The Raiders made their debut in a state-of-the-art stadium in their new home city of Las Vegas in 2020, but they produced the same middling to bad results that have become the norm for a once-storied franchise. They lost five of six games in Weeks 11-16 to finish with an 8-8 record, which knocked them out of the playoff race. The Raiders haven’t had a winning record and they’ve missed the playoffs in 17 of their last 18 seasons since they lost in Super Bowl XXVIII during the 2002 season.
The Raiders will welcome fans into Allegiant Stadium for the first time in 2021 and they might not like everything that they see. The odds say that Jon Gruden and company will extend their run of missing the postseason to 18 of the last 19 seasons. The Raiders face the league’s toughest schedule based on 2021 win totals so Derek Carr and Darren Waller are going to have to lead another top-10 scoring offense to compete in tough AFC West in 2021.
Las Vegas Raiders Franchise Focus Companion Podcast
|Season Win Total (O/U)||7 (-118/-105)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 7.5 (-110) in late March to 7 (-118)
Super Bowl: +5000 in early February to +8000
Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.
Key Offseason Moves
|Kenyan Drake (RB)||Alex Leatherwood (OT)||Devontae Booker (RB, NYG)|
|John Brown (WR)||Trevon Moehrig (S)||Nelson Agholor (WR, NE)|
|Willie Snead (WR)||Malcolm Koonce (DE)||Tyrell Williams (WR, Det)|
|Nick Martin (C)||Divine Deablo (LB)||Jason Witten (TE, retired)|
|Yannick Ngakoue (DE)||Tyree Gillespie (S)||Trent Brown (OT, NE)|
|Quinton Jefferson (DT)||Nate Hobbs (CB)||Gabe Jackson (OG, Sea)|
|Solomon Thomas (DL)||Rodney Hudson (C, Ari)|
|Casey Hayward (CB)||Takk McKinley (DE, Cle)|
|Rasul Douglas (CB)||Maliek Collins (DT, Hou)|
|Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB)||Raekwon McMillan (LB, NE)|
|Karl Joseph (S)||Lamarcus Joyner (S, NYJ)|
|De’Vante Bausby (CB)||Erik Harris (S, Atl)|
|Darron Lee (LB)||Arden Key (DE, SF)|
|Garrett Groshek (RB)||Maurice Hurst (DT, SF)|
|Trey Ragas (RB)|
|DJ Turner (WR)|
|Dillon Stoner (WR)|
|Matt Bushman (TE)|
|Jimmy Morrissey (C)|
Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 9th-toughest (-0.31)
Running Back: 6th-toughest (-0.72)
Wide Receivers: 2nd-toughest (-1.28)
Tight Ends: 10th-easiest (+0.19)
Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.5 (26th)
Plays per game: 64.5 (16th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 53.7% (26th) | Run: 46.3% (6th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 43.2% (27th) | Run: 56.8% (6th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 62.5% (24th) | Run: 37.5% (9th)
HC Jon Gruden leaned heavily on the run last season, especially in tight ball games. The Raiders 46.3% run rate when the game was within a score was only lower than the Ravens (55%), Patriots (50.7%), Vikings (49.7%), Titans (49.3%), and Browns (47.5%). It definitely worked. The Raiders finished the season 10th in points per game and would have been even higher scoring on offense if they were just a bit more efficient in the red-zone. Vegas scored a touchdown on just 54% of their red-zone possessions, which ranked 10th-worst. While their offensive line took a step backwards this offseason and they will sorely miss C Rodney Hudson, Gruden will likely remain run-heavy after giving Kenyan Drake a two-year, $14.5M deal in free agency.
The Raiders were the only team that finished top-8 in points scored per drive that failed to make the playoffs last year.
Their defense allowed a score on 50.3% of their drives this past season, worst in the league.
The defense gave up 143 missed tackles, most in the league.
Over the last three seasons, the Raiders have ranked 32nd, 24th, and 30th in points allowed per game.
They rank 32nd, 25th, and 29th in sacks forced in this span.
HC Jon Gruden gets a lot of (often deserved) flak, but one thing is for sure: Derek Carr has been a much better QB with Gruden calling plays. Over the last three years, Carr’s completion rate (69%), YPA (7.7), and passer rating (98.6) has all been vastly improved compared to his first four seasons (61% completions; 6.5 YPA; 87.5 rating).
Still, Carr’s spike in efficiency hasn’t resulted in much fantasy success for our game. He’s finished as the QB28, QB24, and QB17 by points per game over the last three years.
