The pads are on for the Las Vegas Raiders and it would seem as though things are going about as well as can be expected for Jon Gruden’s third season back in the league. Positive reports around rookie wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, the impressive quality of play by most of their free agent signees, and an undrafted free agent linebacker who may be making a case not only for the 53-man roster but as a starter.
But it’s training camp and there are no preseason games. Could things really be as good as they seem?
Three quick observations: Arden Key explosive, is having a very good week at camp; Erik Harris with the pancake of Lynn Bowden Jr., who definitely needs to work on his pass blocking; Bryan Edwards continues to look like a veteran (he and Ruggs have been impressive). #Raiders— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) August 18, 2020
My first answer is yes. My observations and opinions of the Raiders offseason has evolved and morphed into a belief that the offense will be great and the defense will be good enough. With less than a month to go before Week 1, Las Vegas looks like a playoff team to me. But that’s a general observation.
I want to get into specifics. And then I want to see how much I believe in the best case or worst case scenarios for each.
Javin White is going to make the team
Gut feeling: True
If White’s not in, then I really don’t know who is in. The Raiders just spent the bank on Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski because they hated the play of their linebackers last season. Are they really going to let go of one who may have slipped through the cracks during a year with no pro days? Javin White’s going to be a hometown hero all season to fans in both Oakland and Las Vegas and I don’t foresee Mark Davis, Mike Mayock, and Gruden wanting to give his spot to simply another linebacker who may also not have a future as a starter.
He may not be favored over third round pick Tanner Muse, but White’s the story of training camp thus far and while I do love to caution people about overrating surprise rookies based on August play, there’s clearly room for players and stories like him on the roster. I would be surprised if he didn’t wind up on another team if he got released.
Henry Ruggs is going to “dominate” as a number one receiver right now
Gut feeling: Doubt but that doesn’t mean he can’t be great right now
The hype around Ruggs is even louder today than it was when he was the first receiver picked in the draft. At that time many wondered why CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy didn’t go first, but you wouldn’t know it based on training camp reports.
Brad Weiss said that Ruggs is “the complete package” and that “the expectation is that he is going to dominate as a rookie.” Marcus Mosher thinks he could get 120 targets. And everybody is fast to call him quick, or quick to call him fast. The fastest maybe.
I am in no position to say that Ruggs can’t be a dominant player as a rookie or that he won’t receive 120 targets. The only position I can take is how likely that seems to me based on all the variables at hand. The only rookie to reach 100 targets last season — in a season with many exciting first year receivers — was DK Metcalf, who had exactly 100.
The only rookie to top 1,000 yards was A.J. Brown, who had 1,051.
The class didn’t have any receivers regarded as highly as the top-three in 2020, but as we found out, the NFL was wrong on many of their evaluations of the 2019 receivers, right? They let Metcalf and Brown get to the second round, they let Terry McClaurin and Diontae Johnson get to the third, they let Darius Slayton and Hunter Renfrow get to the fifth.
I think that if Ruggs has a rookie season like 2019 first rounder Marquise Brown (71 targets, 46 catches, 584 yards, seven touchdowns) that would be exciting for the organization. It’s more than enough.
There’s also just a paradox to say that Las Vegas has struck gold with Ruggs and Bryan Edwards as rookies, with Darren Waller at tight end, and Nelson Agholor looking like a much better player than he did with the Eagles last season. How can all of those players get 100 targets, plus Tyrell Williams, plus Renfrow, plus they want more passes to Josh Jacobs?
It seems to be way more than the number of attempts that Derek Carr is likely to have, especially if Carr has a good season.
Bryan Edwards is a steal, will contribute immediately
Gut feeling: I believe that
See what I just said about the 2019 receivers? The NFL still sucks as evaluating players. I mean, they’re okay, but all 32 teams make mistakes and if Edwards is impressing coaches and teammates with this group of receivers and tight ends around him, then I’d be impressed too.
Does that contradict what I said about Henry Ruggs? No, because I think that Ruggs can be less productive than expected and Edwards can be more productive than expected and they can meet in the middle.
I would add to that though that it would not surprise me to see Edwards get more targets per game than Ruggs and to eventually be viewed as a number one receiver in his own right.
Clelin Ferrell is impressive, going to breakout this season
Gut feeling: That would not at all be surprising at this point
I don’t want to go over the top and say that Ferrell is about to become an elite pass rusher, and I’m not sure if anyone’s really doing that right now, but Ferrell’s stood out as an “impressive” player early in camp both in size and in his ability to stop the run. The team has also apparently gotten a great pass blocking camp from left tackle Kolton Miller ... or Ferrell isn’t doing much to challenge Miller. Either way, that’s not yet been noted as a standout ability for Ferrell.
It all depends on the definition of “breakout” when it comes to Ferrell. I think there’s definitely a timeline where Ferrell plays as well as someone like Jadeveon Clowney, who won’t get a lot of sacks but can stop the run and be disruptive with pressure. He’s not getting the same hype as Clowney, but that’s probably because he didn’t have an awesome tackle against Michigan once.
Nelson Agholor is going to be a big contributor
Gut feeling: Doubt
Agholor is apparently also having a good camp and perhaps he could even sneak ahead of Renfrow on the depth chart. I do think that Agholor is an excellent bargain at only $1 million — but I have my doubts about him breaking through at this stage in his career.
Raiders have a good problem at wide receiver right now. Seems like Renfrow is going to be the odd man out, with Agholor still lurking to steal snaps and targets. Whether Waller's targets last year were a product of WR shortage will be put to the test https://t.co/vpzs2QVBnL— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) August 18, 2020
As a receiver, Agholor has had more bad seasons than good and his most recent campaign may have been his worst. I will give him the benefit of the doubt because he wasn’t a good fit to be in the position he was in with Philadelphia last season — he could do so much better blending into a group that has a lot of options like the Raiders do — but “recently disappointing veteran looks good now” is a cliché that has too often not delivered any fruit.
It doesn’t mean that Agholor can’t be valuable, it just means that I’d be surprised if his receiving statistics looked exceptionally different than his career averages other than the fact that I expect him to get fewer targets now.
I’ll leave it at those four observations for now, see how much I’m hated for these gut feelings, and then tackle (football word) a few more.