The 2021 Las Vegas Raiders are entering the season with high expectations and no room for excuses or failure.
General Manager Mike Mayock made it clear that he and Coach Jon Gruden are in complete lockstep with the fans' expectations.
"We're not hiding from expectations. I think Jon and I will both tell you that we feel like we need to be a playoff team this year, and I don't think there's any doubt about that," Mayock said.
Entering the fourth year of Jon Gruden's second tenure as the head coach of the Raiders, there is no reason that they shouldn't get to a minimum of 10 wins and compete for a playoff spot.
The Silver and Black, under the leadership of Gruden and Mayock, are completely overhauled, and Gruden and Mayock own this team.
Their fingerprints are all over every player, coach, and decision. It is time for them to end the years of futility and finally get results. There is no room for moral victories, this is the National Football League, and it is time to win.
Derek Carr returns after having led a top-10 Raiders offense in 2020. One of the most underrated players in the NFL, Carr was hindered by his head coach last season from taking risks because of a weak defense. That will not be the case in 2021.
With one of the deepest wide receiver corps in the NFL, the Raiders' aerial attack will be impressive.
Hunter Renfrow is the epitome of consistency, and the Raiders have added Willie Snead and have a young speedster in Zay Jones who has the complete confidence of his coach and quarterback.
Two young men not getting enough attention entering their sophomore campaigns are wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. Because of last season and the COVID-19 protocols, they got no mini-camps, not OTAs, and no preseason games to learn the complicated Gruden offense in 2020.
Skeptics panned the Raiders for the picks of Ruggs and Edwards, but with an entire offseason, both are starters in 2021 and took their 2020 late-season demonstrations of talent and have built on it.
The Silver and Black also have one of the premier NFL tight ends, Darren Waller. Waller's backup, Foster Moreau, catches nearly everything thrown, and they make up one of the most dangerous tandems in the AFC.
The Raiders have one of the elite young running backs in Josh Jacobs, and they went out and added Kenyan Drake to back him up. Drake is one of the fastest players in the NFL, and he will be used to back up Jacobs and be a weapon in the passing game.
The Raiders' offensive line has been overhauled, but the organization is thrilled with it. Andre James is a rising star that allowed them to trade Rodney Hudson at center, and the first-round pick, tackle Alex Leatherwood, has been a star from the moment he set foot in the building.
If the Raiders offense fails in 2021, it will not be because of the offensive line.
Last season, Carr and the Raiders' offense delivered three fourth-quarter leads that the defense lost. If the Raiders' once-feared defense had been arrested for being an NFL-caliber squad last season, there wouldn't have been enough evidence to convict them.
That led to Paul Gunther's termination before the end of the season and Gus Bradley being brought in to lead the defense. The addition of Bradley and the new-look staff was the most critical offseason addition by Gruden and Mayock.
I asked Gruden about the upgrade of the defensive team speed, to which he said: “We are faster on defense for sure this year. We think the addition of [Tre’von] Moehrig, obviously the defensive linemen you’re talking about, that’s a lot of speed that we added.”
The terrible defensive line is gone. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue, Solomon Thomas, and Quinton Jefferson, along with other adjustments and acquisitions, has remarkably turned last year's Achilles heel into what many believe will be this year's strength.
The linebacking group has been decimated by injuries and entered camp as the weakest link on the team. The injuries have done nothing but reinforce that. To the credit of the Raiders, they were aggressive adding key free agent linebackers, Denzel Perryman and K.J. Wright. Both should make immediate impacts.
The Raiders defensive backfield adds Casey Hayward, a proven Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback who is a leader on and off the field. He was an immediate upgrade, and Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs are two instant-impact rookies that have made a big impression already.
Trayvon Mullen is a sharp young cornerback and safety Johnathan Abram finally shows that he is ready to turn the corner mentally and become the star, his physical talents foreshadow.
The Raiders defense in 2021 is going to be aggressive.
Can the linebacker group perform at a level that will allow them to win some games while waiting for young players to grow and injured players to return?
Look for Bradley to continue his tendency of being non-traditional in putting together a defense that will play to his strengths.
I would not be shocked to see the Raiders use some six and seven-man defensive back sets to bring more speed up to compensate for the linebacker deficiencies.
I look for Bradley to once again demonstrate the talent he is respected for as one of the game's elite defensive generals.
In more than two decades of covering football, I enter each season predicting the team's record that I am tasked with covering the same way. I look at the floor for wins and the ceiling for wins in the regular season.
Last year I predicted the floor for wins was eight for the Las Vegas Raiders, and the ceiling was 10. They ended the 2020 campaign with eight wins. This year I call for the ceiling to be 11 wins and the floor to be 10.
Expected Depth Chart
Quarterback: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
Running Back: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
Fullback: Alec Ingold
Tackle: Kolton Miller, Alex Leatherwood, Brandon Parker
Center: Andre James, Nick Martin
Guard: Richie Incognito, Denzelle Good, John Simpson
Tight End: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Nick Bowers
Wide Receivers: Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
Defensive Tackle: Quinton Jefferson, Johnathan Hankins, Solomon Thomas, Gerald McCoy, Darius Philon
Defensive End: Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Clelin Ferrell, Malcolm Koonce
Linebacker: Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, K.J. Wright, Divine Deablo, Denzel Perryman, Nicholas Morrow, Javin White
Safety: Johnathan Abram, Tre’Von Moehrig, Tyree Gillespie, Roderic Teamer
Cornerback: Casey Hayward, Trayvon Mullen, Nate Hobbs (Nickel), Damon Arnette, Keisean Nixon, Amik Robertson (Nickel)
Daniel Carlson K
A.J. Cole P
Trent Sieg LS