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Raiders Season Outlook: What Must Work for Successful Season

Moe Moton
Raiders season outlook 2020

Another Raiders season is about to kick-off and with the move to Las Vegas, a new training facility, and a new state-of-the-art stadium comes much excitement. Yet the Raiders season outlook varies as the team isn’t done with its rebuild and many question marks remain.

The Las Vegas Raiders cut their roster down to 53 players Saturday, and that came with a surprise. The Raiders season outlook has, at times, looked very bright but its moves on Saturday also raised some more questions.

The Raiders traded rookie third-rounder Lynn Bowden Jr. to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for their fourth-round pick sent in the deal involving linebacker Raekwon McMillan. General manager Mike Mayock called the move a “football decision only.”

Whatever the reason, the Raiders admit they made a mistake and tried to salvage a draft whiff. Moving forward, the Raiders season outlook has fans hoping to see more developments work in the team’s favor. On the field, the players can push this squad in the right direction. Then again, as the case with Bowden, we have to consider what could possibly go wrong?

We’ll take a look at eight areas where the Raiders need good fortune and what could derail them this season. Although many look at the Raiders season outlook filled with optimism this time of the year, let’s be mindful of the potential pitfalls.

Derek Carr Has to Play Better Against the Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs go into the 2020 season as the reigning champions and the bully on the block. If the Raiders want to push them as a serious threat, quarterback Derek Carr has to step up his game against the AFC West rival.

This isn’t an exclusive challenge to Carr, though he hasn’t played well in the last five outings against the Chiefs, throwing for six touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Raiders season outlook hinges on many things, but Carr’s play – just like any NFL starter – is vital.

Derek Carr Las Vegas Raiders training camp raiders season outlook
The Las Vegas Raiders season outlook hinges on Derek Carr finding his groove with his new weapons.

In matchups against the Chiefs, one passing touchdown per contest isn’t going to get the job done. Carr has one of the top offensive lines in the league and a variety of pass-catching options at running back, wide receiver and tight end to attack Kansas City’s defense.

What could go wrong?

The Raiders will travel to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 5 where Carr hasn’t won a game in his career.

If rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards haven’t caught up to speed within a month, head coach Jon Gruden’s game plan could become predictable with force-fed targets to tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. This offense has to attack from every angle or lose the scoring race to Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.

Raiders Must Find a Solution for No. 2 Running Back Spot

Initially, Bowden had a pathway to the No. 2 running back spot, but he struggled during camp. According to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, the Kentucky product lacked speed and defenders “blasted” him in pass protection. The team kept Devontae Booker, who can pick up his blocking assignments, and spell Josh Jacobs. Jalen Richard remains a change-of-pace option. Tafur also thinks we’ll see fullback Alec Ingold take more carries this season:

What could go wrong?

Booker hasn’t shown much on the ground lately. The fifth-year veteran’s rushing numbers have dropped every year since logging 612 yards as a rookie. For his career, he has an equal number of fumbles and touchdowns (seven).

Because of Booker’s modest numbers, the Raiders shouldn’t feel too comfortable with the remaining rushing workload solely on him. The Raiders season outlook at running back is a big question mark beyond Jacobs. Gruden can spread the touches behind Jacobs, giving Ingold and Richard carries as well.

Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards Jump Off to Quick Starts

After the team placed Tyrell Williams on injured reserve because of a torn labrum in his shoulder, Ruggs and Edwards have a little more responsibility in the passing game. They’ll likely join Renfrow in three-wide receiver sets (11 personnel).

Waller will probably command most of the targets, but if defenses roll help-out coverage to him, Carr needs to find someone else to trust in the passing game.

Renfrow has smooth technical skills, but the Raiders need a more explosive component to their aerial attack. With Ruggs’ speed and route-running, he can rack up serious YAC (yards after the catch) and attack weak areas all over the field with the ball in space.

Las Vegas Raiders rookies Henry Ruggs III raiders season outlook
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III

If Carr and Waller struggle to connect inside the red zone, Edwards could win his one-on-one matchups to finish drives for six points.

