The Las Vegas Raiders…that’s a tough pill to swallow. No longer the beloved Oakland Raiders, the franchise holds their inaugural season in their new home city of Las Vegas with subtle optimism.
Starting quarterback Derek Carr enters his seventh season as the man under center. It’s a “prove it” year for Carr after falling off the map in 2017 and 2018 following a broken leg in the penultimate game of the 2016 regular season. He was putting up MVP numbers that season and easily could have taken the Raiders to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2003.
However, Carr’s career has taken a turn for the worst as he has proven to be inconsistent game-to-game and settles for sacks in the worst moments.
While he had a career-best completion percentage in 2019, it could be contributed to a return to his 2016 form in the first half of last season. When he went to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Jets, it was as if he had seen a ghost and the Raiders went on to lose four straight after the embarrassing performance in New Jersey.
This season, Carr will have two new shiny weapons to work with in rookie wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. Ruggs will be the deep-ball threat for Carr while Edwards will be the reliable route-runner. Vegas will also have a plethora of tight ends in the underrated Darren Waller, Foster Moreau and the newly-signed, future Hall of Famer Jason Witten.
Josh Jacobs returns to the backfield for Vegas and should be the steady workhorse brought into Oakland last season. Instead of a diamond in a rough like last season, Jacobs will be the star of a well-oiled machine on offense behind a stellar o-line.
Defensively, that’s a whole other ball game.
Now, there is potential in this Raider secondary, thanks in part to the return of safety Johnathan Abram, who brought fire and struck fear in opposing receivers in the opening game against the Denver Broncos last season. Unfortunately, Abram suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the same game, and the Raiders secondary saw issues once again.
Erik Harris returns as the free safety and showed signs of greatness, specifically in the Raiders’ 26-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers last November. However, his play will need to be consistent to take pressure off struggling cornerbacks…I’m talking to you, Trayvon Mullen.
Steady corner Lamarcus Joyner will be adjacent rookie Damon Arnette, who was a shutdown corner in his time at Ohio State. Like I said, the potential for the Raiders to not have one of the worst passing defenses in the league is there.
What can be praised about the Vegas defense is the front seven. Clelin Ferrell wasn’t great in 2019, but still did enough to make a difference. The key piece to the Raider defensive line was surprise stand out Maxx Crosby, who had 10 sacks last season. He will look to improve on an eye-opening rookie season, and fill the void that was left by Khalil Mack before the 2018 season.
On the inside will be the returning Johnathan Hankins and the newly-signed Maliek Collins, who comes from the Dallas Cowboys.
The Raiders have a high ceiling and could sneak their way into the extra wild card spot handed out for this season. For that to happen, they will need to be able to win shootouts against the high-powered offenses coming from the NFC South, and avenge their disastrous loss at MetLife.