Before the start of last season, the buzz around the Las Vegas Raiders 2019 draft class was through the roof. Josh Jacobs, Maxx Crosby, and Hunter Renfrow were significant contributors. Trayvon Mullen appeared to be a future lockdown cornerback with his performances against receivers the quality of Courtland Sutton.
Fast forward to 2020, and the production dropped for most of the draft picks. Jacobs lost almost a yard in YPC(4.8-19 3.9-20) with a tumble in yards per contact as well(3.48-19, 2.82-20 from PFF).
Maxx Crosby saw his sack production and overall performance take a step back. He didn’t impact the run game, adding ten missed tackles, according to PFF. The previous year he finished second in ESPN’s run stop win rate.
Mullen flashed but managed embarrassing performances on tape that he didn’t exhibit the year before. Jonathan Abram's struggles are well documented and cost the team a few games.
There were other play factors (struggling DC, makeshift OL), but the coaches wanted to see more growth from this group.
With the new season on the horizon, the third-year teammates are veterans on a young football team. The rookies will be looking to them for guidance. The class should be jumping into leadership roles that are especially important on defense.
Defensive leaders were missing from this football team a year ago. Free agents such as Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Heyward will add this component. The vets are here for a reason, but the Raiders coaches dream for the homegrown talent to take the reigns.
Jon Gruden shared this message with the media during Monday’s press conference.
“I hope so. I mean they’re the oldest guys on our team now, the third-year veterans. Maxx Crosby and [Clelin] Ferrell and [Johnathan] Abram, we had great press conferences when they got here, and now is there time. We need them to all step up and not only play good but be leaders on this team. I’m encouraged by what they’re saying. I’ll be more encouraged when I see what they do.”
Earlier in training camp, Crosby mentioned how he was ready to be more vocal with teammates.
“I just want to be the full version of Maxx Crosby that I envision myself being. Just being a leader, I think that’s a role that I feel natural at. I feel I could be a positive influence. ... I don’t care about having the title ‘Alright, Maxx is leader.’ Whatever. I’m just being myself and having fun when I’m out there.”
The players are receiving the message with Jacobs expressing this same sentiment during his press conference. The time is now to become leaders of this football team, and they appear to be excited for the moment.