With the Las Vegas Raiders’ season opener just days away, it’s time to reflect on some offseason takeaways. More importantly, what will they all mean as far as the 2021 NFL season?
The Silver and Black made huge changes on both sides of the ball. Some of these changes came recently as they wrapped up their final 53. The Raiders hope these changes can be enough to force a playoff berth in a competitive division and conference. Heading into a must-win season for Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, let’s review three factors that can make a difference.
Youth at wide receiver…
Many were surprised when the Raiders played John Brown with the preseason coming to a close. The bigger shock came after Brown asked Las Vegas for his release, to which the team agreed.
The Raiders had shown signs that a battle was brewing in the wide receiver room. Ultimately, team brass decided to give the young guys a shot. The early improvement from Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III was encouraging. Mix those two with Hunter Renfrow and veteran Willie Snead, two established slot presences, and you get a dynamic group.
With an average age of 24 years old, this group has a lot on their shoulders, but plenty of room to grow. This close to the season, Brown’s release should be a testament of improvement from Zay Jones, Edwards, and Ruggs, rather than a poor offseason from ‘Smoke.’
Rebuilt offensive line
We have been talking about it almost all offseason, but now, we finally have some footage to truly examine the new Raiders O-line. From the looks of it, rookie tackle Alex Leatherwood is already fitting in. Strong preseason play from Leatherwood assured Raider Nation that they could breathe easy, at least for now. Understandably, any rookie will go through growing pains, especially at the tackle position, but the instincts and fundamentals Leatherwood flashes are impressive.
Denzelle Good and Richie Incognito are still solid players. John Simpson had a strong camp and preseason as well. The main concern heading into the season remains depth and the center position. Andre James flashed at times, but showed inconsistency, while veteran Nick Martin proved to be shaky at best. Led by a rising tackle group, I expect the offensive line to be fine, not great, and that’s if they can stay healthy.
The Raiders defense, on paper, is undeniably greater than in recent years. Las Vegas has added players such as Gerald McCoy, Yannick Ngakoue, Casey Hayward, Tre’von Moehrig, and K.J. Wright to a squad that was one of the worst in 2020. They also added respected coaches like Gus Bradley and Ron Milus to top off a defensive staff that players can actually be excited to play for. Personally speaking, the Raiders will take a leap defensively, but a well-gelled unit doesn’t happen overnight. Strong preseason performances from young players like Nate Hobbs and Javin White (pre-injury), also show glimmers of hope that this defense can not only be stout, but deep as well. To say the Raiders will be a top 10-15 defense might be a stretch, but fans should be excited for what’s going on in that building.
Final assessment and record prediction
The good news is the Raiders are a much more complete team than in 2020, the bad news is that the division, and conference as a whole, have gotten much better as well.
The Raiders offense relies heavily on its O-line, which is for the most part, unknown. The Silver and Black can be a great unit if they can stay efficient on offense (especially in the red zone), and force turnovers on defense to create more opportunities. This team’s ceiling is 11-6 while the floor is 6-11. I believe the Las Vegas Raiders go 9-8 but stay competitive until the very end. The AFC is loaded, and the Raiders’ schedule is unforgiving, but this team will fight.
*Top Photo: Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal