The Raiders beefed up their wide receiver corps in the draft and added depth at tight end during free agency, among other improvements.
Raiders roster analysis: The need for speed on offense addressed, depth improved
The Raiders have added 10 players on offense — four through the draft and six in free agency — so far this offseason. Most of the starters on this side of the ball were already set for 2020 before the offseason began, but there was still a glaring need at wide receiver.
General manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden addressed that gap on the roster and added depth at running back, guard and, of course, tight end. There are cuts to come, but those decisions won’t be made for a while as the league moves forward with a virtual offseason program in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Raiders had a frustrating year offensively in 2019. They averaged 5.88 yards per play (eighth in the NFL), 7.9 yards per pass attempt (eighth) and 4.33 yards per carry (17th), but just 19.6 points per game (24th). They scored on just 52.8 percent of their red zone possessions, which ranked 22nd, and left plenty of points on the field.
The failed Antonio Brown acquisition was a big piece of those struggles, but injuries to Trent Brown, Josh Jacobs and Tyrell Williams didn’t help matters. While the health aspect is out of their hands, to a degree, the Raiders feel they’ve shored up their weaknesses and are set for a breakout year on offense in Gruden’s third season at the helm.
We decided to take a look at where the depth chart stands on offense coming out of last week’s NFL Draft. We’ll tackle the defense (get it?) in our next roster analysis.
Starter: Derek Carr
Backups: Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman and DeShone Kizer
Tashan’s analysis: Carr will be the unquestioned starter going into the 2020 season. The oft-critiqued quarterback is coming off a solid year — 7.9 yards per attempt, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions — and will have a plethora of weapons at his disposal to help those numbers increase. Mariota will be the primary backup and should be Carr’s only legitimate competitor as the season progresses. Even if Mariota does well throughout camps and practices, however, it’ll likely take injury or a steep drop-off from Carr for him to get the job.
Vic’s analysis: Looking forward to the battle between Peterman and Kizer for the No. 3 job. As far as Carr and Mariota, the Raiders have addressed the receiver position for the third straight year and hope the third time is the charm, that Carr will have the tools and confidence in those receivers to let it rip like he did in 2016. If not, the Raiders didn’t give Mariota $7.5 million for next season because he is a great guy.
Starter: Josh Jacobs
Backups: Jalen Richard, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Rod Smith
Tashan’s analysis: Jacobs will be the workhorse, but he shouldn’t have to carry as heavy of a load as he did last season. Richard is a change-of-pace, third-down receiving back while Smith is the short-yardage bruiser. Bowden Jr. has to learn the position first, but should add another dimension as a ball carrier on perimeter runs and in the wildcat package. The varying options in the backfield will help prevent Jacobs from getting worn down toward the end of the season like he did in his rookie year.
Vic’s analysis: I thought Ted Nguyen had a good point on our “State of the Nation” podcast that the Raiders didn’t necessarily need to add a bigger back like everyone thought. Bowden can make people miss and is also hard to bring down, and should be effective running the ball even with a shortened rookie offseason. Richard got a nice check recently, is great at pass protection and making the right reads as a receiver and has Carr’s trust, so he will still have a role.
Starter: Alec Ingold
Tashan’s analysis: The fullback has started to get phased out of football with the emergence of 11 personnel offenses, but that’s not the case with the Raiders. Gruden still uses the fullback heavily, primarily as a lead blocker. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Ingold will continue to clear the way in 2020.
Vic’s analysis: You see the video of Ingold jumping onto high boxes? He has been living in the gym this offseason, trying to become more explosive. Maybe he is the Raiders’ short-yardage back.
Starters: Tyrell Williams, Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow
Backups: Bryan Edwards, Nelson Agholor, Zay Jones, Keelan Doss, Rico Gafford and Marcell Ateman
Tashan’s analysis: This should be fun. After Renfrow led the Raiders’ receivers with only 49 catches while Williams paced the group with just 651 yards in 2019, it was clear they needed to upgrade. The Raiders did just that by drafting Ruggs 12th overall and Edwards 81st. While Ruggs has 4.27 40-yard dash speed, he’s more than just a home-run hitter: He has strong hands, crisp route running and the ability to play both inside and outside. Williams should be healthy, but Edwards provides another big-bodied receiver for Gruden to turn to on the outside. Agholor will likely be the backup at “Z” receiver while the backup slot spot is up for grabs.