What could go wrong?

Ruggs and Edwards didn’t have a preseason game to see defenses other than their own. They haven’t faced Pro Bowl or All-Pro cornerbacks at practice. The Raiders season outlook for these rookies includes high expectations without any looks to go on.

With two-time Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore and All-Pro cover man Tre’Davious White on the schedule between Weeks 2 and 4, the young wideouts could struggle against top cornerbacks early in the season.

Trent Brown Must Play Most of the Games

Trent Brown didn’t make his training camp debut until August 26 because of an undisclosed injury. The Raiders haven’t expressed major concern for his health other than they want to make sure he’s ready for the season. The Raiders season outlook without Brown would be very different if there were significant health concerns.

In 2019, Brown only allowed one sack out of 581 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He’s a 6’8″, 380-pound wall at right tackle, providing a near-impenetrable shield on Carr’s strong side.

What could go wrong?

The Raiders used caution with Brown for a reason. He battled calf, knee and pectoral injuries that cost him five games and resulted in a move to the injured reserve list last season. Since 2017, he missed 11 games, so keep his injury history in mind.

If Brown goes down, the Raiders would turn to Brandon Parker or Sam Young.

Parker has surrendered 13 sacks in his first two campaigns, per Pro Football Focus. According to offensive coordinator Greg Olson, Young had a “very good camp,” but he’s started 21 games in 10 seasons. The 33-year-old is a backup-level tackle, who’s tough to trust this late in his career for long stretches as a starter.

The Raiders offensive line looks strong among the starting five, but the depth at tackle leaves much to be desired.

Clelin Ferrell Has to Make Bigger Impact in Pass Rush

We can look at the totality of Clelin Ferrell’s rookie campaign and see he made an impact in flashes—not a waste of a season by any stretch. The Clemson product recorded 4.5 sacks, 15 quarterback pressures and eight tackles for loss.

Clelin Ferrell Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell (96) on the field for practice at 2020 Training Camp at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center, Wednesday, August 12, 2020, in Henderson, Nev.

Nonetheless, the Raiders didn’t select Ferrell fourth overall to just stop the run and provide inside-out versatility. When a team chooses a player that high, he’s expected to make a bigger impact.

At Ferrell’s position, he must get to the quarterback. Fortunately for him, he’s added weight (up to 275 lbs) and worked on his pass-rush toolbox to get around the corner and collapse the pocket.

The Raiders signed defensive end Carl Nassib and defensive tackle Maliek Collins to help bolster the pass rush, but the team invested a premium pick in Ferrell. If he plateaus as a pass-rusher this season, his draft position at No. 4 becomes a questionable spot in terms of value.

What could go wrong?

Throughout the offseason, Ferrell’s size has some fans wonder if he’ll take more snaps on the inside.

If Ferrell is unable to beat his man on the edge, the Raiders may go into experimental mode and slide him inside to find out if the 6’4″, 275-pounder can win against defensive tackles on a consistent basis, which may require an extended adjustment time outside of his natural position.

Damon Arnette Is Prepared to Start Right Away

While wearing a soft cast to protect a fractured thumb, Damon Arnette won the starting cornerback job over Prince Amukamara. That’s an impressive feat in itself. From the outside looking in, he seems ready to go up against the most athletic skill players on offense.

The Raiders selected Arnette with the No. 19 overall pick because of his toughness on the boundary and ability to apply effective press coverage. Thus far, Mayock and the coaches saw the same player who excelled at Ohio State on the team’s new practice field:

What could go wrong?

How will Arnette’s soft cast affect his ability to grip or pick off passes? Through four terms at Ohio State, he logged five interceptions. And remember, the Raiders need more possessions, they had the second-fewest drives (161) last year. The defense must force more turnovers after logging just nine interceptions (29th) in 2019.

At camp, Arnette went up against (Tyrell) Williams, (Hunter) Renfrow, Zay Jones, Nelson Agholor and two rookies. He’ll see some high-end wide receiver tandems for half of the games this year.

