The Las Vegas Raiders are set to make their debut in the desert metropolis in just over a month. It’s been a long time coming since the team relocated from Oakland. Although, interest in the product remains extremely high.
There’s also a lot to like about this up-and-coming team. Sure the Raiders are not set to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. That doesn’t mean they lack talent at the skill positions.
Can Derek Carr rebound at quarterback following a couple substandard seasons under Jon Gruden? Will running back Josh Jacobs turn into an elite figure at that position after a stellar rookie season? At wide receiver, there’s a lot of unproven talent in Las Vegas.
It’s in this that I check in on the Raiders’ skill-position groups and what they might mean for the team with the 2020 NFL season set to start in less than a month.
Quarterback: Derek Carr set for make-or-break season
It’s rather clear that the Raiders’ brass is preparing for the 2020 NFL season to be Carr’s defining moment with the team. Instead of adding a quarterback in the first round of April’s draft or signing a high-profile free agent, Las Vegas went with a likely backup in that of Marcus Mariota.
The contentious relationship between Carr and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is by now already known. Though, the latter has done everything possible to put on a happy face publicly.
“You’re killing me, man. We love our quarterback. Our quarterback’s a really good player, Derek Carr. I want to reiterate that to everybody here in Vegas,” Gruden said back in March when asked of the Raiders’ interest in Tom Brady. “We’ve got a good, young quarterback, and the film, the statistics and analytics prove it.”
Carr, 29, is averaging just 21 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions over the past three seasons. He’s struggled with throwing the ball down the field and opening up Las Vegas’ passing attack under Gruden. At this point, the three-time Pro Bowler has to be seen as the second-best quarterback in the AFC West. That’s primarily due to the lack of experience of Drew Lock (Broncos) and Justin Herbert (Chargers).
Running back: Josh Jacobs looks like an absolute star
Raiders fans in Vegas are going to be in for a treat once they get a first-hand view of this former first-round pick. A mere three-star recruit coming out of Oklahoma back in 2016, Jacobs turned that into a stellar college career with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
He did not disappoint as a rookie in 2019, going for north of 1,300 total yards while averaging 5.0 yards per touch. The better news? Jacobs is expecting much more in his debut season in Sin City.
Already the best running back in the AFC West, Jacobs will be joined in Las Vegas’ backfield by rookie third-round pick Lynn Bowden Jr. Talk about a weapon for Jon Gruden on offense. The 5-foot-11 skill player suited up at quarterback, running back and wide receiver during a brilliant career with Kentucky.
Raiders general manager Mike Mayock indicated during the spring that they’ll list Bowden Jr. as a running back. But we can also expect him to line up in the slot and outside at wide receiver. Here’s a dude that put up 745 receiving yards in 2018 before tallying nearly 1,500 rushing yards last season. He’s the equivalent of fine dining at a $20.00 all-you-can-eat off-strip buffet.
Tight end: Darren Waller, the next George Kittle?
Talk about coming out of nowhere. A former sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens back in 2016, Waller caught a grand total of 18 passes in his first three NFL seasons. Somehow, the Georgia Tech product turned that into a 90-catch 2019 campaign that saw him go for north of 1,100 receiving yards.
We’re talking about a wide receiver playing tight end. Major mismatch problems all over the field. There’s no reason to believe that Waller will take a step back in 2020. Look for more tremendous production from him.
As for Las Vegas’ big-name off-season acquisition in that of Jason Witten, he’s pretty much nothing more than a possession receiver in the back end of his career. Think those performing at Fremont Street on a Thursday night.
Wide receiver: The unproven, and the talented
There’s a whole heck of a lot of question marks surrounding this unit heading into the 2020 season. After signing a four-year, $33 million contract last offseason, former Los Angeles Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams struggled in his first season with the Raiders. He tallied just 42 receptions for 651 yards. This was Williams’ worst statistical output since his rookie campaign back in 2015. Williams will need to prove his worth in 2020. If not, the Raiders can save a whopping $11.6 million against the cap by releasing him.
Outside of that, it’s a lot of unproven talent in Las Vegas. We already know what rookie top-12 pick Henry Ruggs can do on the football field. The former Alabama speedster torched opposing SEC competition on a continual basis for the Crimson Tide. He comes to the Raiders in the mold of what the late-great Al Davis loved in his receivers. Speed. That should equate to some highlight-reel plays as a rookie.
Though, rookie third-round pick Bryan Edwards is also an intriguing option in Vegas. The 6-foot-3 former South Carolina product boasts tremendous radius and is the antithesis of Ruggs in that he’ll make the contested catch and is more of a possession receiver. These two represent the future of the wide receiver position in Vegas. How they perform as rookies will tell us a lot about this unit. For now, the Raiders have to rank dead last at wide receiver in the AFC West.
Bottom line: The Raiders have a boatload of unproven talent
That’s pretty much where Gruden and Co. are right now. As much as some might want to come to Carr’s defense, he has not proven to be the Raiders’ quarterback of the future. The question marks at wide receiver are also a bit concerning.
With all of this said, Las Vegas has the talent to remain competitive and keep up with high-scoring teams. Jacobs and Waller are among the best young players at their positions in the NFL. If Carr performs well and one of Ruggs or Edwards steps up big time as a rookie, the Raiders’ offense could be a force.
AFC West positional rankings
- Quarterback: #2
- Running back: #1
- Tight end: #2
- Wide receiver: #4