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Raiders Outlook 2023: Will they finally get better red zone production after additions?

A look at weapons who can bring life to Las Vegas’ lackluster performance in the money zone

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California
The addition of Michael Mayer, a 2023 second-round pick, can help reinvigorate a lackluster red zone performance by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Whether they were in Oakland or now Las Vegas, the Raiders red zone struggles run deep. The area inside the 20-yard line and the goal line isn’t a happy place for the Silver & Black.

So much so, the last time the Raiders were in the Top 10 in red zone efficiency on offense (and defense) was the 2017 season where the team ranked seventh on offense scoring touchdowns and ninth on defense in touchdowns allowed. That team was captained by Jack Del Rio (with Todd Downing and Ken Norton and John Pagano as defensive coordinators) and finished 6-10.

Since that season, and between offensive-minded head coaches and gurus John Gruden and now Josh McDaniels, the Raiders peaked being ranked 22nd (in 2018 and 2019) in turning red zone visits to touchdowns. In McDaniels debut season in 2022 as Raiders boss and chief play caller, Las Vegas’ offense sported the 26th overall rank turning 48 red zone visits into 23 touchdowns (47.3 percent).

Now, let’s not get twisted. Despite the red zone being a relative dead zone, Raiders offenses under Gruden and McDaniels can score points. Gruden’s offense peaked in 2020 scoring 434 points (10th-ranked unit) while McDaniels’ 2022 squad scored 395 points (12th-ranked unit). But imagine if those two teams scored more touchdowns in the red zone, how much higher those point totals would be? In 2020, Las Vegas had 59 red zone visits and 32 touchdowns for a 54.2 percent conversion rate (23rd in the league). And let’s not forget, the Raiders went 8-8 in 2020 before going 6-11 this past season.

Points scored (and points against) make a big difference. And McDaniels’ second season as Raiders head coach should be focused on getting in the end zone more often (especially in the red zone) while also stopping the opposition from doing the same.

We’ll focus on the offense in this piece and look at weapons at McDaniels’ disposal for some much-needed Las Vegas Raiders red zone rejuvenation.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders Press Conference
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will play a vital role in how the Las Vegas Raiders offense performs in the red zone this coming season.
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Obvious Three

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:

While availability will always be a concern, Garoppolo’s ability in the red zone isn’t. In 2022 and with the San Francisco 49ers, Garoppolo threw 12 red zone touchdowns to one interception (Jimmy G had 16 total touchdown throws that season) with a 60.47 completion percentage inside the 20, according to Pro Football Reference. Garoppolo’s predecessor in Las Vegas, Derek Carr, threw 11 red zone touchdowns with one interception (Carr had 24 total touchdown passes) and a 42.11 completion percentage inside the 20.

Running back Josh Jacobs:

The Raiders bell cow tailback had 40 carries for 110 yards and nine touchdowns inside the 20 in 2022. That performance isn’t likely to quell and potentially increase this coming season. Of Jacobs’ 12 total touchdowns, five came from inside the five-yard line. And a more productive passing attack in the money zone opens things up for the talented running back.

Wide receiver Davante Adams:

With is route-running prowess and sure hands, Adams seems like a shoe-in for top red zone option. However, teams focus on No. 17 in the money zone because taking him away almost always meant there was little else for the Raiders to do. Adams did snare 14 total touchdown receptions, but only four of them where in the red zone. Perhaps a healthy and productive Hunter Renfrow opens things up for Adams?

New To The Arsenal

Tight end Michael Mayer:

Our Matt Holder did a solid job examining how the 2023 NFL Draft second-round pick can affect the Raiders’ red zone performance. Mayer’s size, hands, and toughness make him an ample target over the middle and for a quarterback like Garoppolo — who feasts on quick or intermediate routes in the area. Mayer’s blocking prowess also makes him an option on tight end sneak routes (see O.J. Howard below for details).

Wide receiver Tre Trucker:

The 2023 NFL Draft third-round pick is a speed demon — a tough one at that. The Raiders should take full advantage of those jets on bubble screens, end arounds, you name it in the red zone. With things being so tight quarters inside the 20, Tucker’s game-changing speed needs to be used to stress opposing defenses.

Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers:

Another sharp route runner with solid hands, Meyers has the ability to get open quickly and that should pay off in the red zone. Of his six total touchdowns with the New England Patriots in 2022, three were of the red zone variety. Deploying Myers, Adams, Renfrow and tight ends in formations inside the 20 is going to open things up for someone.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Kansas City Chiefs
Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 220 pounds, wide receiver Cam Sims, seen here hauling in a touchdown with the Washington Commanders, is a mismatch option in the red zone.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Sleep On

Running back Ameer Abdullah:

The diminutive running back served as the third-down/passing down tailback due to his receiving ability last season and that shouldn’t change — if he makes the 2023 53-man roster. He’s 5-foot-9 and 196 pounds and can get lost in traffic or torch linebackers tasked defending him.

Wide receiver Cam Sims:

A gargantuan 6-foot-5 and 220 pound pass catcher, Sims has only three touchdowns in his five-year career, but the Raiders would be wise see how well he can do on fade routes and jump-ball situations in the red zone. He spent his first five seasons with Washington and has a familiar face in Scott Turner in Las Vegas (who was the Commanders’ offensive coordinator from 2020 to 2022).

Tight End O.J. Howard:

More regarded for his blocking ability than his pass catching, Howard is a sneaky option in the red zone. While not as fleet-footed as he once was, he’s shown he can still catch and combine that with blocking prowess, Howard can run the sneak route. He can feign run blocking or pass blocking before scampering loose running a route as a receiver. Howard has done plenty, particularly during his time in Tampa Bay.