This is one of the strangest offseason’s ever, and that’s not hyperbole. The lack of even moderate respect for the Las Vegas Raiders is astounding, and it’s been consistent across most news outlets. It seems to be a nearly unanimous opinion that Jon Gruden’s squad is not going to be a big factor in 2021.
It makes me wonder if my own bias has finally taken over because otherwise, the Raiders are going to shock a lot of people this season. Last year, they were alive to the end of the season despite several close losses. Also, the hiring of Gus Bradley as their defensive coordinator is a major improvement to what was indisputably the weakest link of the team in 2020.
Still, the insults just keep coming, such as ESPN naming the Raiders as having the worst offseason in the NFL or Jason La Canfora’s cringe-worthy take on Yannick Ngakoue being the worst offseason signing. In addition, Pro Football Focus ranked the Raiders receivers as 26th in the NFL, and now PFF labels Vegas as not a contender in the playoff hunt in their piece while ranking Derek Carr 13th in their quarterback rankings.
The Raiders did trade away three starting offensive linemen…
To be fair, the Raiders may indeed have had one of the worst offseasons. This is true when you consider they traded three starting offensive linemen with no proven replacements. However, don’t believe for a second that they didn’t get better overall. Though it relies on the O-line holding up, otherwise, the offense is just as formidable as the impressive unit they fielded last year and the defense got better.
We all know the love and hate situation that we are perpetually stuck in with Carr. Nevertheless, no matter how much you might hate him, he’s not a terrible quarterback. The 13th place ranking that PFF gave him is definitely low, but even his haters should agree that’s at least fair.
Is this the year?
The fact that Carr hasn’t gotten to a playoff game yet will drive up this year’s expectations. The team made the playoffs in 2016 but an injury kept Carr from playing in their lone appearance since Super Bowl XXXVII. In my opinion, this year feels like the one where Carr will make due on his potential. He’s good enough that he should be able to get there. Besides, it’s overdue for him to get to play his first postseason game. That might be using the Gambler’s Fallacy
, but I believe the odds are in his favor of getting the no-playoff monkey off of his back.
The loss of Nelson Agholor hurts after the connection he and Carr shared last year. By the same token, it gives a golden opportunity for second-year players, Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. I do agree they don’t have a proven star at receiver though, no disrespect to John Brown, Willie Snead, or Zay Jones. However, they have a high floor in the group across the board. Don’t forget, we still don’t know the ceilings for Ruggs, Edwards, or the always reliable, Hunter Renfrow. PFF be damned, I refuse to believe this is the seventh-worst unit in the NFL.
Even if the receivers are below average, the Raiders still have their all-world tight end Darren Waller
and his severely underutilized counterpart in Foster Moreau. Then you add on one of the best running back pairings
in the league with Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake too, so yeah, this offense is formidable.
The Raiders defense is ready to take a step forward…
The defensive side is what really gives reason to believe the Raiders will be better though. They improved their pass rush with the Ngakoue signing, helping lead the culture change
with the Silver and Black. An unknown factor that could end up benefiting the pass rush is third-round pick, Malcolm Koonce.
They also improved their secondary with the needed addition of a savvy veteran cornerback in Casey Hayward. Make no mistake, this year’s rookies will need to contribute out of the gate. Trevon Moehrig, Tyree Gillespie, and Nate Hobbs will be under the microscope. Plus they already had young players throughout the roster who could still develop into better players too.
Most importantly though, they added the previously mentioned Bradley to the coaching staff. This is THE move that should be the difference for the Raiders this year because Bradley has several times over proven his track record as a coordinator. Wherever he goes, good defenses follow and he also is a perfect fit for underperforming safety Johnathan Abram. I have zero doubt that the Bradley-led defense will be vastly improved from the horrible defense fielded last year.
Not to mention, could the defense really get much worse from last year? Whether you’ll admit it or not, the defense can only go up from here. The defense last year was terrible, and the team still managed to finish 8-8.
All eyes are on Gruden this season…
Last but not least, Jon Gruden can not afford another failed season
. His legacy cannot stand it and neither can his ego. There’s no option to fail because if he does, his status as an elite coach in the NFL is completely gone. It’s already in tatters and many believe he has always been overhyped. However, if he fails again to get to the playoffs, he officially joins Joe Gibbs (30-34 in his second stint in Washington) as former Super Bowl champion coaches who were disappointed in their comebacks.
So what gives then? What am I not seeing that has many people so eager to return the Raiders to their punching bag status of years bygone? The entire thing is bizarre to me that so many people are already writing them off as a non-factor in 2021.
Obviously, nobody knows what’s going to happen. Perhaps, the rumblings will be accurate after all, with the Raiders being crappy again. I would find that far more surprising than the Raiders being a playoff-caliber team that surprises folks. They have too many reasons to believe they will get over the hump this year, it will be heartbreaking if they don’t get to the playoffs.
What say you, Raider Nation? Is the NFL world sleeping on the Las Vegas Raiders? Or, have I finally surrendered to the Rose-Colored glasses bias of a fanatic?
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*Thanks to one of our readers, Marcus Krause, for weighing in with his thoughts.
*Top Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal
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