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2021 Team Report: Las Vegas Raiders

Last updated: Mon, Sep 6

Offensive Philosophy

Since John Gruden joined the Raiders, quarterback Derek Carr has continued to take positive steps in his development. Long a low-risk, low-reward passer, over the last two seasons the Raiders have incorporated more and more deep concepts to the point where rookie Henry Ruggs' average target came more than 17 yards down the field and receiver Nelson Agholor led all players with at least 40 catches in yards per reception. At running back, Gruden continued give Josh Jacobs the bulk of the rushes but spell him on 3rd-downs and in obvious passing situations.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Derek Carr
Backup(s): Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman

Starting QB: Derek Carr has been a starter for each of his seven NFL seasons and now holds the Raiders all-time records for completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. The 30-year old has put together three straight seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards, 67% completion percentage, and 10 or fewer interceptions. He has been a consistently solid performer. However, there is not much sizzle to his game and very little to get excited about for fantasy. Despite his solid play over the last three seasons while starting every single game over that stretch, he has averaged just 22.3 passing touchdowns per season. He also brings very little to the table as a runner. In seven seasons, he has a grand total of 635 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns.

Backup QB: Marcus Mariota accepted a steep pay cut, from $10.6M to $3.5M, on a restructured deal to stay in Las Vegas and back up Derek Carr. Given his starting experience and strong play in relief of Carr, Mariota is one of the league's better second-string passers. In Week 15 last season, Carr went down with an injury early in the second quarter. Mariota replaced excelled in his place, passing for 226 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 88 yards and touchdown in the game. Should Carr go down for an extended period of time, Mariota's dual-threat ability gives him legitimate fantasy upside.

Running Backs

Starter: Josh Jacobs
Backup(s): Kenyan Drake, Jalen Richard, Trey Ragas [R]
Fullback(s): Alec Ingold, Garrett Groshek [R]

Starting RB: Josh Jacobs had a strong rookie season in 2019, producing 1,316 yards from scrimmage in just 13 games. His total yards per game dropped from 101 yards per game to 87 yards per game last season. While Jacobs did see a boost in targets (45), he did not do much with them (5.3 yards per target). Jacobs also saw a big drop in yards per carry, from 4.8 as a rookie to 3.9 in year two. All in all, it was a disappointing sophomore campaign for Jacobs. While Jacobs remains entrenched as the starter, the big contract signed by Kenyan Drake points towards Jacobs likely losing some snaps. One area Jacobs performed well is in the red zone, rushing for 12 touchdowns last year. He should maintain that role and lead the way on early downs. However, Drake is expected to have a big role in the passing game, which limits the PPR upside of Jacobs.

Backup RBs: Kenyan Drake will be one of the highest paid backups in the NFL after signing a two-year deal with $11M guaranteed that can grow to $14.5M with incentives. The sheer size of the contract practically guarantees Drake will have a big role in the Raiders backfield. The 27-year old back was solid in a lead role for the Cardinals last season but may be best suited for a part-time role given his relative lack of bulk. Drake was targeted just 31 times last season but should see at least twice that amount in 2021. He saw a career-high 73 targets in 2018 and Jon Gruden's comments after the signing make clear he could see a similar workload for the Raiders. Jalen Richard will be entering his sixth season with the Raiders but could fade into the background given the commitment made to Drake.

Fullback: Alec Ingold is a traditional blocking fullback who only had three carries in 2020. However, he did catch 12 of 17 targets out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Henry Ruggs, John Brown, Hunter Renfrow
Backups: Bryan Edwards, Willie Snead, Zay Jones, Dillon Stoner [R], Keelan Doss, Trey Quinn, Marcell Ateman

Starting WRs: The pecking order of the Raiders wide receiver depth chart is still to be determined and this could be a messy situation for fantasy purposes. Nelson Agholor was the surprise WR1 for the Raiders last season on his way to a WR22 fantasy finish. With Agholor now in New England, there is modest fantasy upside if one wide receiver can separate from the pack. One year after going off the board as the 12th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Henry Ruggs still needs to prove he is worthy of a starting spot. Ruggs struggled as a rookie, catching only 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. He made a couple of big plays early in the season but was invisible for long stretches. General manager Mike Mayock noted that Rugges needs to level up by improving his strength , route running, and conditioning. While Ruggs should be considered a favorite for one of the two starting outside wide receiver jobs, the addition of another speedster in veteran John Brown means that Oakland has options should Ruggs not make a second-year leap. The 31-year old Brown arrives in Las Vegas after two years in Buffalo, signing a modest one-year contract . Brown caught 33 passes for 458 yards in nine games as the injury bug bit him again. Brown and Ruggs will both have to hold off a challenge from Bryan Edwards in training camp to hold onto their status as presumed starters. Hunter Renfrow should be the go-to option in the slot again. With Las Vegas making regular usage of two-tight end formations, Renfrow may again fail to see enough targets to make a fantasy impact. He averaged 4.8 targets per game last season.

