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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Las Vegas Raiders

Excuse the pun, but the Raiders went all in during their first draft in Las Vegas, trading up and ignoring the final three rounds while becoming the first team in nearly 40 years to select three wide receivers over the first three rounds.
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, over the next 23 days, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Las Vegas Raiders

Head Coach: Jon Gruden

General Manager: Mike Mayock

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 12 overall: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

Round 1, Pick 19 overall: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State

Round 3, Pick 80 overall: WR/RB Lynn Bowden, Jr., Kentucky

Round 3, Pick 81 overall: WR Bryan Edwards, South Carolina

Round 4, Pick 100 overall: OLB/S Tanner Muse, Clemson

Round 4, Pick 109 overall: OG John Simpson, Clemson

Round 4, Pick 139 overall: CB Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech

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Key Undrafted Free Agents:

TE Nick Bowers, Penn State

K Dominik Elerbe, Utah State

CB Madre Harper, Southern Illinois

LS Liam McCullough, Ohio State

WR George Mariner, Utah State

LB Javin White, UNLV

DL Mike Panasiuk, Michigan State

Overview of the Raiders’ 2020 draft: The COVID-19 pandemic robbed Las Vegas of its opportunity to host the 2020 NFL draft but it didn’t stop the key decision-makers for the recently arrived Raiders from taking a gambling mentality with their selections. Taking a page from late owner Al Davis, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock pulled one of the draft’s first surprises, prioritizing straight-line speed over production to make Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs III the first receiver selected in the 2020 draft. If his selection was a surprise, the addition of Ohio State’s Damon Arnette seven picks later was an absolute shocker. Like with Ruggs, it wasn’t the position that surprised, as the Raiders surrendered an NFL-worst 23 touchdowns to outside receivers in 2019, but after gambling early on the athletic traits of Ruggs, the relatively modest speed of Arnette (4.56) stands in stark contrast. Speaking of contrasts, the Raiders then used their next two picks on two other receivers who perfectly complement Ruggs’ straight-line speed, adding the wonderfully versatile and gritty Lynn Bowden and classic split end Bryan Edwards with back to back third round selections. After last year’s drama with Antonio Brown, which of course, came after the Raiders’ decision to send star Amari Cooper to Dallas, the Raiders were desperate for help at the position and this receiver-rich draft certainly provided that. Only twice in previous league history (Vikings, 1967 and Saints, 1982) had a team invested as many as three selections in wide receivers over the first three rounds of the draft, making it crystal clear that the pressure is now on Gruden and incumbent starting quarterback Derek Carr to turn the rookies’ talent into Raiders’ touchdowns. Aggressive trades left the Raiders shuffling the deck for the final three rounds of the 2020 NFL draft but don’t worry fans of the Silver and Back, Mayock’s best pick a year ago may have been fourth rounder Maxx Crosby, with all due respect to Offensive Rookie of the Year Josh Jacobs, a first round pick. Former Clemson stars Tanner Muse and John Simpson are potential future starters but are not likely to make the same kind of immediate impact as Crosby but don’t sleep on Las Vegas’ last pick, Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson. Like Arnette with speed, what Robertson (5-8, 187) lacks in size he makes up for with tenacity and instincts. If he were just a few inches taller, Robertson would have earned first round consideration, himself. Nabbing him at 139 overall could prove a Crosby-like steal.

Best Player of the Raiders’ 2020 Draft: WR Henry Ruggs III

There are some very important numbers to keep in mind with Ruggs. The first, of course, is the 4.27 second time he ran at the 2020 Scouting Combine, proving the fastest player available in this draft. More worrisome for some Raiders fans is 743, which is the average receiving yards he accumulated in two starting seasons at Alabama. Finally, there is 24, which is the number of touchdowns Ruggs accumulated in just three years against elite SEC competition, stretching from his six-TD true freshman campaign to 11 in 2018 and seven last year. This number is perhaps most telling as it shows the immediate and lasting impact players like Ruggs provide, even if they do not catch the ball a dozen times a game. Ruggs left Alabama with less catches over his career (98) than four other receivers (Justin Jefferson, James Proche, Devin Duvernay, Michael Pittman, Jr.) selected after him in the 2020 draft caught this past season, alone. The Raiders made Ruggs’ the first receiver off the board because they envision him as providing for Carr the same instant offense that Tyreek Hill provides Patrick Mahomes for Kansas City. He is not simply a vertical threat, showing terrific lateral agility to avoid defenders, as well as grit and surprising strength to break tackles across the middle, but make no mistake, Ruggs’ job, primarily, will be to provide a handful of chunk play opportunities per game. Do not be surprised if Bowden or second-year slot Hunter Renfrow catch more passes than Ruggs in 2020. If the Raiders’ offense does indeed take off, however, the infusion of Ruggs’ game-breaking potential is almost certainly the catalyst.

Best Value of the Raiders’ 2020 Draft: CB Amik Robertson

As mentioned previously, Robertson is an exceptional player whose below-average size caused NFL teams to drop him down their boards in much the same, mistaken way that college recruiters did year ago with the Louisiana-native. While it goes without saying that Robertson’s height can be an issue against the biggest of receivers, he plays so much bigger and more physical than he measures, which is why he left La Tech with eye-popping production, including 14 interceptions (at least four each season) among 34 overall pass breakups while aggressively playing the run (184 tackles, including 23 for loss), as well. Robertson’s awareness and form tackling, in fact, could lead the Raiders to experiment with him at nickel or even safety. Say what you will about the Raiders’ choices at cornerback in this draft, there is no denying the scrappy mentality Robertson (and Arnette, for that matter) will bring to this club.

Best Project of the Raiders’ 2020 Draft: WR/RB Lynn Bowden, Jr.

With a classic speedster in Ruggs, two prototypical split ends in the 6-4, 200 pound Tyrell Williams and 6-3, 212 pound Edwards, a seam-busting Pro Bowler in Darren Waller and super-slick slot Renfrow, Carr suddenly has more fun options to choose from than a kid walking into Baskin-Robbins. Sprinkle in one of the league’s best young running back in Jacobs and a Golden Tate-like pinball in Bowden capable of helping out as a receiver, runner, returner and even occasional Wildcat quarterback and the Raiders’ offense, at least on paper, appears capable of matching Kansas City point for point. It will be fascinating to see how the Raiders plan to use Bowden, who caught 30 passes in 2019 (after 67 in 2018) because he operated mostly as a running quarterback at Kentucky, quietly leading the SEC with 1,468 rushing yards. Tough, smart and a wonderfully versatile athlete with the competitive fire which will immediately make him a favorite of fans and coaches, alike, Bowden epitomizes the modern-day Raiders as much as Ruggs may have represented the franchise’s storied past.

Overall Grade for the Raiders’ 2020 Draft: B+

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs