The Las Vegas Raiders have steadily improved in each season since Jon Gruden took over as head coach. After going 4-12 in his first season, they improved to 7-9 in Year 2 and 8-8 last season in Year 3. Now, heading into Year 4, the goal is to make the playoffs.
The Raiders will have a tough road ahead of them as the AFC West is a difficult division to navigate. The Kansas City Chiefs are perennial Super Bowl contenders while the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos are two young teams on the rise.
If Las Vegas can clean up a few things, they will right in the thick of the AFC Wild Card picture once again. They began the season 6-3 but suffered some excruciating loss in the final seven games of the season to end up on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.
The Raiders have a solid roster from top to bottom, but they will need some players to step up for them this season to take that next step of being a playoff team. Here are two X-Factors for the Raiders heading into the 2021 NFL season.
2. Yannick Ngakoue
The Raiders are the fourth team that Yannick Ngakoue will be suiting up for since 2019. He essentially forced his way off the Jacksonville Jaguars following the 2019 season and landed with the Minnesota Vikings. After six games in Minnesota, he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens. Now, after being in free agency, he is with Las Vegas.
Ngakoue was looking to become one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, as his camp was reportedly seeking a deal worth $19 million annually. That would have been the third-highest among non-quarterbacks behind Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald at the time.
He ended up signing a two-year, $26 million deal with $21 million guaranteed. The Raiders desperately need pass-rushing help and Ngakoue will provide that. Now, it is up to him to prove he is worth the lucrative contract he was seeking and help turn this Raiders defense into a stronger unit.
1. Henry Ruggs III
To the surprise of many, the Raiders made Henry Ruggs III the first wide receiver off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft when they selected him No. 12 overall. This was a throwback Al Davis type pick, as Ruggs was the fastest WR in the class. Now, heading into his second season, it is time to show he was worthy of his draft slot.
Ruggs didn’t do much as a rookie, catching only 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games. He added nine rushes for 49 yards. Las Vegas is going to need a lot more than that to help elevate this offseason.
With Nelson Agholor moving on in free agency, there is a void atop the wide receiver target share. Las Vegas should hope that Ruggs takes a bigger chunk of those targets in his second season, as they need a wide receiver to step up alongside all-world tight end Darren Waller.