My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
Raiders 2020 Recap
Despite scoring the 10th most points off the backs of career-best seasons from Derek Carr and Darren Waller, the Raiders finished 21st in point differential and 30th in percentage of points leading (18%). Carr was slightly more aggressive, but it didn’t matter because of the defense. Vegas was 27th in passing EPA and 32nd in rushing EPA on defense, generating sacks at the fourth-lowest rate. As shown below, the Raiders’ recent investments on that side of the ball have almost universally busted through one, two, and three seasons. Perhaps new DC Gus Bradley can maximize the raw talent of these youngsters. If not, coach Jon Gruden’s hot seat will slowly start to simmer. GM Mike Mayock’s is already beginning to boil.
Raiders 2021 Offseason
Raiders Cap Space
-$9.1 million (24th)
Raiders Draft Picks
1.17, 2.48, 3.81, 4th, 5th, 6th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks
WR Tyrell Williams, WR Nelson Agholor, LG Denzelle Good, LB Nicholas Morrow, CB Nevin Lawson, TE Jason Witten, WR Zay Jones, RB Devontae Booker, DT Johnathan Hankins, FS Erik Harris
Raiders Cut Candidates
RT Trent Brown ($14.0M cap savings), QB Marcus Mariota ($11.4M), RG Gabe Jackson ($9.6M), Slot CB Lamarcus Joyner ($8.7M), LG Richie Incognito ($5.6M), RB Jalen Richard ($3.5M), LT Brandon Parker ($2.2M)
Raiders Depth Chart
% of Passes
RB (Early Down)
RB (Third Down)
Offensive Coordinator: The Raiders have the most balanced offense in the league, for better or worse. They were 23rd in neutral pass rate, 23rd in neutral offensive pace, and 13th in average depth of target. Coach Jon Gruden also ranked 19th in play-action rate, although the Raiders were one of four offenses to somehow average a higher YPA on non-PA passes. Derek Carr (9th in passing EPA per dropback since 2019) provides the offense with a high floor, but Carr’s overall talent, the iffy receiver depth chart, and the inconsistent run game (16th in rushing EPA in 2020) leave Vegas without much of a ceiling. They were 10th in points scored last year.
Passing Offense: After the two most recent seasons, there’s no denying that Derek Carr is an accurate, advanced-processing passer. He’s sixth in completion percentage over expected (+4.0) over that span, while ranking ninth in passing EPA. Carr was more aggressive in 2020, too. (The Raiders were ninth in percentage of passes traveling 15-plus air yards.) It’s hard to argue against Carr being a top-15 quarterback right now even if a top-five ceiling isn’t within his range of outcomes. The pass game will go through TE Darren Waller again in 2021, especially with veteran receivers Nelson Agholor and Tyrell Williams hitting free agency. 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs wasn’t trusted as a rookie, but Gruden’s playbook is notoriously difficult for rookies to grasp. A second-year leap is expected for the rare mover. Another outside receiver is needed, however. 2020 third-rounder Bryan Edwards caught 11 passes in 12 games last year, and Hunter Renfrow is a league-average slot guy. Someone with experience should be a priority, even if it’s in a rotational role.
Rushing Offense: The Raiders only got five games from RT Trent Brown and two games from LG Richie Incognito. Neither have guaranteed money for 2021, so it’s unclear if they’ll be back. RG Gabe Jackson is a cut candidate as well ($9.6 million in cap savings). If any or all of these starters are released, the Raiders will have the cap space to find quality replacements, and the other two starters (2018 first-round LT Kolton Miller and veteran C Rodney Hudson) are good players. The offensive line should be a strength, as it was in 2020 when the team ranked 13th in short-yardage rushing EPA. Because of injuries, Josh Jacobs underwhelmed greatly last year. He was 71st out of 74 running backs in my efficiency stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game. Jacobs should have a better season next year, particularly if he plays more third downs. Devontae Booker is a free agent and cutting Jalen Richard would save $3.5 million against the cap.
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% of Plays
Defensive Coordinator: The Raiders’ defensive scheme will be vastly different in 2021. Last year, the Raiders played a lot of Cover 1 man defense (36%) and were last in Cover 3 rate (11%). That obviously wasn’t working with their personnel (27th in passing EPA), so insert new DC Gus Bradley. With the Chargers, Bradley was third in Cover 3 zone rate (36%), while blitzing at the lowest rate in the league (16%). The Raiders’ players complained that the defense was too complicated last year. Bradley’s won’t be. If Vegas struggles defensively, it will be because they lack talent. With that said, I’m expecting struggles pending a massive swing in free agency and the NFL Draft.
Passing Defense: 24-year-old rookie CB Damon Arnette allowed 11.8 yards per target as a first-rounder, and 2019 second-round CB Trayvon Mullen was PFF’s No. 89 corner out of 139 qualifiers. Perhaps playing more deep zone in Cover 3 will unlock Arnette, who played a ton of it at Ohio State. The Raiders likely release 30-year-old slot CB Lamarcus Joyner who will clear $8.7 million in cap savings. At safety, the Raiders are stuck with 2018 first-round SS Johnathan Abram, arguably the worst starting coverage player in the NFL. His priority has always been to deliver big hits, not play sound coverage. It’s a legit problem, although Abram will be responsible for less space underneath in this Cover 3 scheme. This coverage does require a single-high safety, something the Raiders don’t necessarily have on the roster. Jeff Heath is 30 years old and entering his final year of his contract. Up front, the Raiders lack a legit pass rush, ranking 29th in adjusted sack rate. 2019 first-round EDGE Clelin Ferrell (2.0 sacks) has disappointed in two-straight seasons.