Josh Jacobs (2,215) ranks fifth in rushing yards over the last two combined seasons behind Ezekiel Elliott (2,336), Nick Chubb (2,561), Dalvin Cook (2,692), and Derrick Henry (3,567).
However, Jacobs has been extremely volatile in fantasy. He’s finished top-12 (RB1) in weekly scoring in 36% of his games and outside of the top-36 in 43% of his starts.
Why is that? It’s because Jacobs is the most game script dependent running back in the league. When the Raiders win, Jacobs averages 21.1 fantasy points per game. When they lose, he puts up just 10.3 FPG.
17 of Jacobs’ 19 career TDs have come in wins.
The reason Jacobs is so volatile is because he doesn’t play on third-downs. Over the last two combined years, he’s 80th (!!!) in routes run on third-downs among RBs.
In his career, Jacobs has one third-down target. One.
Since 2010, a total of 39 wide receivers have been drafted in the first round. Of this group, Henry Ruggs’ season ranks 25th in yards per game (34.8) and 27th in fantasy points per game (6.5).
The first-round receivers worse than Ruggs in FPG since 2010? Corey Davis, Breshad Perriman, Demaryius Thomas, N’Keal Harry, Jonathan Baldwin, Josh Doctson, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Mike Williams, Laquon Treadwell, A.J. Jenkins, and John Ross. So… not great company!
Darren Waller was No. 1 in target share (28%) among tight ends, ahead of Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce (25%).
Waller finished as a TE1 (top-12) in 69% of his games, which was still miles behind Kelce (93%).
During the fantasy playoffs, Waller scored 105.7 fantasy points. That’s the most FP a tight end has ever scored in Week 13-16 ever.
Huber’s Scheme Notes
We can draw quite a bit of comfort from the knowledge that almost the entire Raiders’ offensive coaching staff has been with the franchise since 2018. The only exceptions to that statement are a current vacancy at RBs coach — previously held by Kirby Wilson — and Austin King taking over as TEs coach after Frank Smith departed to become the Chargers’ OL coach following the 2020 season. A fourth consecutive season under OC Greg Olson provides us with plenty of evidence toward our expectations for the 2021 offense. Olson got his start in the college ranks, coaching QBs such as Jon Kitna (1990-93) and Drew Brees (1997-00). After serving under the likes of Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, and Scott Linehan, the role that eventually brought Olson to his current posting was working under Jon Gruden as his QBs coach in Tampa Bay (2008-09). Olson was also previously staffed with the Raiders under Dennis Allen (2013-14).
Las Vegas’ offense follows a Zone-heavy approach to their ground game that ranked with the 10th-highest such rate last season. In particular, the Raiders attack between the tackles with Inside Zone blocking at one of the highest rates in the league. There’s likely a direct correlation between this approach placing wear-and-tear on its RBs and the various ailments that Josh Jacobs dealt with at the end of the 2019 season, and those that limited him during several ‘20 games. So it should come as zero surprise that GM Mike Mayock signed Kenyan Drake this offseason. As long as Jacobs remains healthy, we are likely to see the expanded receiving role promised for Drake when he signed come to fruition. However, if Jacobs were to go down, Drake would be propelled into an enviable role within an offense that ran the ball at the 10th-highest rate last season.
The prudent betting man could draw on a history of evidence in support of the Raiders’ offense continuing with its run-heavy approach. And Mayock made it through the entirety of the ‘21 draft without selecting a single addition to his skill position groupings. All the same, they spent two of their first four selections in the ‘20 draft on WRs (Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards). While both fell well short of our rookie expectations, they are still working under the regime that drafted them, and the offseason coach speak suggests a total commitment toward featuring the pair this season. Mayock did, however, add John Brown and Willie Snead IV to the mix. Olson has suggested that, health permitting, he envisions starting Ruggs, Brown, and Edwards in his optimal lineup.
The case for Ruggs flipping the script on his rookie season is supported by some compelling metrics. One of the ingrained weaknesses of Cover 6 is taken advantage of by WRs equipped with sharp route running and game-breaking speed. The Cover 6 scheme makes every effort into fooling the QB toward thinking the defense is actually either Cover 2 or Cover 4. While Ruggs offers both of the traits to take advantage of Cover 6, it’s actually the strengths and weaknesses from Derek Carr that allowed Ruggs to succeed vs. Cover 6 last season. Carr possesses some of the finest arm accuracy in the game. But his arm strength is also sorely lacking. Since Carr has done his best work against both Cover 4 and Cover 6 the last three seasons, it’s no wonder Ruggs did well when defended by Cover 6.