  • Week 2: Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (New Orleans Saints)
  • Weeks 5 and 11: Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins (Chiefs)
  • Week 7: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
  • Week 8: Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns)
  • Weeks 9 and 15: Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers)
  • Week 12: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons)

The Raiders won’t be able to hide Arnette against these tandems if he struggles this season. Gruden put faith in the rookie. Now, he has to ride it out—for better or worse.

Lamarcus Joyner Fills the Slot Cornerback Position Adequately

Lamarcus Joyner has to answer Gruden’s tackle challenge.

“We got to be ready to tackle,” Gruden said.”…It starts with Joyner, the nickel corner should be first or second on your team in tackles every year — that’s how it is in Guenther’s defense. So, we need him to really get involved in every single snap in our sub defense and be one of our top tacklers. That’s the number one criteria we’re looking for.”

The Raiders didn’t reap much benefit from their four-year, $42 million investment in Joyner last season. According to Gruden, he should be first or second in tackles—the seventh-year veteran tied seventh on the team (49) in 2019. Joyner has to diagnose plays and position himself in the right spot to log more stops.

What could go wrong?

At this point, the Raiders’ refusal to move Joyner to safety seems a bit stubborn, especially after Damarious Randall’s release.

Erik Harris has earned his expanded role, but what if the team can get more bang for its buck with Joyner at safety where he played his best football in 2017 (nine pass breakups and three interceptions) with the Los Angeles Rams?

According to Tafur, we have to give up on the dream that Joyner moves to safety:

If Joyner struggles, this means Nevin Lawson, who’s suspended for Week 1 because of a helmet-swinging incident with the Denver Broncos in the 2019 season finale, or rookie fourth-rounder Amik Robertson would stand second in line for a shot at the slot position. In that scenario, the front office would likely release Joyner and save $8.7 million (per Over the Cap) next offseason.

Johnathan Abram Plays Up to His 1st-Round Draft Status

Johnathan Abram resembles a shiny, glittery mystery box. On the outside, you like what you see: a fiery tone-setter who enjoys the physical aspect of the game—a throwback Raider-type player who will beat you down and talk to you about it.

Yet, Abram showed a different demeanor this offseason when he spoke to reporters via Zoom.

“The best ability is availability,” Abram said. “I don’t think my biggest concern is rushing back to try to technically lay somebody out. “[It’s] just [about] being smarter this year.”

After Abram suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder and missed all but one game last year, he’s refined his objectives. The Raiders need him on the field for most of the snaps. The 23-year-old must protect his body.

Sure, give (Tyreek) Hill and Travis Kelce something to think about when they go across the middle but an interception or a simple tackle can be just as effective if not more than a big hit. Going into his second term, he understands that.

What could go wrong?

Raiders fans are sick and tired of being patient with roster and player development, but they may have to exercise tolerance with Abram’s inexperience. The Raiders season outlook with Abram back is certainly exciting but he lacks experience. He’s only played 48 defensive snaps—one regular-season football game in nearly two years (21 months). Although the Mississippi State product goes into his second term, he’s still susceptible to growing pains.

How Much Must Go Right For a Playoff Berth?

Realistically, we cannot expect the Raiders to have all the breaks listed above. Every year, players go down with injuries, someone doesn’t play up to expectations and unforeseen obstacles pop up.

First and foremost, the Silver and Black would benefit from optimal health at certain positions.

As mentioned, the depth at tackle and running back could become a problem. Gruden loves to run the football. In three of his last four coaching seasons, his offenses have ranked 11th in rush attempts. Jacobs and Brown are essential to the system.

In some spots, Carr must prove he’s able to put the offense on his back and carry the team to victory. Defenses will try to neutralize Jacobs on the ground if he’s racking up 100-yard games.

Lastly, if the pass rush and the youth in the secondary can put together mostly decent performances, that lessens the pressure on the linebackers to cover weak spots. As a result, a solid defense would go a long way in winning more games with pass-rushers and defensive backs able to hold steady in the clutch.

The Raiders season outlook is brighter than last season to be certain. But with depth and question marks at several positions, there is room to continue to get better and the rebuild can enter its final phases soon.