Posted on August 9, 2022
The Raiders took the spirit of the city to heart this offseason, making plenty of big moves that look very likely to pay off.
Las Vegas knew something needed to be done before the 2022 season if it wanted to be able to really compete.
Sure, they made the playoffs last season but they were never a legitimate threat.
And playing in a loaded AFC West meant they had to get much better if they wanted to make it out of the division and into the postseason again.
So the Raiders went big and made arguably the biggest non-quarterback-related move of the offseason by trading for wide receiver Davante Adams.
He is the best receiver in the game and is in the midst of a dominant run at the position.
Although he won’t have the luxury of playing with back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers, he will get to catch passes from quarterback Derek Carr, who he played with at Fresno State University.
Adams is as close to a sure thing as there is in this league. He has been healthy and incredibly consistent so there is not an obvious path for this trade to backfire on the Raiders.
Adding Adams to an already solid team gives them the offense needed to keep up in the extremely talented division.
But football is a sport that is played on both sides of the line of scrimmage and the other side (defense) has been the one holding Las Vegas back recently.
So the Raiders took another big swing on that side of the ball by signing defensive end Chandler Jones in free agency.
Jones has been one of the most productive pass-rushers over the past decade and will immediately boost that part of the Raiders’ defense.
Unlike Adams, there may be concerns about Jones’s ability to produce at a high level given his age (32 years old) role in a new system.
But Jones has the type of talent that you bet on and hope for the best, which is exactly what Las Vegas is doing.
Outside of those two big additions, the team is relatively the same as the one that snuck into the playoffs last year.
That is mostly a good thing given the instability of the franchise recently but it means some of the same issues that plagued them last year will come up this season.
The biggest question might be whether Carr is a good enough quarterback to lead a Super Bowl contender.
He is very talented and that has been evident on the field at different times but fluctuating production is not what a team wants from its starting quarterback.
Carr certainly can be the guy on a competitive team, it just hasn’t happened in Las Vegas yet.
That is where new head coach Josh McDaniels comes in. He is supposed to be the guy that fully unlocks Carr and gets the best out of the signal-caller.
McDaniels is considered one of the best offensive minds in the game due to his time running the offense in New England, and the Raiders are hoping he translates that success to their franchise.
The addition of Adams will absolutely make both Carr and McDaniels’s job easier but the player who could also really help them out is tight end Darren Waller.
The veteran can be one of the most dominant tight ends in the game (like he was in 2019 and 2020 with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons) but he is coming off a significant drop-off from that level of play in 2021.
The hope is clearly that McDaniels can get a bounce-back season from Waller. He still has the requisite talent to tear up the league again. His down year last year can be attributed to a few potential reasons.
He could have been operating at less than 100 percent at times (he did miss six games) or he could have suffered from the odd transition the team had to make to interim head coach Rich Bisaccia in the middle of the season.
If Waller does look more like the 2019-2020 version of himself, then the Raiders’ passing attack will be deadly.
With Adams, Waller, and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas will have a pass-catching trio they can put up against any other team.
Renfrow will have to play in a different role this year as he will no longer be the number one wide receiver but that could just mean better matchups and less attention from the defense.
He will still be able to use his mesmerizing route-running and reliable hands to make plays all over the field.
The Raiders have good reason to have confidence in their passing attack this season but the same thing can’t be said for the ground game.
They were toward the bottom in rushing offense last year and haven’t done much to improve that facet of their game.
Most of the burden of the run game falls on running back Josh Jacobs, who has been fine during his three years with the team.
Unfortunately, fine is not what the Raiders were aiming for when they selected him in the first round of the 2019 draft.
Jacobs will have to prove that he can be more than an average back if he wants to stick around with the new front office that wasn’t responsible for drafting him.
Las Vegas desperately needs Jacobs to prove that he can be that guy because they don’t have great options behind him.
Veteran running back Kenyan Drake isn’t more than a backup or third-down back at this point. Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah are not long-term answers even if they were to become productive somehow.
The team does have rookie running backs Zamir White and Britain Brown but relying on late-round rookies to take over important roles is not a strategy you can count on.
Obviously, it would help out Jacobs, and everyone else, if the offensive line were to improve its play as well.