It’s unfortunate that Carr’s most significant weakness has been when facing Cover 3. It just so happens that Cover 3 was one of Ruggs’ preferred schemes while playing at Alabama. With Ruggs’ sub-4.3 speed, any defense daring enough to send a Cover 0/all-out blitz is going to pay a high price — cough, Jets, 31-28. Where I see Ruggs making the biggest jump this season is when facing Cover 1 (man coverage with a single-high safety). Carr has been one of the top-10 Cover 1 QBs over the last three seasons. With Nelson Agholar no longer a part of the equation, Ruggs could blow up during his sophomore season if he can establish that Cover 1 connection with Carr.
As for Edwards, he gave us absolutely nothing last season to draw any conclusions based on scheme. He collected a couple “deep” balls, but I find it as zero surprise that those with the Raiders responsible for drafting him are still fully supporting his future. It would be shocking to learn that they had already abandoned support for him. But that’s not to say his future is set. He posted a collection of impressive records while playing for South Carolina that motivated Mayock enough to invest a third-round pick. We just need to see Edwards actually follow through in the NFL. Brown was an intriguing get for Las Vegas. He’s been relatively consistent at every stop during his career, with his veteran leadership adding an absent element to Las Vegas’ WR room. Nonetheless, we can’t forget about Hunter Renfrow. Based solely on the coverage analytics, Renfrow is a clear step ahead of Brown as a direct match to Carr’s abilities, and he could also jump ahead of Edwards if he fails to take advantage of this opportunity.
While I could work through every aspect of the Raiders’ O-line overhaul, I do not think it would be a worthy time investment. The bottom line is it went from one of the most promising groups in the game to one peppered with question marks. Olson will hope the O-line can work to develop some cohesiveness with the stable presence of Carr directing their actions. One of the most shocking offseason moves wasn’t an acquisition, it was that Las Vegas failed to trade Marcus Mariota. Should Carr go down with an injury, the Raiders’ offense would be in excellent hands with Mariota, but the O-line’s lack of experience, cohesiveness, and depth would end up being completely exploited while it attempted to adjust to Mariota’s game.
The current regime has improved Las Vegas’ record in each season on the job, culminating in an 8-8 finish last season. Every team must deal with inevitable injuries to its personnel. But the Raiders’ offense, in particular, has not been constructed to handle more than a couple hits to its non-vital personnel. If they manage to avoid serious injuries, this is an offense that could make a push for a playoff spot. But the odds are going to be against them doing much better than the 50% winning percentage from last season.
A serious argument could be made stating the Raiders fielded the worst defense in the NFL last season. The best attribute of that defense was finishing among the bottom-10 teams in run defense. When the pass rush and coverage are examined, we find some of the poorest play in the game. To make matters infinitely worse, Las Vegas was easily the worst tackling defense throughout the entire 2020 season. So it was no surprise to see the entire defensive coaching staff, sans DC Paul Guenther, replaced following the season. They also sent a slew of defenders packing, including Takk McKinley, Arden Key, Maliek Collins, Maurice Hurst, Raekwon McMillan, Lamarcus Joyner, and Erik Harris. But GM Mike Mayock responded by devoting all but one of his seven draft picks to the defensive side of the ball.
The Raiders’ complete inability to stop opposing passing attacks led to allowing bottom-seven rates of FPs/game to QBs and to entire opposing offenses. Another factor to consider were their struggles on third down. The defense permitted the third-highest rate of third down conversions, never a stat you want to see. The situation became so dire that I would not be surprised one bit to see Guenther consider the advice of his new staff toward retooling the coverage scheme rotation. At least to a certain degree. Last season, Las Vegas played competitive rates of Cover 2 and Cover 6. And that’s the extent of the defense's complexity, a truly disturbing fact. With that knowledge, one has to wonder how Guenther even managed to retain his job for another season.
To be clear, the defense dabbled in Cover 1, Cover 3, and Cover 4. But each of those rates fell outside of the top-half of the league. If I dared to venture a guess, I’d say this information tells us Guenther never devoted his defense toward a consistent rotation. And that likely made life very difficult for his personnel. While most of the CB room will return, Mayock did bring in an outstanding trio of CBs that will likely take on the majority of the snaps. The Raiders plucked Casey Hayward Jr. from the Chargers, Rasul Douglas from the Panthers, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson from the Falcons.
Looking over those CB additions, one overriding pattern emerges: each of them previously played within a Cover 3-heavy scheme. If there is substance to that similarity, a shift to a Cover 3 defense would likely signal a complete overhaul of the defense, and the near-complete removal of both the Cover 2 and Cover 6 schemes. A Cover 3 system is focused on stopping the run. It allows the strong safety to drop into the box to give the defense the numbers advantage. As for defending the pass, while it does leave two of the six underneath zones unattended, each of the three deep zones are covered, forcing offenses to attack underneath.
However, if the Raiders do plan to convert to a Cover 3 system, they will need an elite/near elite free safety to man centerfield. That’s exactly where Mayock’s second-round investment, Trevon Moehrig, would come into play. Moehrig was excellent in 2018 and ‘20 for TCU, but he played out of his mind during the ‘19 season. If he comes anywhere close to replicating his ‘19 play this season, Las Vegas’ defense could shock the world with a miraculous turnaround.
We know, despite struggling through injuries and poor play last season, Johnathan Abram will be counted on as the strong safety. Abram has really let the franchise down since being selected in the first round of the ‘19 draft. But he is still under 25-years-old, and will be given every opportunity to turn things around. The one area of his game that has impressed is as a pass rusher. As long as they receive outstanding FS play to go along with their masterful CB additions, a shift to a Cover 3 would also make a big difference to the run defense and pass rush.
Mayock also drafted EDGE Malcolm Koonce from Buffalo and off-the-ball LB Divine Deablo out of Virginia Tech. And he also brought in EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Solomon Thomas, and DT Quinton Jefferson. We know they have an elite presence in EDGE Clelin Ferrell. If they are able to draw solid seasons from either Vic Beasley, Carl Nassib, and/or Maxx Crosby, this line could come together quite nicely. Plenty of ifs, but Mayock seems to have done his part in assembling the personnel this team needs to field a competitive defense. That’s a drastic step forward compared to what they put on the field last season.
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Derek Carr (Proj: QB24 | ADP: 171 | Pos ADP: QB25)
The Raiders’ front office brought in some competition behind Carr when they inked Marcus Mariota to a healthy two-year deal last off-season, and the signing lit a fire under Carr as he posted arguably the best campaign of his career in 2020. He completed 348/517 passes (67.3%) for 4103 yards, 27 TDs, and nine INTs to finish as the QB19 with 18.1 FPG in 16 games. He actually averaged 19.1 FPG in his 15 full games as he left Week 15 after just 11 snaps because of a groin injury. Carr matched his career-best 7.9 YPA, which was greatly aided by his average depth of target spiking up to 8.1 yards after sitting at 6.6 yards in 2019. Nelson Agholor’s sudden emergence as one of the league’s better deep threats helped Carr immensely, and he’s going to need Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and free-agent signee John Brown to fill the void left behind by Agholor at WR. Darren Waller will remain the focal point of this offense and Carr will continue to lean heavily into one of the league’s best receivers. The two have quickly developed a strong rapport and this passing attack is at its most dangerous when HC Jon Gruden flexes Waller out wide, which helps to define what the defense is playing against the Raiders’ offense. The Raiders’ offensive line could have some growing pains after they traded away C Rodney Hudson, OG Gabe Jackson, and OT Trent Brown this off-season. Carr played his best at the end of last season with 275+ passing yards and multiple TDs in five of his last seven games, and he’ll be looking to carry that momentum into this season. Carr lacks much upside as a low-end QB2 option this season because of his weak receiving corps outside of Waller and his lack of rushing production.
Marcus Mariota (Proj: QB39 | ADP: 380 | Pos ADP: QB54)
There was some thought that Mariota could challenge Derek Carr for his starting spot in 2020 when he signed a two-year, $17.6 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed last off-season. Carr never let the competition materialize by having arguably his best season in his seventh year, which relegated Mariota to the bench for all but one game. Mariota hung an impressive 26.8 FP in his lone appearance last season, posting 226/1 passing and 88/1 rushing against the Chargers with Carr lasting just 11 snaps because of a groin injury in Week 15. Mariota is intriguing for fantasy if he’s forced into action because of his rushing potential as he’s averaged 23.2 rushing yards per game with 12 rushing TDs in 64 career contests. The problem is he’s been a limited passer his entire career, averaging just 209.9 passing yards per game with 77 TDs to 45 INTs. Mariota will still be an intriguing streaming option in season-long formats if he’s forced into the lineup in 2021, but he’ll need the right matchup(s) to come through.
Josh Jacobs (Proj: RB21 | ADP: 42 | Pos ADP: RB21)
The Raiders used a first-round pick on Jacobs in 2019 but HC Jon Gruden has been reluctant to give him a true bell-cow role through two seasons — Jacobs has seen just ONE target on third down to start his career. He’s unlikely to be a bell-cow back again in 2021 after Las Vegas signed Kenyan Drake to be the top receiver in this backfield. The Raiders can say whatever they want but Drake’s hefty two-year contract shows they don’t have a ton of faith in Jacobs’s ability as a receiver. He’s also a hard runner who’s been nicked up a bunch early in his career, which likely factored into Drake’s signing. Jacobs finished with 273/1065/12 rushing (3.9 YPC) and 33/238/0 receiving to finish as the RB12 with 15.6 FPG in 15 games. Jacobs was a boom-or-bust option at the position last season as he relied heavily on touchdowns to finish as an RB1 last season. He averaged 22.4 FPG in his seven games with at least one touchdown and just 9.6 FPG in his eight games when he failed to score a touchdown. The Raiders’ offensive line could have some growing pains after they traded away C Rodney Hudson, OG Gabe Jackson, and OT Trent Brown this off-season. Jacobs is going to need plenty of positive gamescripts to justify his fourth-round draft price, which is a bit worrisome since the Raiders have the league’s seventh-worst season win total sitting at just seven victories. Jacobs has a scary weekly floor and he doesn’t offer a ton of upside if Drake is going to hog most of the passing-game work in this backfield, which makes him an unremarkable low-end RB2 option.
Kenyan Drake (Proj: RB32 | ADP: 100 | Pos ADP: RB37)
The Raiders handed Drake a hefty two-year, $14.5 million contract with $11 million guaranteed to be the top lieutenant behind starting RB Josh Jacobs. Our Adam Caplan said he hasn’t seen a free-agent contract like the one Drake got in quite some years considering he’ll be a backup option behind Jacobs. The Raiders basically can’t walk away from Drake for the next two years and he’s going to have to play a lot to justify the contract. Drake didn’t live up to his second-round ADP in 2020 as he posted 239/955/10 rushing (3.9 YPC) rushing and 25/137/0 receiving on 31 targets (just 5.5 YPR) to finish as the RB24 with 12.9 FPG. Drake’s touchdown production kept his otherwise pedestrian numbers afloat as he caught fewer passes in a full season in Arizona in 2020 than he did in just eight games in 2019 when he came over from Miami after the trade deadline. Overall, Drake went from seeing 141 targets in 2018-19 to just 31 targets in 2020. The Raiders clearly think the Cardinals misused Drake last season since his primary role in this backfield is going to come in the passing attack in Jon Gruden’s offense since Jacobs has been invisible as a receiver through two seasons. Drake said at minicamp that he views himself as a mismatch piece for this offense, and he worked primarily on his speed and receiver footwork drills this off-season. Drake is essentially Kareem Hunt Light in fantasy drafts this summer. He’s going to have some standalone value as a PPR flex option most weeks and he’d be in the RB2 conversation if he’s forced to take over the backfield if Jacobs misses time — Hunt would have RB1 potential if Nick Chubb misses time. Drake doesn’t have the same offensive line to play behind as Hunt, but he should have more negative game scripts with their win total sitting at seven wins and he’s available four rounds later.
Henry Ruggs (Proj: WR59 | ADP: 143 | Pos ADP: WR58)
The Raiders took plenty of heat after they took Ruggs as the first wideout in last year’s draft, and he did nothing to calm the furor with his performance last season. It certainly didn’t help that Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb, players who were drafted right after him, went on to have impressive rookie seasons. Ruggs never worked his way into a consistent role in HC Jon Gruden’s offense, and he finished with just 26/452/2 receiving (17.4 YPR) on 43 targets for a measly 6.6 FPG. The general consensus was that Ruggs would be Las Vegas’ downfield threat with his 4.27-speed, but he quickly had that role stolen from him by the previously disappointing Nelson Agholor. Ruggs has spent this off-season adding some strength to his thin frame (6’0”, 190 pounds) and he’s working on becoming a more complete receiver after he primarily served as a field stretcher last season. Las Vegas’ receiving corps remains awfully thin with just John Brown and Bryan Edwards competing with him for WR targets, but this passing attack will once again run through stud TE Darren Waller. Ruggs showed no signs of being a regular fantasy contributor as a rookie, but there are worse bets to make for a major leap forward in 2021 since he has little competition for WR targets in an offense that could skew pass-heavy with their win total sitting at just seven victories. Ruggs is a WR5 who should pop for a couple of big games in best ball formats, and he’s worth a bench stash early in the year in season-long formats to see if the light has flicked on.
