Mathieu’s 85.8 coverage grade ranks 17th among the 103 safeties who played 300 or more coverage snaps over that span. And when featured in the more difficult single-man coverage assignments, Mathieu graded among the top 25 qualifying players at his position.
It Doesn’t Stop There
While the Raiders will face the Broncos and the Chiefs twice next season, they won’t be the only top secondaries they’ll see. The Bills, Patriots, and the Saints also made PFF’s ranking. Buffalo had the second-best defense in points allowed last season. They will play against the Raiders in Week 4. Although Tom Brady is no longer in New England, the Patriots still have one of the best secondaries in the NFL come second after the Vikings in the list. For their part, New Orleans could give the Raiders a headache, not just on offense but defense as well. Their safety tandem ranked sixth as well.
The Raiders won’t have an easy path to the playoffs. Even though they definitely improved in the offseason, they can’t let the hype get the best of them. All those team’s the Raiders will face should give them a better idea of how better they are or not.
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