When the 2021-22 NFL season kicks off, it will make five seasons since the Las Vegas Raiders were in the playoffs.
The last time being the magical 2016 season where the Raiders finished 12-4 en route to a first-round exit. Since then, the Raiders are 25-39 under the leadership of Jon Gruden. However, the team made many moves in the 2021 offseason and if these things go right, they could sneak into the playoffs.
A vast improvement on the Raiders defense
Simply, the Raiders have been terrible on defense in recent years. After watching the unit fail again under Paul Guenther, Las Vegas has brought in former Seattle coordinator Gus Bradley. In Bradley, the Raiders are getting a coach who has the experience needed to at least get average production from the group. This production must include forcing more turnovers. In 2020, the defense forced just 15 turnovers ranking 30th in the NFL. The defense must become more opportunistic and give the offense more attempts at winning the game.
In the attempt to improve this unit, the Raiders have given Bradley some exciting new players. Second-rounder, Trevon Moehrig should instantly become the teams starting free safety. If healthy, his instincts and play-making ability make him a strong bet to lead the team in interceptions. Also added was pass-rushing extraordinaire, Yannick Ngakoue. Bradley was the Jaguars head coach during Ngakoue’s rookie season where he had eight sacks so the familiarity should help bolster a pass rush that had just 21 sacks last season.
If the Raiders can repeat last season’s offensive performance, they will simply need to field an average defense. With further development from young players such as Damon Arnette and Johnathan Abram, they will be well on their way.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) November 15, 2020
Fully utilize Henry Ruggs III
Selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, it’s not an understatement to call Henry Ruggs’ rookie season a disappointment. With just 452 yards and two touchdowns last season, the Raiders need more from a first-round pick. This production starts by simply giving him more opportunities. In 2020, Ruggs was just fifth on the team in targets with 43. This is drastically less than other first-round wide receivers. For reference:
- Jerry Jeudy: 113 targets
- CeeDee Lamb: 111 targets
- Justin Jefferson: 125 targets
One of the best parts of having a receiver like Ruggs is his versatility. He can play from the slot and on the boundary while also acting as a deep threat and offering YAC ability. This YAC ability is what makes him most dangerous as he’s nearly uncatchable in the open field. In 2020, it seemed the Raiders became infatuated with his downfield speed and attempted to pigeonhole him into a DeSean Jackson-style deep threat role. This is just a total waste of Ruggs’ ability as a route runner and open field creativity.
Ruggs can give the Raiders everything that Nelson Agholor gave them and more. Due to this, goal number one should be to give ’11’ the same chances they gave ’15’ last season. If the Raiders can deploy Ruggs successfully while maintaining the threats of Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs, they will have one of the NFL’s most deadly offenses.
Henry Ruggs III with an absurd highlight-reel catch 😳
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 11, 2020
Continued success against divisional foes
It feels like we say this every year, but the AFC West will be a stacked division once again in 2021. The Kansas City Chiefs are a dominant force with one of the most talented quarterbacks in the history of the game. The combination of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid makes Kansas City a Super Bowl contender every season. The Los Angeles Chargers have an exciting young quarterback of their own in Justin Herbert and are plenty talented to make the playoffs as well. In Denver, they will field an all-around talented team that is looking for more development at quarterback.
Needless to say, the Raiders will have their hands full. However, the Raiders were actually quite successful against all of these teams in 2020 going 4-2 in the division. The first of these games being a stunning defeat of the defending Super Bowl champs in Arrowhead. Astonishingly, they almost did it again in Las Vegas on Sunday Night where they came minutes away from sweeping the Chiefs. Somehow, the Raiders were able to put up two of their best defensive performances of the season against one of the best teams in the league. They will need to repeat this in 2021.
The stories are similar as it pertains to the Chargers and Broncos. After sweeping the Broncos, the Raiders should feel good about their ability to beat Drew Lock. However, they will be locked into more shoot-outs against second-year passer Justin Herbert. 1-1 against L.A. in 2020, these games often end crazily so it will be paramount for the Raiders to at least win one of these games. If the Raiders can repeat another 4-2 divisional record, they will position themselves greatly for a playoff spot.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 9, 2020
Lots of work to do…
While not impossible, the Raiders need a lot to go their way to make the playoffs in 2021. Not only do they play in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, but they also face a very tough schedule overall. Las Vegas will be tested early and often in 2021 starting with a primetime game against the Baltimore Ravens. We will learn a lot about this team after that game.
You May Also Like: Can Raiders RB Josh Jacobs Crack Top 5 Ranking After 2021?
*Top Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal