Las Vegas Raiders 2021 Season Preview: Can Gruden’s Raiders hit the jackpot?

While the rest of the league zigs, one team continues to zag. The Las Vegas Raiders have quite an interesting 2021 season preview because the roster doesn’t look too stellar — at least on paper. In a division featuring Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, the Raiders seem to be teetering ever closer toward mediocrity. Despite improving their record year over year, the team decided to cut bait with the entire right side of their offensive line.

Las Vegas Raiders 2021 season preview

The Raiders’ schedule is the third-most difficult schedule heading into the 2021 season. All of that is despite getting to play the NFC East. It doesn’t help that their division is one of the most talented in football, but the Raiders should still split with two of their division rivals.

Having to play the AFC North is a tough draw. The Steelers vaunted pass rush makes for a tough matchup against the Raiders’ offensive line likely still learning to mesh.

Las Vegas also plays the Bengals, Bears, Eagles, and Giants, who the Raiders must beat if they want to remain competitive for the season.

Offseason additions and losses

The biggest losses for the Raiders were their own doing, as they parted ways with three veteran offensive linemen. The team traded Trent Brown to the Patriots for a fifth-rounder as well as trading Rodney Hudson and a seventh-round pick to the Cardinals for a third-round pick in return. Additionally, they cut guard Gabe Jackson.

The Raiders are replacing Hudson with veteran center Nick Martin, who comes from Houston. The veteran is cheaper than Hudson, but there is a downturn in talent from one to the other. Andre James could battle with Martin for the starting spot, but that doesn’t seem like an upgrade.

Outside of the offensive line, the losses were minimal for the Raiders. Nelson Agholor left for the Patriots. However, his departure doesn’t mean much when Henry Ruggs brings a similar skill set.

The Raiders’ decision-makers may not like their offensive linemen, but they do enjoy receivers. They signed both John Brown and Willie Snead in the offseason, bringing their receiver depth chart to six deep.

The biggest addition to the team is probably Yannick Ngakoue. Las Vegas’ defense needs a lot of improvement heading into 2021, and Ngakoue could bring an element to the pass rush they did not have.

2021 NFL Draft

The Raiders addressed the offensive line with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. They selected Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood to replace Trent Brown as their right tackle. The media made a lot about this being a reach. While that may be the case, Leatherwood’s big issue on tape was his outside hand strike, which on the left side was his left hand. That could be mitigated on the right side. If he fixes that, he’ll quiet the detractors, just like Kolton Miller has.

Las Vegas made a great selection with their second-round pick. The Raiders drafted TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. His deployment will be interesting, given they’re going to run a lot of single-high coverages. His draft profile fits better as a split safety who can slide down and cover in man, but his deployment in Las Vegas will most likely be more single-high situations.

After that, it seems they blacked out a bit. The team went back to safety twice more. First, they drafted Divine Deablo from Virginia Tech. He’s a fantastic athlete, and it appears he’ll play linebacker at the next level. Still, he’s better in coverage than Johnathan Abram, who probably should transition to linebacker.

Then, the Raiders drafted Tyree Gillespie, a well-built, speedy safety who is a good player but feels redundant. Nate Hobbs and Jimmy Morrissey rounded out the Raiders’ NFL Draft selections with little fanfare.

Where do Las Vegas players rank in PFN’s Top 100?

The Raiders have two players on PFN’s Top 100 NFL Players. Both come on the offensive side of the ball, and both are skill position players.

94) Josh Jacobs

Jacobs is a talented back, but in 2020 his efficiency dropped significantly. Bringing in Kenyan Drake may bring Jacobs’ overall numbers down, but keeping both backs fresh could help their efficiency in 2021. However, it’ll be difficult for Jacobs to reproduce even what he did last year, given the disintegration of the offensive line. If he shines despite that, the Raiders back could shoot up the list.

57) Darren Waller

When it comes to talented hybrid players, nobody fits that mold better than Waller. Kyle Pitts will have an argument eventually, but he hasn’t played an NFL game yet. In 2020, the receiver-turned-tight end caught 107 passes as the Raiders’ most targeted pass catcher. He nearly doubled Agholor’s targets, who no longer plays for the team. It’s safe to assume Waller will have a massive target share in 2021, and if he continues to catch over 70% of his targets, he’ll continue to put up monster numbers.

Raiders 2021 prediction

Jon Gruden is an interesting fella. His second stint as the Raiders head coach has not lacked storylines. With a 10-year, $100 million contract, who knows how long he’ll actually be around for. From the team’s cash-strapped perception, he could be there for the long haul, no matter the result.

Greg Olson has been an offensive coordinator since before Greg Olsen became an NFL tight end. Only one of them is now retired. However, Olson’s offense was good in 2020. Derek Carr had his best year as a pro, and the offense didn’t have an issue scoring points. This year, they still have weapons, but they must overcome a downgraded offensive line.

Gus Bradley comes to town after a regime change in the Chargers’ organization. The Chargers’ defense has been nothing to write home about, but they’ve also struggled with injuries the past few seasons.

Offense

The Las Vegas Raiders’ offense is still in good shape heading into their 2021 season preview. They have a plethora of weapons, and their quarterback appears to be firmly in his prime. Yet, the offensive line could be an issue for the team, especially if they have to come from behind.

Defense

This defense did not improve enough in the offseason. They were 28th in defensive efficiency, making even a good offensive season irrelevant. Unfortunately, it looks like 2021 could be a continuation of the previous season.

2021 Raiders record prediction

Given the Raiders’ strength of schedule, the Las Vegas Raiders 2021 season preview doesn’t hit the jackpot. This smells like a 6-11 team.

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