The Las Vegas Raiders are heading into the fourth season under head coach Jon Gruden. The team has improved every season under him, but the fourth season is usually a make-or-break year for NFL people.
If the Raiders are unable to lock down a playoff spot in the AFC this year, Gruden’s seat will begin to get hot as there will be talks if he should remain the head coach or not.
Training camp will give us a glimpse into whether or not the Raiders are going to make those necessary steps or not. Here are five things to watch for during the Raiders training camp this summer.
5. Henry Ruggs III’s Development
Las Vegas used the No. 12 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama. He was expected to bring a deep threat to the offense, but he had an up-and-down rookie campaign.
Ruggs appeared in 13 games, catching only 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. That was disappointing, to say the least, as the Raiders needed more from their former first-round pick.
While they were a rumored landing spot for Julio Jones, he ended up with the Tennessee Titans. Las Vegas needs Ruggs to develop so they have a wide receiver that can help take pressure off of all-world tight end Darren Waller. Garnering some attention on the outside will make things even easier for him operating over the middle of the field.
4. Can Derek Carr Get Back To Star Level of Play?
There were talks this offseason that the Raiders could move on from Derek Carr if given the opportunity. For now, he is the starting quarterback and the team is wondering if he can return to the level of play he exhibited in 2016 when he was in the MVP conversation before getting injured.
Since that 12-3 season, Carr and the Raiders have gone 25-38. Like Gruden, this is a make-or-break season for Carr. If he struggles early on in the season, there will be fans clamoring for Marcus Mariota to take over with hopes he can bring a spark to the team with his dual-threat ability.
3. Clelin Ferrell’s Development
The Raiders shocked the football world when they selected Clemson’s defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Thus far, everyone who questioned that pick has been right in their skepticism.
Ferrell has recorded only 6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits in 26 games. That kind of production is certainly underwhelming, especially when you account for how high of a draft pick he was.
Las Vegas was hopeful that Ferrell would provide a much-needed spark to their pass rush, but that has yet to occur. His 2019 draft mate, fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby, has yet to miss a game in his career and has 17 sacks thus far.
2. The Backfield Situation
The Raiders had received excellent production from Josh Jacobs since selecting him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has run for 2,215 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, with 19 touchdowns. He has shown improvements as a pass-catcher as well, totaling 53 receptions for 403 yards.
So, it was shocking to see the Raiders dip into free agency for one of the better running backs available in Kenyan Drake. Drake had a breakout second half of 2019 before a solid 2020 with the Arizona Cardinals.
Could Drake be the passing down complement to Jacobs working on early-down between the tackles? It will be something to watch for throughout training camp as Drake has even been talked up as playing wide receiver.
1. Has The Defense Improved Enough
The one thing that is really holding the Raiders back is their defensive performance. The team was last in points allowed in 2020 and 25th in yardage allowed, as they couldn’t get stops when they needed them most.
Las Vegas signed Yannick Ngakoue to help bolster the pass rush alongside Maxx Crosby. Former San Francisco 49ers first-round pick Solomon Thomas was brought aboard as well. Veteran Casey Hayward was signed away from the Los Angeles Chargers to help the secondary as well. Getting more from 2019 free agent signing Corey Littleton would go a long way, as he didn’t have the same impact for the Raiders as he did the Los Angeles Rams.
Did Las Vegas do enough to improve their defense? We will have to wait and find out, as the defense will be what makes or breaks their 2021 season.