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For the second year in a row, the Raiders started out hot and looked to be in the hunt for the playoffs. And for the second year in a row, a late-season swoon knocked them out of it. The Raiders couldn’t win big games down the stretch, finishing 8-8 for the season and coming up just short. The question is whether the Raiders can finally get over that last hurdle and make the playoff field in 2021.
It was a quiet and interesting off-season for the Raiders, which saw a number of veterans head out. 2020’s leading receiver, Nelson Agholor, signed with the Patriots, while veteran Tyrell Williams went to Detroit. Devontae Booker signed with the Giants, while tackle Trent Brown was dealt back to the New England Patriots. In turn, the Raiders made a few free agent signings to fill holes that didn’t pan out. Safety Karl Joseph and receiver John Brown were brought in to fill some gaps, but both were released when the final roster was constructed on Tuesday.
The team did add to its running back room, signing veteran Kenyan Drake to a two-year, $11 million deal. Drake was RB16 in 2020, rushing for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns on 239 carries with the Cardinals. He’s been a pass-catching weapon in the pass, and it stands to reason he’ll help fill that role with the Raiders. The Raiders also signed veteran receiver Willie Snead and veteran cornerback Casey Hayward. Perhaps the biggest signing was snagging former Ravens’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who should bolster the team’s pass rush.
In the draft, the Raiders addressed areas of need. In the First Round, the team grabbed Alabama lineman Alex Leatherwood to help with the reshaping of the men up front on offense. In the Second Round, the Raiders snagged safety Trevon Moehrig from TCU.
Derek Carr is back and the man at quarterback. He’s an under-rated fantasy asset, finishing as QB13 in 2020. He figures to be a solid QB2 in 2021 as well, while Marcus Mariota remains one of the more appealing backup quarterback options in the league. In the backfield, the primary players are Drake and third year back Josh Jacobs. Jacobs finished as RB8 last season, but with Drake in town it’s more likely a split of some kind. I like Jacobs as an RB2 while Drake ends up in the RB3/4 range.
The more interesting question is the passing game. Prior to Tuesday, I thought Brown would play a significant role. In his absence, the Raiders have five receivers on the roster—second year pros Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, along with veterans Snead, Zay Jones and Hunter Renfrow. It seems like the table is set for a decent year-two jump for both Ruggs and Edwards, who’ve drawn positive reports from camp. Last year Agholor was the top receiver, finishing as WR34 while Renfrow finished as WR59. So, there’s a chance the top receiver for the Raiders can leap into WR3 range. My gut says Edwards is the top guy, finishing more in the 40-50 range, with Ruggs taking a small step up into WR5/6 range.
The Raiders’ best weapon is tight end Darren Waller. He finished as TE2 in 2020 and figures to be a lock for Top 3 at the position in 2021 if he stays healthy. He functions as the Raiders’ top receiver and is one of the best passing weapons in the league.
The Raiders have been making small steps forward each of the past few seasons. The AFC West is loaded with the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs all having talented rosters, while the Raiders remain a bit of a mystery. Still, the core of the talent is solid and the defense seems poised to take a small step forward. I think the incremental journey continues as the Raiders get to nine wins, but probably just miss out on the post-season.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.