2020 NFL Team Previews: Las Vegas Raiders

2020 NFL Team Previews

By Professor MJ

Las Vegas Raiders



1. Introduction

The Raiders provided some hope to their faithful Oakland fans about potentially making the playoffs in their final year in the Bay Area with a 6-4 record through ten games.

However, the team stumbled down the stretch. Despite facing four teams with a losing record, the Raiders managed a single win over their final six meetings. They closed their final year in Oakland with a 7-9 record.

The franchise moves to Las Vegas in 2020 and management made many changes that they hope will make it a successful season.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

When you hear talks about durable quarterbacks in the NFL, Derek Carr’s name probably doesn’t come up in your head right away. Yet, he has played 94-of-96 games in his career thus far. He did suffer some injuries, but played through them. He is an underrated tough guy, in my opinion.

From a performance basis, he enjoyed a fairly good 2019 season, despite below-average surrounding cast. Throwing just 21 TD passes isn’t a great output, but he only threw 8 interceptions and still racked up more than 4,000 passing yards (his career-high, by the way).

More impressive was his completion rate. Indeed, 70.4% of his passes were caught even though his cast of receivers doesn’t have the best hands. Only Drew Brees had a better completion percentage, among starting QBs.

What did PFF think of his 2019 season? Based on their grading system, he had his second-best season of his career. His 79.9 mark made him the 11th-best QB in the NFL last year.

The team improved the #2 QB position by signing former-Titan Marcus Mariota. He pocketed a pretty lucrative contract, which suggests he’ll be given a shot to get the starting nod if Carr doesn’t lead the team to a positive record.

The former #2 overall pick out of Oregon was awful last year. He was eventually replaced by Ryan Tannehill, who played like a MVP and led Tennessee all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Mariota completed just 59% of his passes, the lowest rate of his career. He also threw just 7 TD passes in 7 games and unlike previous years, he didn’t register any rushing TD. He simply couldn’t get the offense going. Based on PFF grades, it was his second-worst season during his five-year career (only his rookie season was worse).

Despite Mariota’s struggles, he is still a better alternative than Mike Glennon. Therefore, we can view this position as an upgrade over 2019.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Josh Jacobs’ rookie season was a resounding success. The former Crimson Tide rushed for 1,150 yards while posting a very impressive 4.8 yards per carry average. He led the league in “elusive” rating, as determined by PFF.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t used too much in the passing game. He did show some pass-catching abilities at Alabama. GM Mike Mayock anticipates Jacobs to be much more heavily involved in the passing game this season.

The team’s second leading rusher, DeAndre Washington, left for Kansas City. It leaves the backup spot open for Jalen Richard.

The undrafted guy has not missed a single game over his four-year stint in the NFL. What’s concerning about him, though, is the fact that his yards-per-rush average has dropped every single year. It took a huge dip in 2019, dropping from 4.7 to 3.7. He is more of a passing-down back and the team may be in trouble if they need to rely on him as a starter (if Jacobs goes down).

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

It’s not a good sign when your leading wide receiver catches just 49 balls. And yet, that’s what happened with the Raiders last year.

Fifth-round rookie Hunter Renfrow took the most out of the opportunities that were given to him and he became one of Derek Carr’s favorite targets, especially in the second half of the regular season.

Renfrow missed three games due to injuries, but over his final seven outings he posted a 35-490-4 stat line. If you project those numbers to a full 16-game season, that equates to 80 receptions for 1,120 yards and 9 touchdowns. He even cleared the 100-receiving yard mark in each of the last two games of the season. Things are looking up for him.

Back in 2016, Tyrell Williams showed a lot of promise with the Chargers with 69 receptions, 1,059 receiving yards and 7 TDs. He has not come close to those numbers ever again.

As a matter of fact, his last three years have been very similar statistically speaking: between 41 and 43 catches, 651-728 receiving yards and 4-6 TDs.

Is there any chance he goes back to the dominating receiver we saw in 2016? Unfortunately, I believe the chances are slim. He has been dealing with plantar fasciitis problems and nothing guarantees it will completely go away. He’s more suited into a #2 role.

Outside of those two guys, there wasn’t much production out of the WR position last year.

The team tried to upgrade by signing Nelson Agholor. The former first-round pick from the Eagles hasn’t lived up to expectations, and his 2019 season was pretty bad. He ranked as the #111 WR out of 122 qualifiers.

Agholor struggled with drops and he only caught 39 passes in 11 games. Considering Philly wasn’t loaded at the position, that was very disappointing.

Still, Agholor will certainly play in three-WR sets and he is an upgrade over Zay Jones or any other receiver they had last year.

The Raiders decided to upgrade the position through the draft by taking Henry Ruggs with the 12th overall pick.

