With the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2021 season upon us, there are plenty of new faces and players who will be asked to take on bigger roles. The offense had quite the shuffling done especially along the line. Departures could also play a role in who is now asked to shoulder bigger responsibility.
The Raiders had a busy offseason this year. Las Vegas traded away big names while also letting certain players walk. These changes will cause a slightly different look heading into this season. This, in turn, will force certain players into the spotlight as they’ll have to shoulder the load.
While the defense is completely revamped and could be a competitive squad, the offense will still dictate how fearsome the Raiders can be. There are a few upcoming games that project to be shootouts. Meaning no matter how good the defense is, the offense will have to resume last year’s explosiveness. These three players have a large task ahead of them as they prove why they have won their head coach’s trust.
Alex Leatherwood, RT
Being a first round pick comes with its own level of stress and expectations. Just ask Clelin Ferrell. Those expectations are increased ten-fold after your team trades away a top 10 player in your position. While there are mixed feelings on Trent Brown, to say he’s not a top 10 tackle, when healthy, is ludicrous. From the outside looking in, it appears Jon Gruden and company grew frustrated with Brown’s inability to stay on the field. Hence his departure this past offseason.
Enter Alex Leatherwood. The rookie is going to be tasked with stepping into Brown’s shoes and provide some muscle on the right side of the line. To no surprise, the first official depth chart has him listed as the starter at right tackle. He’ll be put to the test in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, being asked to block names like Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Tyus Bowser. Baltimore also boasted the largest blitz percentage last season, according to Pro-Football Reference. Leatherwood will be put through the ringer this week and have his initial trial by fire.
Andre James, C
Leatherwood’s scenario is without a doubt going to be stressful. However, Andre James may have him beat in terms of stress on his plate. While Brown can be argued to be a top 10 tackle, Rodney Hudson is arguably top-three, if not, the best. That is what James will be asked to replicate this upcoming season.
Replacing Hudson might be borderline impossible. He was a rock along the offensive line for the previous five seasons. His stability and leadership allowed the line to remain a force to be reckoned with. A former undrafted free agent is now be vaulted into a pivotal role.
The coaches clearly believe he can handle the job as they signed him to an extension prior to the season. You also don’t move on from a top-three player if you don’t have a contingency plan in place, usually. James was clearly that plan for the center position. As stated before, the Ravens are going to bring the heat and it will lie on James to have his line in proper positions. Just like his new teammate Leatherwood, Week 1 will absolutely be a trial by fire.
Henry Ruggs III, WR
Another first round pick who will have all eyes on him rolling into Monday is Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs’ rookie season was spent mostly being a distraction to create space for Nelson Agholor and Darren Waller. While Waller is returning, Agholor is now a New England Patriot. This will result in Ruggs most likely being asked to take on more responsibility.
When the Raiders brought in John Brown this offseason, it appeared the purpose was to fill the void Agholor left, to an extent. However, in a bit of a surprise move, the Raiders granted Brown’s request to be let go. Why Brown asked for his release is still unknown but it’s worth wondering if Ruggs and Bryan Edwards appear to be receivers one and two, respectfully.
Regardless of the reason why, with Brown gone, Ruggs should become the primary target for quarterback Derek Carr. This year will be crucial for the former Alabama prospect as it’s imperative he proves he was worth the number 12 overall pick ahead of more refined prospects in Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.
A long way to go…
The offense is going to be what makes or breaks this team in the end. In a division with Patrick Mahomes, the Raiders are destined for at least two shootouts this season. However, there are more than likely a few more on the docket, including today against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Ruggs, James, and Leatherwood are being asked to step into crucial roles in this offense and will be pivotal players in the overall success their unit has. While it may not happen Week 1, how quickly they can progress might just dictate how this team performs in the long run. These three players should play with chips on their shoulders as they have a lot of doubters. Tune in this evening to see what this revamped offense can do.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/John Locher