Backup WRs: Bryan Edwards is projected as a backup but that could easily change as the offseason progresses. The big-bodied second-year receiver generated headlines throughout the offseason last year but the hype never translated to the field, as he managed just 11 catches in 2020. With fellow rookie Henry Ruggs also disappointing and veteran John Brown having much to prove at age 31, Edwards will have a chance to make his move up the depth chart. His size and physicality could make him standout if he can put it all together. Willie Snead provides solid veteran depth after three solid but unspectacular seasons with the Ravens.

Tight Ends

Starters: Darren Waller
Backups: Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers

Darren Waller came out of nowhere to put together a breakout season in 2019 (90 catches for 1,146 yards) and backed it up with an even better 2020 campaign (107 catches for 1,195 yards). In addition to notching 17 more receptions, Waller also tripled his touchdowns from three in 2019 to a career-high nine in 2020. The 28-year old has now established himself as one of the game's elite tight ends. His blend of size and incredible speed (4.46-second forty yard dash at the NFL Combine) makes him an impossible matchup for opposing defenses. As the clear go-to target in the Raiders passing offense, Waller is poised for another excellent season and profiles as one of the few true fantasy difference-makers at the tight end position. Foster Moreau took a small step back in 2020 as he ceded snaps to veteran Jason Witten, who played 404 snaps to Moreau's 255. With Witten retired, Moreau should see a big boost in snaps given the Raiders' frequent use of multiple-tight end formations.

Place Kicker

Daniel Carlson, Dominik Eberle: Carlson was a big hit in NFL and fantasy terms last year, enough so that the Raiders gave him a second round RFA tender this offseason, worth 3.384 million over one year. His NFL and fantasy kicker scoring totals were both good enough for the top five, although attempting 18 field goals inside the 30 put Carlson six higher than any other kicker in the league. He isn't going in the top 5-6 kickers in most drafts and might even be available in the last round of your draft, so consider Carlson one of your targets if you are going to be one of the last teams to take a kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jalen Richard

A glut at the running back position may put Jalen Richard' roster spot in jeopardy, but if he does make the team it will likely be because of his experience as a kickoff returner.

Punt Returners: Hunter Renfrow

Hunter Renfrow didn't take a step forward on offense in his second season, but he did take a big leap on special teams, where he locked down full-time punt return duties and performed well, ranking 6th in yards on a team that didn't force many punts. He's the likely bet to handle returns again in 2021.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Kolton Miller, LT Richie Incognito, C Andre James, RG Denzelle Good, RT Alex Leatherwood [R]
Key Backups: OL Nick Martin, OL Brandon Parker, OL John Simpson

After trading Trent Brown, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson, recently resigned Kolton Miller is the leader. Veteran Richie Incognito returns to form a duo on the left side with Miller. Center Nick Martin arrived from Houston and Denzelle Good swapped to the right guard spot to replace Jackson. Alex Leatherwood was drafted from Alabama in round one to replace Brown at right tackle. This group's grades are flawed but can improve as their lineup stabilizes.

Team Defense

The Raiders were the worst fantasy D/ST in the league in some scoring systems and it's not hard to see how or why. They managed only 19 sacks and 15 takeaways, with no D/ST touchdowns and only two games where they held the opponent under 24 points, one of which was greatly weather-aided. The additions of Yannick Ngakoue, Corey Hayward, and second-round pick Trevon Moehrig will plug some holes in the defense, but we'll remain in wait and see mode when gauging whether the Raiders are worth a spot start at any point this season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Yannick Ngakoue, NT Jonathan Hankins, DT Quinton Jefferson, DE Maxx Crosby
Backups: DE Clelin Ferrell, DE Carl Nassib, DE Malcolm Koonce [R], DT Solomon Thomas, DT Darius Philon

Starting DL: In Ngakoue, the Raiders may finally have the linchpin pass-rusher they've lacked since Khalil Mack was dealt off. They've recorded a meager 66 sacks since the infamous trade, dead-last in the league and "good" for 16 fewer than the No. 31 Bengals. The team may already be hedging its bets on Ferrell, a surprising choice as last year's No. 4 pick who showed little as a rookie. But to their credit, they added the dynamic Ngakoue at an affordable price, and he offers immediate 10-sack upside. He's produced 8.0 or more in 5 straight seasons, and he'll lead the charge in any and all passing situations. He's one-dimensional, though, so his IDP prospects aren't strong - more of a DL3 option for big-play leagues. Crosby is a solid two-way player on the other side, though he took a predictable step back statistically in 2020. He could threaten 10 sacks again, but there may not be much more to his output than that. Hankins continues to ply his trade as a run-stuffing specialist on the nose, though his play slipped noticeably - along with the rest of the team's run defense - in 2020. Jefferson will likely lead a committee of one-gap bodies next to him, and none stand out as particularly intriguing.

