A Look Inside: 2021 Las Vegas Raiders

In 2020 we got our first look at the Raiders in their new city, Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas was ecstatic to get an NFL team, but the appeal has likely died down a bit after they realized the same mediocre Oakland club showed up. John Gruden has yet to post a winning season in his three-year tenure as the Raiders head coach. He signed a 10-year, $100 million deal in 2018 and is expected to lead the franchise back to their winning ways. We’ve seen highs and lows from this franchise over the past few years, so let’s review 2020 and the current state of the team heading into 2021.

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Marcas Grant from NFL Media!

Quarterbacks

Derek Carr is probably the least talked about fantasy quarterback in the NFL. You hardly ever see him in Sleeper/Bust columns or on “breakout” lists. His 2020 season was ho-hum — 4,103 passing yards with 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Those numbers were good for a QB14 finish. It was a solid “real-life” NFL quarterback season, as Carr was top-10 among all QBs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and adjusted yards gained per attempt. He also achieved his career-high QBR last season (71.0), but those metrics don’t always translate to fantasy production.

Gruden has always favored the run game, especially in the red zone. Because of the low-volume passing offense and lack of scoring opportunities through the air, Carr is always going to have a limited fantasy ceiling. In his seven-year career, Derek Carr has never finished below QB20 and never above QB12 in fantasy. At this point, it’s safe to say that we know what to expect from Carr. He’s a mid-range QB2, nothing more and nothing less.  

Marcus Mariota, the former Titans’ first-round selection, is also on the roster. It seems like every year we hear camp buzz about him possibly starting. Gruden has already had plenty of time to make that transition if he wanted to, so don’t count on it. The only time we saw Mariota last season was due to an injury to Carr. Expect him to continue serving as the backup.

 

Running Backs

Going into his sophomore NFL season, we expected a Josh Jacobs jump up into the top tier of fantasy RBs. Especially since we saw multiple quotes out of camp that suggested he would become more involved in the passing game. He set a preseason goal of 60+ catches and the Jacobs truthers ate it all up! Fast forward through the 2020 season and he only ended up with 33 receptions. While it was a major improvement from his rookie season, that’s not what folks signed up for when they drafted him in the 1st or 2nd round.

The concerns go beyond just the receiving work. Despite his RB8 finish, Jacobs was an overall disappointment for fantasy managers last season. His points were very concentrated, leading to several boom/bust performances. In PPR leagues, Jacobs only had five weeks within the Top 10 of running backs. He was also an RB2 or worse in nine out of 15 games. He salvaged what could have been a disaster of a season by scoring 12 rushing touchdowns.

Jacobs showed that he has the ability and skills to be a quality NFL running back. He had 5th most yards created, 4th most evaded tackles, and 12th best juke rate in 2020. However, the Las Vegas offensive line took a major step back last season. Veterans Richie Incognito and Trent Brown missed a lot of time due to injuries and the rest of the unit struggled. Only nine RBs saw fewer rushing yards before contact than Jacobs and PFF rated the unit as that 24th-best in the league. Even though they invested a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft on a young, promising tackle, Alex Leatherwood, there are still major questions along the O-line. Especially after the loss of three previous starters: Rodney Hudson, Trent Brown, and Gabe Jackson.

Note: You can read Club Fantasy writer Zach’s take on Josh Jacobs here!

The Raiders decided to upgrade their depth behind Jacobs by bringing in Kenyan Drake on a two-year deal. This obviously led to lots of panic from Jacobs managers, but I don’t view Drake as a major threat to Jacobs’ overall rushing volume. However, it does likely confirm that we will never see Jacobs in a three-down role with pass-catching included. Gruden has hinted that Drake will be used plenty as a receiver out of the backfield. When comparing them as runners though, Jacobs is the superior talent. Drake will be a nice upgrade from Jalen Richard, but there is very little chance he completely takes over as the lead back. Based on expected volume, Jacobs is still a mid to high RB2. Drake should be viewed as an elite handcuff that possibly has low-end flex potential behind Jacobs.

Wide Receivers

Ever since the Oakland days of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the Raiders have been trying to piece together a solid receiving corps. They invested good draft capital in two spots during the 2020 draft. They drafted Henry Ruggs in the first round and Bryan Edwards in the third. Ruggs was the very first receiver taken in last year’s draft. His speed was unmatched by any other prospect, posting a 4.27 40-yard dash time. His rookie season was one to forget with only 452 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was targeted more than four times in a game just twice. You have to wonder why they refused to get their first-round pick involved.

Bryan Edwards came into the league with the analytical profile of a future fantasy God! He has a 6’3” 212 lb frame with a 94th percentile College Dominator, 88th percentile target share, and the best breakout age ever recorded (17.8 years old). His 2020 preseason hype train was so loud, I can still hear the echoes from it today. That made his rookie season even more disappointing: 11 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown. His stat line for the YEAR looks like a monster game from an elite wideout. Edwards began the season as a starter, putting up 40+ receiving yards in Weeks 2 and 3. Then, a foot injury took him out and Nelson Agholor emerged in his place. Agholor never gave the job up, even when Edwards was healthy. Agholor is gone, but there was more competition brought in this off-season.

If Ruggs and/or Edwards are to break out this season, they will have to deal with John Brown. The  Raiders signed Brown to a one-year deal to replace Agholor. Brown started his career with the Arizona Cardinals and, while he often flashed, he could never seem to fully put it together over a season. That was until he signed with Buffalo. He put up his best numbers (72 receptions and 1,060 receiving yards) in 2019. Then, he was on his way to another productive season in 2020, until multiple injuries forced him to miss most of the second half.

When you also throw Hunter Renfrow into the mix, this is a complicated wide receiver room to project. I’d be lying if I told you that I was confident in any of these guys taking over as the “alpha”. We know where most of the targets are going to go in this offense and it’s not to a receiver (more on him shortly). There is fantasy value for whichever of these weapons can establish themselves as the second target. Ruggs has the draft capital, Edwards has the analytical profile, and John Brown has the experience. Fortunately, all of them are going in the later rounds of drafts. That means it won’t cost much to take a shot on any of them.

Tight Ends

This section will focus on one player. There is a crowd of Foster Moreau supporters, but nine targets over 16 games played last season doesn’t give me much hope for his outlook as a fantasy asset. Darren Waller is the star of this offense and there is no reason to believe that’s going to change this year.

Only three tight ends since the NFL merger have recorded back-to-back 1,100+ receiving yard seasons: Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Darren Waller. Waller has firmly established himself among the very elite fantasy tight ends. It’s time we start viewing him that way going forward. In 2020, he led all tight ends in deep targets, red-zone targets, receptions, and yards after the catch. The only reason he isn’t in consideration as THE top tight end–Travis Kelce and the Chiefs offense. The Raiders’ lack of overall passing volume and scoring opportunities holds him back Don’t hesitate to draft him in the second round of any league format.