Ruggs = speed, speed, speed! He was a high school sprinter and it shows on the football field.  He is a Tyreek Hill-type of receiver. Randy Moss helped him become a more polished route runner. He has great abilities after the catch.

Here is an interesting note about Ruggs: his best friend Rod Scott died in a car crash a few years ago. Ruggs raises 3 fingers in the air every time he scores a touchdown to honor him (as 3 was Scott’s basketball jersey number).

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

Darren Waller had one of the most mind-boggling seasons of all NFL players. He was a sixth-round pick in the 2015 draft and he had only caught 18 passes in four years. And then, BOOM!!!, he burst onto the scene with 90 receptions, 1,145 yards and 3 TDs. He literally came out of nowhere!

Fourth-round rookie Foster Moreau had a decent season. He only caught 21 passes (out of 25 targets, so a nice completion rate), but surprised many with 5 TDs. He missed the final three games because of a knee injury, but his rehab is going well.

The team added more depth by acquiring a couple of guys: Jason Witten and Nick O’Leary.

Witten will play his age-38 campaign and he has clearly showed signs of slowing down. His 63 receptions for 529 yards with Dallas may not sound too bad to you, but his 8.4 yards-per-catch average was his lowest of his career (beating his 2018 average which, at the time, had established its lowest mark).

After playing for the Bills, Dolphins and Jaguars, Nick O’Leary now joins the Raiders. He’s not a huge threat in the passing game and will be used more as a blocker.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

This unit allowed the 8th fewest sacks in the league last year. They have a bunch of guys who are either average, or above-average. In other words, they don’t have any glaring holes and the good news is they are all returning in 2020.

Kolton Miller protects Carr’s blindside. He struggled mightily as a rookie, but he improved a lot last year. Indeed, he finished as the #45 tackle out of 81, based on PFF ratings. Right tackle Trent Brown finished 2019 with similar grades, but was elected to the Pro Bowl.

Center Rodney Hudson has received consistently good grades from PFF over his nine-year career and he earned Pro Bowl selections a few times. He will be 31 when the season begins, so the team hopes his play won’t deteriorate.

Gabe Jackson had a bit of a down year in 2019. His PFF marks had always been between 67 and 82 during his first five seasons, but he was tagged with a 61.8 grade last year. He missed five games because of a MCL injury.

Finally, Richie Incognito wildly exceeded expectations last year. After being out of the league in 2018 with strange off-the-field issues, the 36-year old finished as the 13th-best guard in the NFL.

The team rewarded him with a nice two-year contract, but keep in mind that a dropoff is a possible scenario (either because of his age or off-the-field troubles).

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

At QB, WR and TE, the team improved its depth by acquiring Marcus Mariota, Henry Ruggs, Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten.

On offense, only DeAndre Washington’s departure might hurt the team. He was a reliable #2 guy. However, the team is set with Josh Jacobs, a star in the making who may even progress next season.

Finally, the whole offensive line is returning. Having the same faces for a second straight year is a big plus.

In summary, all 2019 starters are back, while generally improving the team’s depth. For this reason, I expect a small upgrade overall.

I just couldn’t convince myself on a “moderate” upgrade. Darren Waller is much more likely to regress than to improve, given his history. Also, if I could bet on whether the OL will allow more or less sacks than they did in 2019, I would bet more. It will be hard to match last year’s performance, especially with Incognito turning 37 years old and center Rodney Hudson now being on the wrong side of 30.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

The interior of the defensive line did an “okay” job last year. The team decided to upgrade the position by signing Maliek Collins, formerly of the Cowboys.

Collins is not a huge get, but he will be useful for this Raiders defense. He usually gets between 2.5 and 5 sacks per year. He is an average DL.

Johnathan Hankins, P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst shared time on the field. Hankins was below-average last season, although his run-stuffing presence was appreciated.

Both Hall and Hurst are entering their third year in the NFL. They ranked as the #38 and #28 interior defenders based on PFF ratings. Despite being drafted three rounds later, Hurst has done better thus far in his career. Hall is a bit better in run defense, but Hurst has accumulated 7.5 sacks in two years, as opposed to just 1.5 for Hall.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Maxx Crosby was a steal in the 4th round of last year’s draft! He was a disrupting presence who racked up 10 sacks, while also forcing four fumbles. He does need to improve his game as a run defender, though.

If I had told you prior to last season that a Raiders rookie was going to earn 10 sacks, your bet would have been on #4 overall pick, Clelin Ferrell. He performed better than Crosby against the running game, but he “only” got 4.5 sacks. These two young fellows could be scaring opposing quarterbacks for years to come.

Benson Mayowa has always been a rotational pass rusher. He surprised many by registering a career-high 7 sacks last year. He left for the Seahawks during the offseason, but the Raiders inked Carl Nassib, formerly of the Bucs.