John Brown (Proj: WR66 | ADP: 18 | Pos ADP: WR68)
Brown may have been released by the Bills but he’s still playing at a high level because of his ability to threaten opponents downfield — he owns a career 14.8 YPR average. He posted 33/458/3 receiving on 52 targets for 96.8 FP while playing 77% of the snaps in nine games. Brown missed seven contests last season because of a number of leg injuries, but he’s played in 15+ games in five of his seven seasons. He averaged 4.8/70.7 receiving per game with a 22% target share as Buffalo’s #1 WR during his career-best season in 2019. His averages dipped to 3.7/50.9 receiving per game with a 17% target share last season with Stefon Diggs in the mix and because of his injuries. Brown also led Baltimore in receiving in 2018 and there’s a chance Brown could be the #1 WR in Las Vegas — Darren Waller is the clear-cut top receiver in this passing game. Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards each flopped as rookies last season, and Brown has a chance to step into Nelson Agholor’s vertical-threat role if Ruggs can’t do it. Brown has a touch of upside if Ruggs and Edwards fail to progress as sophomores, but Brown is best suited as a WR6 in best ball formats because of his spike performances.
Bryan Edwards (Proj: WR72 | ADP: 217 | Pos ADP: WR79)
Edwards’s rookie campaign never took off because of ankle/foot injuries and it didn’t help that Nelson Agholor deservedly earned more playing time, which propelled him to a breakout season. Edwards, the 81st overall pick in 2020, managed just 11/193/1 receiving on 15 targets while playing just 24% of the snaps in 12 games. Our Greg Cosell saw some similarities between Edwards and Justin Jefferson coming out of college, and they both excelled against SEC competition — Edwards finished with the third-most SEC receptions (324) and the fourth-most receiving yards (3045). Edwards has the chance to be a volume receiver on the perimeter if he can stay healthy, which has been an issue for him dating back to South Carolina. Edwards opened last season as the starting X receiver along with fellow rookie Henry Ruggs, and HC Jon Gruden ideally wants to use his second-year receivers with free-agent signee John Brown in three-WR sets this season. Edwards is a player to monitor on the waiver wire in season-long formats unless you’re drafting in deeper formats. He could move onto the radar in 12-team leagues if he’s making some major noise in August, and he’s already worth a late-round dart throw in best ball formats in case he can emerge as the #2 option for Derek Carr behind Darren Waller.
Hunter Renfrow (Proj: WR92 | ADP: 477 | Pos ADP: WR162)
Renfrow has been a consistent option for Derek Carr out of the slot through his first two seasons, but he’ll have some competition for playing time this season after the team brought in the underrated Willie Snead to push for slot snaps. The Clemson product posted 56/656/2 receiving (11.7 YPR) on 77 targets for 8.3 FPG in 16 games. The Raiders also brought in John Brown along with Snead this off-season, but they’re still lacking a clear-cut #1 WR after Nelson Agholor bolted for New England this off-season. The Raiders ideally want to use Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Brown in three-WR sets this season, which would have Renfrow on the outside looking in, but they could need his steady presence in the lineup if Ruggs struggles again and if Edwards can’t stay on the field. Renfrow is going to need some help if he’s to find fantasy relevance this year so he should start the year on the waiver wire in all formats.
Willie Snead (Proj: WR109 | ADP: 325 | Pos ADP: WR112)
Snead has been a steady option out of the slot for the last sevens years, but his market must’ve been pretty shaky if he took a one-year deal with a team that already has an established slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow. Snead was stuck in the wrong offense to make much of a fantasy impact the last two seasons with the run-heavy Ravens. Snead was the centerpiece of Baltimore’s passing attack for a three-week stretch in Weeks 8-10 when Lamar Jackson was really struggling last season. He finished with 33/432/3 receiving on 48 targets for 94.2 FP while playing 63% of the snaps in 13 games. Snead is a quarterback's best friend in the middle of the field as his quarterbacks own an NFL passer rating of 99.4 when targeting him during his career. The Raiders don’t have a true #1 WR and Snead is going to do just enough to make it more difficult for Henry Ruggs, John Brown, and Bryan Edwards to emerge as viable fantasy options.