Vic’s analysis: Keelan Doss was Gruden’s pet project last year, and Zay Jones has been working out with Carr — at a safe distance — the last month, and just like that, they have a very remote chance of making the roster. Ruggs was the fastest player in the draft and was the Al Davis/Gruden dream pick, and Edwards would have gone a lot higher if not for a foot injury. And I think Agholor will have more catches than anyone thinks. It’s a good group. Not quite the Amari Cooper-Jordy Nelson-Martavis Bryant-Seth Roberts-Ryan Switzer group that never actually materialized, but it has a shot.
Starter: Darren Waller
Backups: Foster Moreau, Jason Witten, Derek Carrier, Nick O’Leary and Paul Butler
Tashan’s analysis: Waller burst onto the scene as a star last year with 90 catches for 1,145 yards. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder isn’t going anywhere, but Gruden decided to beef up the tight ends corps, anyway. The signing of Witten raised eyebrows, but he’s still a capable blocker and receiver and can provide a locker room presence. With that being said, Moreau should take more snaps as long as his recovery from an ACL tear goes smoothly. Despite the additions at wide receiver, the Raiders will still find themselves in two- and three-tight end sets.
Vic’s analysis: Gruden said he will still use a lot of three-tight end sets, so you have to carry four. And if you are going to carry four, then having six heading into camp makes sense. Witten is going to be the best leader ever and another red zone target, and Moreau has already shown that he can get open and make the big catch, as well as block. The story here, though, is Waller, who is still learning the tight end position after being a receiver in college. He could be a Travis Kelce-type weapon, and he and Jacobs are the biggest reasons Raiders fans should be excited about this offense.
Starter: Rodney Hudson
Backups: Andre James, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson
Tashan’s analysis: Hudson is the best center in the league. He restructured his contract to provide the team some more cap flexibility, but it’s not a product of decline on his part. James made the roster as an undrafted free agent last season. There’s no guarantee that Kalis and Magnuson make the roster.
Vic’s analysis: Hudson is a great player, and James is a near-lock to make the roster, in my book.
Starters: Richie Incognito and Gabe Jackson
Backups: Denzelle Good, Jordan Devey, Lester Cotton Sr., Eric Kush and John Simpson
Tashan’s analysis: At least for now, Jackson remains a Raider. He wasn’t moved during the draft, but his salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until June, so he could still theoretically be cut. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll return as the starter at right guard while Incognito holds down the left side. Good is the top backup while Devey, Cotton Sr. and Kush are bunched together. Simpson will be more of a project as a rookie, but has starter potential down the line.
Vic’s analysis: If Jackson is healthy (he is right now, and in great shape), the Raiders could have a top-three offensive line in the NFL. But they are stockpiling guards at an alarming rate, and they might not want to bite the $9.6 million bullet to keep Jackson. Good is good, at more than $7 million less. Someone reminded me that really good teams draft an offensive lineman every year, so trading up for Simpson didn’t bother me. He will be starting in his second season, the Raiders hope.
Starters: Kolton Miller and Trent Brown
Backups: Brandon Parker and David Sharpe
Tashan’s analysis: Brown only played in 11 games in 2019, which isn’t what you want for someone who’s tied as the third-highest paid player as his position, but he’s worth the money when healthy and will start at right tackle. On the opposite side will be Miller, who struggled as a rookie after the Raiders took him 15th overall in 2018 but rebounded to have a solid sophomore campaign. As long as he continues to improve, he’ll cover Carr’s blindside. Parker and Sharpe are the only other tackles on the roster, which could become an issue if injuries occur.
Vic’s analysis: Some people in the Raiders building are projecting a Pro Bowl season for Miller, and that’s actually not ridiculous if he can make similar strides as he made from Year 1 to Year 2. Brown is a wall with an attitude and arms. Sharpe proved to be a reliable backup and will be a swing tackle, and Parker has another chance to show he wasn’t a huge reach in the third round of the 2018 draft.