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Welcome to the Las Vegas Raiders’ Jimmy Garoppolo era

The key departures, key additions and how they hurt and help Las Vegas’ odds this coming season

The makeover is in full effect in the desert. Such is life after a disconcerting 6-11 2022 season for the Las Vegas Raiders.

General manager Dave Ziegler — and his player personnel crew, along with head coach Josh McDaniels and his coaching staff — are in full Raiders remake mode after making a pivotal change at the all-important quarterback spot. The decision there caused a ripple effect this offseason and Las Vegas heads into Year 2 of the Ziegler-McDaniels era with a roster heading towards the the vision the two former New England Patriots have. It isn’t quiet there yet, however.

Forget the hot seat for the Silver & Black power duo. Owner Mark Davis is of the long-view approach and is patient to let his chosen pair right the Raiders’ ship. Davis wants to bring a similar tight-ship veneer to the desert — one that Ziegler and McDaniels are all too accustomed to during their time in Foxborough.

Key Departures

Derek Carr, Quarterback: Expectations for the veteran signal caller were at an all-time high after the Raiders went all-in and landed elite wide receiver Davante Adams. After all, the pair’s synergy dates back to their Fresno State days. While the DC4-DA17 connection provided fireworks, Carr couldn’t fully assimilate to McDaniels’ brand of football and a horrid Christmas Eve showing on the road in frigid Pittsburgh sealed Carr’s fate. He was benched after the 13-10 loss and released after the season was done. Carr’s nine-year run as the Raiders’ signal caller ended on an awful overthrow that was intercepted.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Darren Waller (83) made a habit of making defensive backs foolish during his time as a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Waller, Tight End: A pure mismatch weapon who could run, leap and catch like a wide receiver that often left opposing defense’s flummoxed, Waller was a missing man for most of 2022 due to injury and playing in only nine games. The offense that McDaniels deploys calls for his tight ends not only being able to run routes and catch passes, but be solid blockers, too. That’s something Waller isn’t and thus, the Raiders sent the tight end to the New York Giants in exchange for pick No. 100 in the 2023 NFL Draft (that turned into wide receiver Tre Tucker).

Mack Hollins, Wide Receiver: A special team’s ace that ascended to the No. 2 receiver role after injuries decimated the wide receiver room in Las Vegas, Hollins had career-high numbers in 2022 with 690 yards and four touchdowns on 57 catches. An excellent gunner on punt returns, Hollins showed he’s also a capable receiver. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason and the Raiders are tasked with finding an equally effective special teamer to replace Hollins. Fortunately for Las Vegas, there’s a glut of talent in the wide receiver room to seamlessly replace Hollins on offense.

Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback: The Raiders allowed their No. 1 cornerback to hit the open market and, while it did take a while, Ya-Sin is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Acquired in a rare player-for-player trade with the Indianapolis Colts last season (the Raiders sent pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue to Indy), Ya-Sin served as the top corner in Las Vegas in 2022. Although he played in only 11 games, Ya-Sin was effective in coverage allowing 42 of 69 passes for completions (60.9 percent) for 414 yards and one touchdown. Quarterbacks targeting Ya-Sin sported an 82.6 rating — which was solid considering how rice paper-thin the depth at cornerback became due to injury.

Key Additions

Jimmy Garoppolo, Quarterback: Now here’s an addition that changed the Raiders odds. Garoppolo replaced Carr and will help turn the tide of Las Vegas’ ongoing war with red zone inefficiency. Garoppolo is a quick decision maker and thrives on quick passes to get the ball in his playmakers’ hands, and that should parlay itself quite nicely in McDaniels’ offense to change the dead zone narrative the Raiders have earned in the red zone.

Efficient and confident inside the 20-yard line, Garoppolo’s familiarity with McDaniels scheme is a tremendous boon. Now, the only questions are: When will Garoppolo step onto the field, and how many games is he going to play this coming season? He’s recovering from foot surgery and missed six regular season games last year for the San Francisco 49ers.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Oklahoma State at Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer is equal parts receiving and blocking tight end. He gives the Las Vegas Raiders an all-around solid prospect.
South Bend Tribune-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Mayer, Tight End: Out goes Waller and in comes a complete prospect. The Raiders traded up to the No. 35 overall pick to select Mayer out of Notre Dame and for good reason. Odds are Mayer is going to be a favorite target for Garoppolo as Mayer runs good routes, can get open, has reliable hands as a pass catcher, and can make defenders miss tackles. Mayer’s addition also moves the needle on the Raiders’ odds of again being a ground-and-pound run game dominating unit as he’s a tremendous blocker. Whereas Waller was a one-dimensional weapon, Mayer is a complete tight end, which McDaniels prefers. And that’ll go a long way toward ensuring Mayer’s success in the desert.

Tyree Wilson, Defensive End: The addition of Chandler Jones didn’t quite pan out, even though Las Vegas is looking for a rebound year. Yet, the team did proper by hedging their bets at the pass rusher position by taking Wilson with the No. 7 overall pick. A high-ceiling talent that has elite measurables — particularly is massive wingspan that bests both Maxx Crosby and Jones — Wilson brings explosive power and acceleration to the mix. Las Vegas needs to create takeaways and get after the opposing quarterback more, and this Texas Tech product helps accomplish that — if he develops into a sound tag-team partner for Crosby, the Raiders elite defensive end.

Duke Shelley, Cornerback: Shutdown corners used to be a Raiders given. That hasn’t been the case as of late, however, Shelley has both the production and alpha mentality to change that. Coming over from the Minnesota Vikings, the 5’9, 176-pound Shelley may appear diminutive, but he made a big difference in the secondary. Targeted 46 times, he yielded just 21 completions for 266 yards and zero touchdowns. Quarterbacks throwing Shelley’s way sported paltry 45.7 percent completion rate and 55.2 rating. The Vikings were wise not to contain Shelley to just slot/nickel duties and it paid off. Las Vegas’ bet on Shelley can pay dividends, too.

The Skinny

DraftKings Sportsbook opened the Raiders’ win total at 7.5. Anything under wouldn’t be perplexing and anything over would be a fortuitous turn of events for the Silver & Black. The team certainly has star power and potential to be another offensive powerhouse — if key players are available for the duration of the 2023 campaign, like Garoppolo or running back Josh Jacobs.

It’s the defense, however, that’s very much a work in progress. While Ziegler assembled intriguing pieces on the unit, Crosby is the lone premiere defender on that side of the ball.

While the team won’t outright say it — even Davis coined the transitionary phase as reload, rather than rebuild — the Las Vegas decision makers are retooling the roster with the 2023 season as a litmus test on what direction the team takes next offseason.

It’ll take at least one more free agent and draft classes to truly build a roster both Ziegler and McDaniels can confidentially proclaim as “ours”.