Darren Waller (Proj: TE2 | ADP: 23 | Pos ADP: TE2)
Waller certainly proved that his breakout campaign in 2019 was no fluke by once again resetting his career-best numbers once again in 2020. He went from finishing as the TE6 (13.9 FPG) in 2019 with 90/1145/3 receiving on 117 targets to finishing as the TE2 (17.5) in 2020 with 107/1196/9 receiving on 145 targets. Waller ended the year on an absolute heater, posting a ridiculous 43/654/4 receiving for a TE-best 26.7 FPG in the final five weeks. Waller firmly established himself as one of the league’s best receivers in the league, regardless of position, finishing behind only Davante Adams (25.7), Tyreek Hill (21.9), Travis Kelce (20.9) Stefon Diggs (20.5), Calvin Ridley (18.8), and DeAndre Hopkins (18.1) in FPG last season. Waller will once again enter the 2021 season as the clear focal point of Las Vegas’ offense and he’ll have one of the weakest receiving corps behind him, which is led by Henry Ruggs, who managed just 26 catches as a rookie. Derek Carr is coming off arguably the best season of his career and Waller’s ability to align and dominate anywhere on the field made Carr’s life much easier — Waller’s 151 routes run on the perimeter were second to only Kelce at 249. Waller is locked into the TE2 spot behind Kelce and he’s slightly ahead of George Kittle this summer because of his durability — Kittle has missed 10 games the last two seasons while Waller has played every game — and his weaker receiving corps behind him. Waller could give you a leg up at tight end over most of the rest of your league but you’ll have to use a second-round pick to do it.
Foster Moreau (Proj: TE52 | ADP: 366 | Pos ADP: TE49)
Moreau logged a full season in 2020 after he tore his ACL and missed the final three games of his rookie season in 2019. Moreau muscled out 7/140/2 receiving on just nine targets while playing 24% of the snaps in 16 games. Darren Waller hogged the vast majority of the production at the position and Moreau also had to contend with Jason Witten last season, who posted 13/69/2 receiving in his lone season in Las Vegas. Moreau will move back into his #2 TE role this season but he’s unlikely to be anything more than a touchdown vulture down near the goal line — he’s scored seven times on just 34 career targets. Moreau is unlikely to be anything more than a low-end TE2 even if Waller were to miss some time this season.
At some point, you are what you are at QB, and we’re well past the point at which we’re wondering what Derek Carr is. He is very talented and he moves well, but he also has issues, like how he bails on plays too quickly and doesn’t stand tall in the pocket and let them develop. Some of his key numbers under Gruden are very good, like his completion rate (69%), YPA (7.7), and passer rating (98.6). But that hasn’t translated to consistent fantasy success in this run-heavy offense, since he’s finished as the QB28, QB24, and QB17 in PPG these last three years. He did bring it more than usual in 2020 and he staved off Marcus Mariota, but Carr will likely continue to drive fantasy owners nuts with his inconsistent, gamescript dependent fantasy production, especially since he lost his best deep threat at WR this year in Nelson Agholor and he’s operating behind a revamped OL that will miss it’s pro-bowl center. They do have nice depth at receiver, but I can only get excited about Carr if he drops a little and is damn near a free pick in a deep or 2-QB league. We’re talking 200+ picks in, since his ADP is already low at 180.
For 3+ quarters in Week 15, Marcus Mariota was a fantasy stud, putting up 226/1 passing and 88/1 rushing against the Chargers, and he looked good doing it, as he was assertive and aggressive in a nationally televised game. He’s a limited passer, but if he’s called into the starting lineup due to a Carr injury, Mariota will likely post top-15 numbers, and he might do so easily if he runs a little more. He’s not really a viable handcuff or anything, so he’s not draftable for most, but he’s arguably the best backup QB on the board in terms of the guys who are 100% set as his team’s QB2.
We’ve covered the frustration of Josh Jacobs and the potential pitfalls with him this year now that Kenyan Drake is in the mix. We know it’s a run-based offense, which is great, but it’s also an offense that refuses to utilize Jacobs on third down, making him TD-and game script dependent. Jacobs is usually often dinged up and limited if he does play (and sometimes, he trolls us on social media regarding his status and availability). This all said, the markets have adjusted for Jacobs’ issues, and he’s certainly affordable for a guy who’s a lock for 250+ opportunities. So if you wind up going WR-heavy early in a draft, he’s not a bad RB2 in the fourth round. If I took Jacobs and if his backups cost wasn’t prohibitive, I’d probably want to grab Kenyan Drake, who would be a league-winner if Jacobs was out.
