The Las Vegas Raiders couldn’t ask for a better script this season. They’re in a new city and new stadium with new talent and almost desperately needing to turn things around in Year 3 under head coach Jon Gruden; if not for Gruden’s sake, then their quarterback’s.
Las Vegas has improved each year under Gruden, whose extremely high price tag hasn’t translated into a winning season or playoff berth. The team’s seven-win season was its most since 2016 (12 wins) and before that 2011 (eight). The Raiders may be able to improve to nine or even 10 wins this season; they may get their first playoff berth since that 2016 season when they lost in the wild-card round to the Houston Texans. But in order for any of this to happen, Las Vegas needs a clear QB1, which will be the benchmark for success in 2020.
The Raiders shouldn’t waste time jumping between the incumbent Derek Carr or the recently, and lucratively, signed Marcus Mariota; not with this offseason and a number of unknowns that could contribute to one of the most unique NFL seasons in history.
Carr is entering his seventh year with the Raiders. He’s still very much tied to the old regime, but he also withstood the transformation under Gruden. Carr is coming off his most productive season ever in terms of passing yards. He threw for 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Carr has been the team’s franchise quarterback and will presumably be the starter in 2020, however, Mariota’s cannot go unnoticed. He’s more than a backup. Is he coming for Carr’s job right now? I would say, no, but it’s there for the taking.
Gruden is already a big fan of Mariota and his arrival will obviously create a quarterback competition. Las Vegas should use that to its advantage. The Raiders can put Carr on the hot seat. It’s a make-or-break season and if Carr fails, they’ve shored up his replacement with a dynamic quarterback that can open up the offense.
It’s a win-win, and why the team’s success should be measured on its ability to find that continuity under center, but you all don’t want to hear that. Las Vegas needs to put together a winning season. It needs a playoff berth. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock may have turned heads in the past by trading away linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper, but now they have an influx of new, fresh faces with a lot of potential.
Henry Ruggs III, aside from Mariota, is one of the most exciting additions to the offense. Ruggs, the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, joins a receiving corps featuring Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow is coming off an impressive rookie season for a fifth-round pick; he finished with 605 yards and four touchdowns. If the Raiders got that type of production from Renfrow, imagine what they can get with a player like Ruggs.
Las Vegas has depth at wide receiver after acquiring Nelson Agholor in the offseason and Bryan Edwards via the draft. Josh Jacobs will continue to man the backfield while Jason Witten joins Darren Waller in the tight end room. Waller was the under-appreciated star last season after his breakout year. He finished the season with 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. This is all behind one of the top offensive lines in the NFL; the Raiders earned a No. 11 rank from Pro Football Focus entering the season. With, and I cannot stress this enough, clarity at quarterback, the offense has all of the pieces for a successful season.
It also has, you guessed it, a new and improved unit opposite of itself. The defense received a massive upgrade after a middling performance last year. It will now feature linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in the middle and cornerback Prince Amukamara as a new addition to the secondary.
There’s a lot riding on the defense to progress and the Raiders have some depth to work with here, but most importantly, it needs to see the most improvement from its offense and quarterback. If the latter happens, a winning season and a playoff berth should follow.