The new Las Vegas Raiders had a disappointing 7-9 season in 2019. The Raiders found themselves sitting at 6-4 with six games remaining and a chance at a wild card spot within their grasp. However, the Raiders defense would allow 28.1 points per game over this final stretch, and they would post a subpar 1-5 record. The Raiders have failed to achieve a .500 record since 2016. Last season the defense overall was quite pedestrian, allowing 26.2 points per game, which put them 24th in the NFL, and they had one of the worst secondaries.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for the Raiders moving forward. general manager Mike Mayock‘s 2019 draft class exceeded expectations and has given some new life as the team makes their transition to the sin city. Here are the players who will make a difference for the Raiders in 2020.
Make sure to check out all of our other team award predictions here.
MVP: Josh Jacobs
When it comes to picking the MVP on the Raiders, there are a few options. Quarterback is the most critical position on the field, so usually, it is the most valuable. However, the Raiders likely are going to rely more on Jacobs this season. 2019 was a phenomenal rookie season for Jacobs, as he totaled 1,150 rushing yards paired with seven touchdowns. Jacobs would average 4.8 yards per carry until he would miss the final three games of the season due to injury. This move was likely to help preserve him as he had already played several weeks with the shoulder injury, and the team had no chance at the playoffs.
While the Raiders weren’t the most run-heavy offense in 2019, they still ran the ball 44% of the time, three percent above the NFL average. When on early downs of seven or more yards, that number goes up to 49%. The Raiders relied on Jacobs to put their offense into more comfortable third-down situations and thrived off his big-play potential. With Jon Gruden calling the plays, you know he will feed Jacobs all game if he continues to develop on the ground as well as in the passing game. Jacobs also could see a lot more red zone touches in 2020.
Offensive Player: Darren Waller
Waller burst onto the scene in 2019, putting up 1,145 yards and three touchdowns after just 178 yards total in his first three seasons. In 2019, Waller led the Raiders in receiving yards, targets, receptions, and was fourth in yards per reception averaging 12.3. He quickly became Derek Carr‘s favorite offensive weapon from his tight end position. With Carr likely still set to be the starter in 2020, their chemistry should only grow.
With the addition of first-round draft pick Henry Ruggs III, Waller might lose a few touches. However, defenses will now have to account for the speedster out of Alabama, and Gruden’s offense has a whole new dimension to it. Waller will likely be one of the benefactors of this pick. He can now serve multiple roles in this offense, and he will continue to see a large number of touches in 2020.
Defensive Player: Maxx Crosby
Of the two pass rushers that the Raiders took in the 2019 NFL draft, nobody knew Crosby. However, if you didn’t know his name before, you quickly learned it. Crosby frequently surprised everyone with his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Crosby would put up ten sacks and 16 tackles for loss in his rookie season and led the Raiders in both categories. Crosby also led the team in forced fumbles with four and totaled 31 pressures.
Crosby dominated when he was on the field in 2019, and there isn’t any reason for him to slow down in 2020. The Raiders added defensive tackle Maliek Collins through free agency, so expect Crosby to be given a lot of one-on-ones on the outside. Crosby could be in for an All-Pro season if he continues to develop this offseason.
Offensive Rookie: Henry Ruggs III
The Raiders marquee pick of the 2020 NFL Draft was the speedster out of Alabama. Ruggs had a great college career for the Crimson Tide putting up 1,716 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons. In his final year, Ruggs averaged nearly 20 yards and scored 19% of the time every time he touched the ball. This kind of big-play potential and game-changing speed is why the Raiders spent the 12th overall pick on the Alabama receiver.
Ruggs brings vertical stretch and exceptional ability to get over the top of a defense. These qualities have been hard to come by in recent years for the Raiders. Ruggs will allow this offense to open up more and create less predictability. Combined with his speed and explosiveness, Ruggs is also physical at the line of scrimmage and can put man cover corners into panic mode. So look for Ruggs to get a lot of looks in 2020.
Defensive Rookie: Amik Robertson
Robertson has been considered one of the best steals in the 2020 draft, and Mayock and Gruden have seemed to have found another late-round gem. Robertson played college ball at Louisiana Tech. His production was off the charts putting up 14 interceptions, and 48 passes defended in just three years. Of course, numbers aren’t everything, and there have been plenty of college stars that haven’t panned out like most thought they would.
It doesn’t look like Robertson is going to follow that path. He is scrappy and physical at the line of scrimmage despite his smaller stature. Robertson is a great tackler, and his ability to make plays on the ball is what you want in an NFL defensive back. Due to his size, he likely won’t stay outside. However, potentially sliding him to the slot corner spot and moving Lamarcus Joyner back to his former safety spot could be the move here to maximize the Raiders personnel. If this happens, Robertson could be one of the better slot corners in the NFL by season’s end.
Biggest Surprise: Derek Carr
The looming question on the offensive side of the Raiders these past few seasons, is “what happened to Carr?” Ever since the Raiders 12-4 season in 2016, when Carr put up a potential MVP season, the story has been the complete opposite. Carr went down with a broken ankle in their final regular-season game of that year and has never quite returned to the same level of play.
If there were a quarterback that I could compare Carr to, it would be a younger Alex Smith. A good athlete but is just a little too conservative with the football and often relies on his skill players to make plays. However, just like Smith, if you give him weapons, Carr can lead your team to the playoffs. He has one of the better offensive lines in the league. Now add receivers Ruggs and Nelson Agholor, and Carr has a good amount of weapons at his disposal. Waller will continue to be a great safety valve option, and Jacobs will provide a solid run game to lean on. 2020 could be the comeback season for the veteran quarterback as he looks to retain his job and prove that he’s still got it.
Biggest Disappointment: Arden Key
After two seasons so far in the NFL, Key has not quite been what some people thought he would. Key put up solid production during his three-year career with the LSU Tigers. However, his first two years in the league haven’t had nearly the same results totaling only three sacks. The new Raiders regime felt the need to add some pass rushers and went out to draft Clelin Ferrell and Crosby, who saw a large portion of the defensive snaps in 2019.
Key did miss nearly half of 2019 due to injury and was placed on the injured reserve in November with a foot injury. This wasn’t the first time either that Key missed a chunk of playing time as his final year at LSU saw him miss four games at the beginning of the 2017 season. If Key stays healthy, he could work as a rotational pass rusher. However, with the signing of Carl Nassib, Key will likely continue to see a small number of snaps in 2020 as he starts to get buried on the depth chart.
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