Rushing Defense: The Raiders have the fewest dollars spent on defensive tackles heading into free agency. It’s essentially DT Maurice Hurst and nobody else right now. Coming off a season where the Raiders ranked 32nd in rushing EPA, defensive tackle is the biggest need defensively (which is saying something). At linebacker, the Raiders have tied up a lot of money tied to Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Littleton was a player to target in the pass game and only made 82 tackles, down from 134 the year prior. The Raiders’ Cover 3 defense should get another defender in the box in 2021, but there’s no reason to expect anything other than a bottom-10 run defense again. The talent simply isn’t there.
Raiders Team Needs
1. Defensive Tackle(s) - Vegas was dead last in rushing EPA and are losing veteran starting DT Jonathan Hankins to free agency. A one-technique replacement is needed, and the Raiders can use a good one because the rest of the defensive line is filled with iffy starters. 2018 fifth-rounder Maurice Hurst will start at three-tech.
2. Free Safety - New DC Gus Bradley needs a starting free safety for his Cover 3 defense. 30-year-old FS Jeff Heath is under contract for one more season and maxes out as an average starter. This long-term starter will be responsible for cleaning up SS Johnathan Abram’s coverage mistakes.
3. Outside Receiver - Nelson Agholor is a free agent, and the Raiders saved $11.6 million by releasing Tyrell Williams. 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs would have to take a massive year two leap to be the Raiders’ No. 1 outside receiver, and 2020 third-rounder Bryan Edwards caught 11 passes in 12 games as a rookie. They are the future of the position, but a veteran presence is necessary while they learn a challenging Gruden playbook.
4. Edge Rusher - Despite putting a lot of capital into the position, the Raiders ranked 28th in adjusted sack rate in 2020. Former first-round EDGE Clelin Ferrell has 6.5 sacks through two seasons, last year’s free-agent signee Carl Nassib had 2.5 sacks, and Maxx Crosby’s solid sack totals (10.0 and 7.0) aren’t as impressive on a per-snap basis.
5. Corner - The Raiders have greatly invested into their secondary but have little to show for it. 2020 first-rounder Damon Arnette and 2019 second-rounder Trayvon Mullen were below-average players last season, leading to Vegas’ ranking 27th in passing EPA defense. Slot CB Lamarcus Joyner will be 30 years old, too. Joyner can be released to clear $8.7 million in cap savings.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.
Darren Waller (TE1) - Operating as the Raiders’ No. 1 receiver, Waller set career-highs in all categories (107-1,196-9 on 145 targets) while walking to a TE2 overall finish with ease. Vegas doesn’t have a target hog at receiver on the roster yet, and Waller is still in his prime at 29 years old with little early-career tread on his tires. A top-three tight end ranking should certainly include Waller even if a 2020 repeat is unlikely. Last year’s per-game PPR scoring looked like this: Travis Kelce (20.4), George Kittle (17.0), Waller (16.9), Mark Andrews (12.6), etc. The full list is here.
Josh Jacobs (RB1/2) - Between his injuries, bottom-three efficiency, and the Raiders’ No. 30 ranking in percentage of snaps with a lead, everything went wrong for Jacobs in 2020. Because Gruden loves balance so much, Jacobs still managed to finish as the RB13 per game (15.9 PPR points). His game-script dependency makes him a frustrating season-long asset, but Jacobs will have his best chance at earning a third-down role with Devontae Booker heading to free agency and Jalen Richard ($3.5M cap savings) potentially joining him.
Henry Ruggs (WR5) - A COVID-19 offseason and an early-season injury set Ruggs back as a rookie, but even accounting for those two deterrents, Ruggs’ 2020 season was concerning. He was the WR89 in PPR points per game and simply wasn’t trusted. Utilizing Ruggs as more than a clear-out route runner has to be at the top of Gruden’s offseason priority list. Nelson Agholor and Tyrell Williams’ departures easen Ruggs’ path to a second-year breakout season.
Derek Carr (QB2/3) - It’s nearly impossible for Carr to enter the fantasy QB1 mix because of the offense Gruden has set up (23rd in neutral pass rate, 23rd in neutral pace) and Carr’s lack of rushing. He only inked out a QB20 per-game finish last year despite having top-10 advanced passing numbers.
FA Nelson Agholor (WR6) - To everyone’s surprise, Agholor was a quality starter in Vegas, finishing as the WR16 in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (+2.3) -- an efficiency stat. If he re-signs, Agholor maxes out as a WR4/5 with Ruggs likely to compete for more targets in year two. If he signs elsewhere, Agholor likely operates as a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver. Odds are high that 2020 will be his best statistical season of his NFL career.