The Raiders cleaned house on the line before last season by getting rid of multiple starters and rebuilding the unit from the ground up.
The result of that is a young unit with some potential but not one that is particularly good at the moment.
The one good thing about that strategy upfront is that the Raiders are returning all five of their starting offensive linemen, so at least they will have continuity.
Left tackle Kolton Miller has developed into a pretty solid player and is set at the left tackle spot.
Last year’s first-rounder Alex Leatherwood is a promising young player that played guard for them but can bump out to tackle if he can improve his game.
The rest of the line is also young but is not as promising.
Las Vegas has added rookie guard Dylan Parham to the mix after drafting him in the third round. He could very likely earn a starting spot this year and become a reliable player in the future.
Even if everything goes right for the Raiders on offense in 2022, they will still need some massive improvement from the defense in order to be amongst the top teams.
Adding Jones was a great starting point because the pass-rush has been so dreadful over the past handful of seasons.
The Raiders have really struggled to develop productive pass-rushers, which has hindered the defense.
Luckily, they struck gold with defensive end Maxx Crosby, a fourth-round pick in 2019 that has emerged as a premier pass-rusher.
Las Vegas did lose defensive end Yannick Ngakuoe in free agency after he led the team in sacks last year but the addition of Jones should be an upgrade at the position.
They will still need more help, hopefully from former first-rounder Clelin Ferrel or second-year player Malcolm Koonce, but there should have a much better pass rush than last year.
The interior defensive line doesn’t really provide much help to the guys on the outside.
Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson was decent at getting to the quarterback last year but he left in free agency, leaving zero defensive tackles on the roster that registered a sack in 2021.
The Raiders will hope that the rest of the defense improves enough to cover for a group led by Jonathan Hankins, rookie Neil Farrell, and a handful of former high picks that didn’t pan out.
At least the defensive line can count on some solid play from the linebackers behind them, which is maybe the one bright spot of the defense.
Veteran linebacker Denzel Perryman had a fantastic year for the Raiders in 2021, leading the team with 154 tackles and making his first Pro-Bowl.
He is a great fit for the middle of the defense because of his reliable tackling ability and leadership. The presence of Perryman allows the Raiders to put younger players out there with him.
That will lead to an increased role for second-year Divine Deablo, who should move into a starting spot with the departure of Cory Littleton.
Deablo, a former safety, has been a bit of a revelation for the Raiders at linebacker. If he does earn a chance to start and get significant playing time this year, he could be a big difference maker due to his athleticism and coverage skills.
Speaking of coverage skills, that is another area that the Las Vegas defense has struggled in. The team grabbed six interceptions last year and no players were responsible for more than one.
It doesn’t help that cornerback Casey Hayward left in free agency after he was the most reliable member of the secondary in 2021.
But the Raiders’ secondary is now a very young unit with plenty of players with potential. Trevon Moehrig was a Second-Round selection last year and started all 17 games.
He will only get better in year two and can end up a staple of the Las Vegas defense.
His partner at safety, Jonathan Abram, is a former first-round pick that has demonstrated his potential, just not consistently, so he will need a big season to solidify his spot.
At cornerback, the Raiders have a collection of young talent but just need a few of them to prove they can handle a starting spot.
Trayvon Mullen, Amik Robertson, Nate Hobbs, Anthony Averett, Rock Ya-Sin, and rookie Sam Webb will all be fighting for reps.
Hopefully, two of three of those players will emerge from the pack and become serviceable corners at the very least.
It is weird to think that the Raiders could have what I consider a very good offseason but actually end up with a worse record this year.
But that is what I think will happen, with Las Vegas finishing 9-8 this season. It is also crazy to think they could finish with a winning record and still come in last in their division.
The biggest reason why I think the Raiders may struggle is the defense.
I think that defense is going to have a very hard time in games against elite quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Russell Wilson.
Unfortunately, the Raiders have six games against those three guys, not to mention other potent offenses throughout the season.
Carr and the offense will be sturdy enough to keep this team in the hunt for most of the season but it will be hard to win the big games at the end of the season without at least an average defense.
If Las Vegas does manage to take a huge step forward on defense and put together a solid unit, then this team will be a playoff team for sure but without that happening the Raiders will be on the outside looking in.
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