The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: AFC West – Las Vegas Raiders


Las Vegas Raiders

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

After the latest roster overhaul, I’m unable to understand Las Vegas’s roster-building plan as they enter the third season of head coach Jon Gruden’s ten-year contract. No doubt Gruden and GM Mike Mayock have something in place, but I’ll lay out two sequences that are causing my confusion.

The first example I’ll use is their saga with the defensive end position and scheme. At the start of Gruden’s tenure, he hired Paul Guenther, a Mike Zimmer disciple, to run the scheme Zimmer has so skillfully deployed in Cincinnati and Minnesota. Reports were that scheme fit contributed heavily to the decision to draft defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who was almost universally seen as a less talented prospect than defensive end Josh Allen, with the 4th overall pick of the 2019 draft. At the time, it seemed that this scheme was so overwhelmingly important that it trumped acquiring the most talented players, a notion I didn’t understand given that the Raiders had no foundation players on defense, which should have given them the latitude to draft the best possible players and build the scheme around those pieces.

Fast-forward two years and Gruden has fired Guenther. He replaced him with Gus Bradley, the former Jaguars head coach who built his reputation running Pete Carroll’s cover 3-heavy system, which he learned in his time on the defensive staff in Seattle. Evidently, the scheme Guenther brought, which Gruden seemed to think was of the utmost importance, wasn’t such a big deal after all.

The remarkable part of this shift is that Josh Allen is a better fit than Ferrell in Bradley’s defense, which typically features an undersized end across from a bigger player on the other edge. To fill that role, Las Vegas signed former Jaguar, Viking, and Raven Yannick Ngakoue to an expensive veteran deal coming off a down year for the explosive pass rusher. Meanwhile, while Ferrell certainly improved from an underwhelming rookie season in his second year, he’s not providing the impact that you’d hope for from a 4th overall pick. The way the Raiders jumped around on defense doesn’t seem to have shown a whole lot of long-term strategic vision.

The second example comes on the offensive side, where Las Vegas’s calling card had been their massive offensive line. Left tackle Kolton Miller has developed into a difference-maker, but the Raiders parted ways with center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson, and right tackle Trent Brown this offseason. Granted, Brown was injured for the bulk of his two seasons in Las Vegas, but these moves mean that they’re counting on unknown commodities, along with a return to health from the aging Richie Incognito, to impose the physical tone on the line that the staff desires.

To that end, they drafted Alex Leatherwood, who was evidently the most physical tackle prospect available with the 17th overall pick, if not the highest-rated for most analysts, and are counting on Denzelle Good and Andre James to elevate their play in expanded roles, or for center Nick Martin to adequately replace Hudson, a player who has consistently turned in notably superior play to Martin throughout their respective careers. This example isn’t as hard to follow, because the Raiders are still showing a high level of commitment to this group by using their first-round pick on Leatherwood, but my perspective is that it seems that having an elite offensive line slid down their list of priorities.

That said, this offense has been pretty good in the Gruden era, and that should continue. Among their weapons, the clear bright spot is tight end Darren Waller, one of the league’s better redemption stories in recent years. Waller serves as the team’s top target, and few tight ends match his explosive athleticism, but the options behind him are less certain. Receiver John Brown is coming off a fairly strong two-year stretch with the Buffalo Bills, but injuries were an issue last year, and the speedster has been uneven throughout his career. He also will not have nearly as aggressive a quarterback as Josh Allen with Derek Carr slinging it to him in Las Vegas. Hunter Renfrow is a solid player in the slot, but Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards failed to impress on the outside in their rookie seasons, and free-agent acquisition Willie Snead’s skillset lends itself to competing with Renfrow for snaps in the slot role, so outside receiver remains a question mark.

Perhaps I’m way off, and Raiders nation will witness a turnaround this season. As a big fan of Waller, Miller, running back Josh Jacobs, and defensive end Maxx Crosby, I’d be happy to see the Silver and Black claim a place among the playoff contenders, but given their poor results in the draft since the Khalil Mack trade, and the huge number of holes in the back end of the defense, I doubt that Las Vegas has the talent to do much better than they have in the past two seasons. Derek Carr is a solid quarterback, and he has played well enough in Gruden’s tenure, but he hasn’t been able to make up for one of the league’s weaker defenses in past years, and I don’t think they’ll see enough improvement on offense or defense to bridge the gap. I’ve been wrong about plenty of teams in the past, but as it stands, I think the Raiders getting similar results to what we’ve seen so far in the Gruden era.

QB Passing Projections

Derek Carr1117431.2600.90.728.52512026.610.218.93

QB Rushing Projections

Derek Carr1117473.07144.

Skill Projections, Rushing

Josh JacobsRB3717294.94.341280.29.657.151.512.24
Kenyan DrakeRB8317119.34.52539.14.723.125.08.96
Henry Ruggs IIIWR1291710.35.4556.
Jalen RichardRB1751744.64.79213.

Skill Projections, Receiving

Darren WallerTE231775.0109.911.721287.46.524.425.013.11
Josh JacobsRB371770.817.06.46109.
John BrownWR731758.371.413.89992.04.320.416.59.46
Kenyan DrakeRB831776.847.17.45351.
Hunter RenfrowWR901774.866.212.67838.14.514.717.28.46
Henry Ruggs IIIWR1291771.343.516.49717.62.410.19.36.69
Jalen RichardRB1751787.129.28.45246.
Bryan EdwardsWR2301774.218.313.60248.
Foster MoreauTE2531781.515.211.74178.
Willie Snead IVWR2761766.513.611.03150.

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.