Nassib is a solid addition who will certainly make up for the loss of Mayowa. Despite limited playing time, he still posted 6.0 and 6.5 sacks in its most two recent seasons. He also forced three fumbles in that time frame. Nassib is also superior to Mayowa stopping the run.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Tahir Whitehead led the team with 108 tackles last year. He has recorded at least 100 tackles in each of the past four seasons. He left for Carolina, but it’s not necessarily a big loss for the Raiders.

Why? First, he graded as one of the worst LBs in coverage. Also, he’s not much of a threat as a pass rusher; he has just three sacks in eight seasons!

Believe me, the Raiders won’t cry about Whitehead’s departure for a long time. That’s especially true following the signing of two solid linebackers: Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.

Littleton is a feel-good story. He went undrafted coming out of Washington, but made his way through the Rams’ starting lineup over the years. His PFF grades have improved every single year since his career began in 2016. Last year’s 78.9 grade was the 8th-best in the league!

Littleton can do it all. He racks up tackles, sacks (7.5 in the past two years) and interceptions (five in the past two years).

Kwiatkoski will likely be the MLB in this Raiders defense. He is a bit more unproven than Littleton. He got 8 starts last year, which was his career-best. He finished with the 15th highest PFF grade among 89 linebackers; I doubt he can match that performance, but he’s still a good acquisition for Las Vegas.

Nicholas Morrow played pretty often last year. His playing time will probably be reduced after the two free agent acquisitions, and that’s probably a good thing for the Raiders. The undrafted three-year player has been pretty bad throughout his career.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Daryl Worley played 90% of the defensive snaps last year and finished as a middle-of-the-pack corner. He signed with the Cowboys during the offseason.

Trayvon Mullen was taken in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft. The former Clemson player did a decent job, while being on the field for 65% of the snaps. He ended the year as the number 56 CB out of 112 qualifiers, based on PFF ratings.

The Raiders stunned most experts by taking Damon Arnette as the 19th overall selection last April. Many mock drafts had him going in Round 2, maybe even 3!

Arnette is a competitive guy who played through a broken wrist. He is a great presence in run support, but he could struggle covering NFL receivers in man coverage.

Nevin Lawson is not a great, nor a bad player. After spending five seasons with the Lions, he joined the Raiders last year. He was used on a limited basis, but got more playing time after the Gareon Conley trade to Houston. Once again, Lawson responded with decent performance.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Erik Harris got the most playing time at safety. He’s a 30 year-old unproven guy who, prior to last year, had only played part-time for just one season. In other words, maybe not a long-term answer.

Karl Joseph is a former first-round pick from the 2016 draft. He never lived up to expectations, but he’s still an adequate safety (perhaps a slightly above-average guy).

Joseph left for Cleveland, whom the Raiders replaced with a guy from the same team: Damarius Randall. Joseph’s PFF grade last year was 69.9, while Randall’s was 69.3. In other words, similar performance for both guys in 2019. Randall picked off 14 passes in his first four years with the Packers and Browns, but none last year.

The team also signed Jeff Heath, who spent the first 7 seasons of his career as a Cowboy. He does a decent job in all aspects of the game and he’s only missed six games as a pro.

The Raiders will also get Johnathan Abram back after the #27 overall pick tore his rotator cuff during his first NFL game.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

The Raiders finished 24th in points allowed per game last year. What can we expect in 2020?

My breakdown by position shows an upgrade at all positions, except at CB.

The interior of the line added Maliek Collins from Dallas. At edge, the team basically swapped Mayowa for Nassib, which is a slight positive. The team will also benefit from Crosby and Ferrell now having one year of experience under their belt.

At LB, the Raiders are clearly in better shape than last year. Whitehead is gone, but Littleton and Kwiatkoski bring two immediate starters (both of which are superior to Whitehead).

Finally, safety Karl Joseph packed his bags for Cleveland, but signing Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath makes up for the loss. Add the fact that 2019 first-round pick Johnathan Abram will finally get to see the field after missing the entire season, and you’ve got a big improvement at the position.

Cornerbacks do bring question marks, though. They weren’t great last year, and their most-used player is gone.

The net result from the additions and departures on defense definitely favor the Raiders. I’m wary of the high number of new faces, though. It might take time to gel, especially if training camps are shortened.

Instead of going with “Moderate upgrade”, I’ll go with a “Small upgrade” for this unit. As mentioned earlier, they allowed the 24th fewest points in the NFL last year, and I expect them to finish in the 16th-23rd range in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Las Vegas Raiders are expected to win 7.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

  • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
  • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
  • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
  • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
  • Count the proportion of seasons where the Raiders won more or less than 7.5 games.

The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 2nd-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams. Does it recommend betting the over or the under?

As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.

The top 10 picks, which includes the Raiders, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!

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