Las Vegas Raiders 2020 Season Preview

  • 2019 record: 7-9
  • Head Coach: Jon Gruden
  • Offensive Co-Ordinator: Greg Olson
  • Defensive Co-Ordinator: Paul Guenther
  • Biggest Addition: Cory Littleton (LB)
  • Biggest Loss: Karl Joseph (S)
  • Breakout Candidate: Johnathan Abram (S)

2019 Season

The Oakland Raiders had their final season in California in 2019 and it was about as Raiders of a season as you could imagine.

They did significantly better than the disappointing 4-12 outing beforehand, almost doubling their wins. But they fell off toward the end of the season and finished in third place in the – admittedly very unpredictable – AFC West.

This was a season of nearly, but not quite. The offense was good, especially with the breakouts of Darren Waller and rookie star running back Josh Jacobs. But the defense couldn’t support it, and when Karl Joseph got injured in week 9 (after Johnathan Abram was already missing since week 1) it got even worse. Despite only missing the playoffs in the final week of the year, it was disappointing because the potential was so evident.

As a Raiders fan, I do feel it is very important to mention that the final game at the Coliseum was absolutely robbed from them due to a horrendous and genuinely confusing call from a referee, when Derek Carr slid to all-but seal the victory – and their playoff push was made much harder with that loss.

And one last thing; 2019 will always be remembered as the season that Antonio Brown stopped being Antonio Brown… And I actually think if his off-field antics didn’t derail him, the Raiders would have been even better on offense. A career-high passing year for DC4 could have become astronomical with AB, and the fact that Oakland were still a very respectable offense even after losing one of the best wideouts of all time is genuinely impressive.

Offseason

Las Vegas Raiders 2020
Credit: K.M. Cannon (Las Vegas Review Journal)

The Las Vegas Raiders are here. Last season is behind them, and with a Star Wars-esque stadium and a new training facility, it is time to see if they can make that final push to reach the playoffs again.

The biggest focus going into this offseason was inarguably to improve the defense, and anyone who has watched them play will know this. The biggest upgrade to said defense is Cory Littleton a middle linebacker acquired from the LA Rams, who has been signed to a 3-year deal.

They also had, for the second time in a row, an absolutely crucial draft. They drafted Henry Ruggs III, an incredibly fast wideout from Alabama. They also selected two cornerbacks who should be expected to see the field pretty early in the season in Damon Arnette (pick 19) and Amik Robertson (pick 139), as well as Clemson safety Tanner Muse. Their three other draft picks were to try and bolster the offense with swiss-army knife Lynn Bowden Jr., wideout Bryan Edwards and guard John Simpson.

In terms of immediate impact, Cory Littleton and Henry Ruggs will be the headliners, but I think that this class will add enough to the fantastic 2019 rookies and elevate the team to build the future of the Las Vegas franchise.

The addition of Marcus Mariota is worth mentioning. He is a talented quarterback, who you could stack up against literally any single backup in the league. Many people think that he could usurp Derek Carr if he doesn’t start the season strong, but I think that #4 is going to have a great season, with an offense that should be even better than in 2019.

Offense

Las Vegas Raiders 2020

The most exciting offensive addition is clearly first-round pick Henry Ruggs, but not just in terms of his own production. While I expect to see Carr use some of his underrated deep ball skills to unlock the threat of the lightning-fast rookie – as well as seeing him dominate with run-after-catch yardage – I actually believe Ruggs’ biggest impact will be opening up the rest of the weapons…

The blistering deep speed of Ruggs will hopefully start a resurgence for Tyrell Williams, who struggled a bit last year once Antonio Brown left him as the theoretical WR1. Hunter Renfrow had a quietly fantastic season in his first year and will continue to be a great option from the slot. Darren Waller also just happens to be a top 5 tight end out of absolutely nowhere, and he will be even more dominant if he isn’t the number one focus of defenses.

Carr’s ability to throw the ball at all of the different depths and areas of the field should become very evident with the plethora of weapons that General Manager Mike Mayock has collated for him. I think that this year we will see the best version of the passing game since 2016, and ultimately the best version of this Jon Gruden offense since he returned to coaching.

