It’s no secret the Las Vegas Raiders have a lot to prove this season. Two straight years with a late-season collapse, a quarterback in Derek Carr going nearly a decade without a playoff start, and our favorite ESPN analyst Jon Gruden failing to turn the franchise around means something has to happen.
A playoff appearance is undeniably the only outcome that would make the 2021 NFL season a success. That’s the bare minimum. Anything less than that is an abject failure.
Many players have something to prove, but some more than others. Here are the three position groups that absolutely must prove themselves in 2021 to avoid drastic turnover.
LT – Kolton Miller
LG – Richie Incognito
C – Andre James
RG – Denzelle Good
RT – Alex Leatherwood
Once a strength of the Raiders, the offensive line got a makeover for 2021. Rodney Hudson is a Cardinal, Gabe Jackson is a Seahawk, and Trent Brown is a Patriot. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden opted to purge their veteran presence in favor of fresher legs and cheaper contracts.
Refreshing a position group is great, but you have to deal with a potential drop-off in production. There are a lot of unknowns within the O-line. Can James connect with Derek Carr under center and make the right calls? Do you have enough ammo at guard with an aging Richie Incognito to run the ball effectively?
The Raiders addressed Brown’s departure by drafting Alex Leatherwood at pick #17 in the 2021 draft. They’re banking on some serious production out of Tom Cable to produce a unit that can protect Carr.
The offensive line will make or break the Raiders offense, as well as Carr’s productivity, in 2021.
WR1 – Henry Ruggs III
WR2 – Bryan Edwards
Slot WR – Hunter Renfrow
Slot WR2 – Willie Snead
WR3 – John Brown
WR4 – Zay Jones
The offensive line made headlines in the offseason thanks to a massive overhaul of the group. The wide receivers didn’t make the same waves but make no mistake, this is a group with a lot riding on 2021.
It’s a young group; veteran John Brown has the most NFL experience and he came over as a free agent in the offseason. The top three pass catchers for Carr have a combined four years in the league. Two of those receivers, Ruggs and Edwards, both missed significant time in a shortened season due to injury. They weren’t even full seasons.
Nelson Agholor signed with New England and took 896 yards of production with him. They need the young squad to step up.
There were high expectations for Ruggs after being drafted ahead of CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, and Jerry Jeudy. The Raiders have to do more to get production out of Ruggs this season. 26 receptions and 452 yards are simply not going to get it done.
Edwards shows flashes in camp but is still largely an unknown commodity. The only surefire receiver in this group is the GOAT, Hunter Renfrow. This core group needs to prove they belong in the NFL if the Raiders plan to make the playoff plunge.
QB – Derek Carr
QB2 – Marcus Mariota
Unlike offensive line and receiver, the Raiders don’t have a question mark at quarterback. This is Carr’s team for as long as he’s able to play.
He also has the most to prove. He’s heard the complaints from Raider Nation, the quips in the media, the endless articles about his inability to get the Raiders to the playoffs. A 47-63 record as a starter doesn’t make the situation any easier.
You can talk about the defense, the coaching, or any other excuse when figuring out why the Raiders have only made one playoff appearance in Derek’s career. At the end of the day, it’s on the field general. The great ones make it happen in spite of deficiencies.
Russell Wilson makes the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers makes the playoffs. You get it done.
Whether you think the blame lies with Derek, the defense, Gruden, Mayock, or Mark Davis it does not change the reality that in most situations the quarterback and the coach bear the most blame for not winning games. Real games. January games. Games that shape legacies.
If anyone needs to prove themselves, it’s #4.
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*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images