Backup DL: The team surprised many in April by cutting loose a pair of 2018 prospects, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key. Neither had made a huge impact, but their loss leaves the depth chart relatively bare. Ferrell is far from a finished prospect entering his second season, but didn't produce much over 461 rookie snaps (just 2.0 sacks). Nassib will also look to bounce back from a disappointing Raiders debut - he managed just 2.5 sacks of his own. He'll face pressure for snaps from third-round rookie Koonce, who's a bit undersized but brings a great pass-rushing resume (13.0 sacks over his last 17 games at Buffalo). Thomas flamed out as a former No. 3 pick in San Francisco, and he lost most of last year to an ACL tear, but could push for rotational time on a one-year, prove-it deal.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Cory Littleton, MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, SLB Denzel Perryman
Backups: SLB Nicholas Morrow (inj), WLB Divine Deablo [R], MLB Asmar Bilal, SLB Darron Lee

Starting LBs: One of last year's most disappointing free-agent jumps was that of Littleton, who went from elite in 2019 to a liability in 2020. For a number of reasons, Littleton's dynamic Rams play (130 tackles a game, with 7.5 sacks from 2018-19) didn't carry over to Las Vegas (81 tackles, no sacks) in the slightest. A safety hybrid at heart, Littleton is at best playing wide and often deep, which hurts his tackling production but at least keeps him useful. He plays virtually every snap, but doesn't seem to boast the same LB1 upside he did with the Rams. The more successful acquisition was Kwiatkoski, who was solid in the middle and posted 6.7 tackles a game. He's not much of a playmaker, but solidifies the middle as the team works through its run-game woes. Perryman was brought on board during camp to compensate for Morrow's injury. He looks like no more than a placeholder, though, on his third roster in less than six months.

Backup LBs: Morrow will likely regain his starting job once he recovers from a foot injury, but it's murky as to when that will be. He's probably an upgrade on Perryman, though. Morrow is at his best against the pass, where he registered 3.0 sacks, an interception, and 9 pass breakups last year. Bilal should have the inside track on the backup job inside. Lee has likely run out of NFL lives at this point; he's done little more than play special teams and sit on practice squads for the past two seasons.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Jonathan Abram, FS Trevon Moehrig [R] CB Casey Hayward, CB Trayvon Mullen
Backups: CB Damon Arnette, CB Nate Hobbs [R], CB Amik Robertson, SS Tyree Gillespie [R], CB Nevin Lawson (susp)

Starting DBs: Abram served as a strong fantasy DB2 in his second season, registering 82 tackles and 2 interceptions despite missing 3 games. Aggressive and hard-hitting, he posted a pair of 13-tackle performances and proved his IDP upside. Still, he has a long way to go in terms of on-field effectiveness, and this secondary as a whole remains in disarray. Moehrig was a much-praised second-round pick in April, and it would be no surprise to see him heavily involved early on. A big, rangy, do-it-all type in the middle of the field, Moehrig looks like a heavy talent upgrade over Karl Joseph. He broke up 20 passes and intercepted 6 more over the past two years, making splash plays all over the field. At cornerback, the Raiders continue to hope for growth from recent premium picks Mullen and Arnette. Mullen, a 6-foot-2 press specialist with ball skills, has certainly flashed coverage ability. But Arnette's rookie 2020 was an abject disaster, with seven games missed and horrid play on the field. The team brought in Hayward, who will almost certainly bump Arnette to the bench. Hayward comes fresh off his worst season as a pro, but boasts a long resume as an upper-tier shutdown cornerback. All that experience could be the final factor in kickstarting this talented but wildly unstable young secondary.

Backup DBs: Arnette will need to show quick improvement; this secondary is riddled with holes and simply can't support that level of play. It's hard to find much confidence with the team adding Hayward and two mid-round rookies to the secondary. Hobbs brings four years' starting experience and a playmaking mentality to the table. He'll push Robertson, a fourth-round pick from last year, for snaps as the third cornerback. Lawson should return to provide low-level depth after a two-game suspension to open the year. Fourth-rounder Gillespie will look to stick on special teams, and perhaps as an in-the-box specialist.