Josh Jacobs had a phenomenal rookie season, and will pick up where he left off. But I also think he will get more involved in the passing game and continue to serve as the centre of the offense. If he can do this, it will keep the opposition defense off-balance and give the team a legitimate four/five threat attack on every passing down. I have no doubt whatsoever his rushing will continue to dominate, and the extra involvement can only be a positive, getting the ball into the hands of the team’s biggest playmaker.

The offense is balanced in approach, with 523 pass attempts to 437 rushing, and I think that this will be the case again this year. Play action is also very effective, and was a huge asset as teams started to respect Jacobs more and more down the stretch.

I suspect all of the aforementioned highlights from 2019 should continue – and then the new additions should help this unit exceed last season. Honestly though, if the offense is near enough the same as last year it should be enough for the Raiders to be significantly better, providing they can fix the other side of the ball…

Defense

Las Vegas Raiders 2020

And here lies the hardest part. The Oakland Raiders struggled on defense, and now they need to take this rebranding opportunity to try and make sure that the Las Vegas Raiders don’t have that same problem.

Moving on from veteran middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead, the Raiders bought in Cory Littleton, who is a 26-year-old with huge potential and more athleticism and pass coverage acumen than Whitehead did. The run defense wasn’t actually too bad – or at least by comparison – so this is a good fit, and the rest of the Raiders defensive acquisitions were made with the same intentions.

Stopping the passing game is going to be a monumental challenge for any team in the AFC West, and the NFL as a whole, as the pass-heavy nature of offense develops. But this Raiders team needs to seriously bolster their back end, and that’s what they are trying to do.

The secondary is getting Johnathan Abram back, who looks like an incredible talent, but whose season got cut short. They also added two corners through the draft who I think will get involved a lot throughout this year. Damon Arnette brings physicality, and Amik Robertson was my favourite pick of the entire draft this year. Abram won’t be on his own in his endeavour to try and make this young Las Vegas defense better.

Another name to keep an eye on is second-year corner Trayvon Mullen. He is going to surprise some people, without a doubt. The Clemson alum showed some flashes last year and will now have some more help in the rest of the secondary, hopefully allowing him to take the next step.

Everyone in the NFL is trying to get faster and more dangerous. Pass-heavy offenses with speedster wideouts are now prevalent every Sunday. The Raiders D is undergoing a transition to stop dragging the team down, and whilst their offense has as much speed as anyone, the defense needs to keep pace with their opponents and do what is needed to help the O to get it done.

The Verdict

I think that the Las Vegas Raiders are a better football team now than the Oakland Raiders were in Week 1 last season, something that is important for the franchise. Whilst that is the goal of every roster, every season, the Raiders in particular are a team in transition – both geographically and on the football field.

I believe that Mike Mayock has done a good enough job to elevate this team both in the short and mid-term, and 2020 is the start of a new era that needs to translate onto the field. The biggest issue they face is their division. The Raiders could very easily put on a playoff-worthy performance year in and year out and still play their last game of each season in December, due to the unpredictable nature of the AFC West. I would expect the Chiefs to win the division, but the rest is completely up in the air.

The Raiders will probably need to get double-digit wins if they want to make it into the postseason, and their in-division results will be vital to edging out their biggest rivals. The Denver Broncos had a very offensive-minded offseason, and look like they could be a force to be reckoned with if Drew Lock can step up in his second season at the helm. The Chargers aren’t very easy to get a read on, and their offense is undergoing a bit of a transformation of its own. But they are still a dynamic and dangerous attack to match their terrifying defense. Every single roster in this division is full of playmakers.

My prediction is that Las Vegas will end their inaugural season with between 8 and 10 wins, and their playoff hopes will be dictated by their success within the division. Generally speaking, if you’re the second-best team in the AFC West, you have a pretty good chance of making it. The team over in Kansas City might be the most exciting team in the world right now. And paying their franchise QB just proves that won’t change any time soon, but while they look to the future, there’s another team that is entering a new age. And there will be plenty of fireworks over in Nevada, too.

Las Vegas Raiders 2020 record prediction:

9-7 (2nd in the AFC West)

Tyler Arthur

NFL Film and Prospect Analyst

A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL. 

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