The Raiders have been obsessed with adding pass-catching RBs not named “Jacobs,” so Kenyan Drake should be their top receiver at RB, and he could even line up at WR at times, as Drake has spoken about this offseason. Both Drake and Josh Jacobs drive me nuts, but not because they can’t play; so while I’m not targeting either of them, I am willing to draft both, especially Drake if he falls from his 100 overall ADP at RB37 (we have him as RB32). One factor to consider is Drake’s contract, which is substantial, as he’s making borderline starter money. That means he will play plenty (especially in negative game scripts), and Drake’s a much better receiver than he showed last year, when he was phased out of Arizona’s passing game. He’s been durable, so he’s a good bet to reside in the top-30 at RB in terms of production, and he has top-10 upside for sure if Jacobs is out. He was one of the biggest buzzkills of the 2020 season, so it’s hard to be confident in Henry Ruggs’ ability to break out in year two. Turns out, he wasn’t as good of a prospect as many thought last year, as noted in our scheme notes and his issues with certain types of coverages. Derek Carr is also part of the problem, since he doesn’t let plays develop down the field often enough. This all said, I do like investing in high-end assets whose values are suppressed, and that does describe Ruggs, who is pretty cheap at 145 overall and as the WR56 off the board. I don’t see a lot of volume, though, as Carr continues to feed the ball to Darren Waller, so he will likely be big-play and TD-dependent, meaning Ruggs is not a must-have. We really don’t know what we have at this point in Ruggs, who will have to compete with targets with the productive John Brown and the intriguing Brian Edwards, but if you’re looking for something fairly sexy in the 11th round, Ruggs may stand out.
It would surprise no one if John Brown balled out yet again this year and surprised for fantasy. That’s what he does, sporting a strong career 14.8 YPR while playing on three different teams, which is impressive. That said, he’s going to stand out 180 picks into a draft as the WR65-70 off the board (or even later). There’s certainly a chance that Brown, not Henry Ruggs, replaces much of the big-play production we saw from Nelson Agholor last year. If the vibes are good in August, and especially if they’re not great for Ruggs and Brian Edwards, then Brown will eventually settle in as a great target 150+ picks into a draft.
Everyone I talked to at the 2020 combine thought Bryan Edwards was a very good prospect, and I liked him a lot when I interviewed him myself, but the guy did nothing in his rookie season last year. Injuries were a problem, of course, and even if he shows well this summer, his upside should be limited in a run-based offense and with plenty of other talented receivers on the roster. He also doesn’t run all that well and may have some separation concerns. That said, they did draft Edwards in the third round last year for a reason, and a big reason was length. So Edwards’ size may net him a prominent role on the outside if he quickly ascends and plays well this summer. I’m not yet inclined to target him even at his low 200+ ADP until he shows me something in camp. But if he does, then I will definitely be in on Edwards as a good late flyer.
I love Hunter Renfrow as a general statement, and he’s done pretty well thus far, but the team did bring in the pesky Willie Snead to push him for slot snaps, and even if the planets align for Renfrow, it’s hard to envision him hauling in more than 50 passes again this year (56 in 2020). He’s a waiver wire guy only to start the year.
He has put up surprising numbers at times in his career, but Willie Snead is the type of fantasy asset who produces when you don’t expect it, and then when you do expect it, he doesn’t produce. His ADP is 300+ this summer, so there’s no reason to draft him. Even if he has a good camp this summer, he’s still just a WW guy until we see he’s clearly playing over Hunter Renfrow.
I personally undersold Darren Waller last year, but after seeing Derek Carr stay in love with throwing him the rock in 2020, and with Waller proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s an elite receiver at TE, I’m not making the same mistake twice. There’s no doubt that having a dominant TE can give you an advantage, which is why Travis Kelce is locked in as a #1 pick, and it’s why Waller is likely locked in as a late-second or early-third round pick. I do want to grab as many good RBs as possible, and I’m not usually looking to pay for a top TE, but I am very comfortable opening a draft with RB-TE-RB with Waller obviously the TE. I might also open a draft going RB-TE-WR, which is a nice balance. Others on staff are actively targeting Waller in the second round, and I’m fine with that.