The Las Vegas Raiders have several players in place that could be in the running for some league honors and rewards this season. However, which players will stand out within the Raiders itself? Let’s take a closer look at some possibilities for the Silver and Black.
Will the Raiders be home to the Comeback Player of the Year?
Comeback Player of the Year
Richie Incognito, Guard
The Raiders offensive line regressed noticeably in 2020, mostly due to injuries and age. However, when healthy, left guard Richie Incognito has proven that he can still play at a high level. Despite his age (38 next month) and his short time with the Raiders, Incognito has proven to be an offensive anchor. After suffering an Achilles injury in Week 2 that required season-ending surgery, Incognito looks to bounce back in more ways than just his play.
With rookie Alex Leatherwood taking over at right tackle, third-year man Andre James hoping to secure the starting center position, and sophomore John Simpson looking to make a jump, Incognito is the clear veteran leader of the unit. The Silver and Black will rely on him to be a mentor and the leader of this unit in 2021.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Trevon Moehrig, Safety
To Raider Nation’s delight, the team spent the majority of their draft capital on defense in 2021, primarily in the secondary. However, the selection of Trevon Moehrig at number 43 is widely considered a steal. Not only do I believe Moehrig will be the Raiders’ Defensive Rookie of the Year, I believe he will be in contention for the award league-wide. Moehrig is one of the best coverage safeties to come out of college and will take over for a unit that underperformed heavily in 2020. Undoubtedly, the young safety will be an immediate difference-maker for the Silver and Black.
Leatherwood for Rookie of the Year?
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Alex Leatherwood, Tackle
Sure, there aren’t a lot of options in this category, unless you’re considering UDFA wide receiver Dillon Stoner, or seventh-round center Jimmy Morrissey to be in contention. Be that as it may, Leatherwood’s fully capable of turning heads this upcoming season.
We can expect Leatherwood to find immediate success in run blocking. This is certainly good news considering run blocking was a glaring weakness last year. Admittedly, the young tackle will have his share of struggles in the beginning. Nevertheless, behind offensive line coach Tom Cable, he should make great strides over the course of his rookie season. If Leatherwood can stay healthy, he will already be an improvement over the duo of Trent Brown and Sam Young. The latter both playing just a combined 12 games in 2020 due to injury.
Who will be the Raiders’ Defensive Player of the Year?
Defensive Player of the Year
Nick Kwiatkoski, Linebacker
The do-it-all linebacker was one of the only consistent players for the Silver and Black in 2020. Although we can expect a highly upgraded defensive roster this season, Nick Kwiatkoski will still be responsible for much of the Raiders’ defensive success.
Kwiatkoski was immediately granted the full trust of the coaching staff last season, wearing the green dot for the defensive unit. You could argue that several current players could vie for team Defensive Player of the Year. Among those in the conversation will be Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, and Trayvon Mullen. In spite of that list, Kwiatkoski proved to be the most reliable in 2020 and will look to continue that trend. Under Gus Bradley, expect to see the linebacking unit take another big leap in 2021, with Kwiatkoski leading the way.
Offensive Player of the Year
Derek Carr, Quarterback
A case for Raiders’ MVP could be made for Derek Carr, despite Marcus Mariota sitting patiently behind him, it’s clear the Raiders have set the quarterback position in stone. Whether you like Carr or not, he’s undoubtedly improved every year under Jon Gruden. In fact, 2021 could potentially be the year that the defense catches up to the Carr-led offense that ranked eighth overall in 2020.
If it wasn’t for an impressive emergency outing for Mariota against the Chargers in December, Carr’s team value could be exponentially higher. Don’t get me wrong, what Carr is capable of doing in 2021 is exciting, and with 4,103 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2020, I only see him getting better and more comfortable in the upcoming season.
And the Raiders’ MVP goes to…
Most Valuable Player
Darren Waller, Tight End
The Raiders’ dominant offense rides almost completely on the shoulders of tight end, Darren Waller. With the revolving door of wide receivers continuing after Nelson Agholor’s departure, and the addition of John Brown, Waller remains the most consistent and reliable receiver.
Simply put, the way that Waller has emerged as the Raiders’ safety blanket makes it hard to pass up on him as the most valuable player currently wearing the Silver and Black. One example of this sheer dominance came last season when Carr went down. Even with Mariota coming in, Waller was able to put up 150 yards and one touchdown on nine receptions. Waller proved that he can be the offensive focal point, no matter who’s under center. I picture him having another sensational outing in 2021 after putting up 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020.
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*Top Photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group