The Silver and Black Head to Sin City
As division neighbors of the NFL’s half billion dollar man, the Raiders have used the 2020 off-season to get more athletic on both sides of the ball to better compete with the defending champs. The 2019 campaign was marred by the early fallout of the category 5 storm known as “Hurricane Antonio Brown.” While the 7-9 record was nothing to write home about, Raider Nation witnessed breakout performances from players we expect to be franchise cornerstones for years to come. This article will explore off-season moves made and the corresponding fantasy implications.
2020 Off-Season Moves:
Jason Witten (TE), Marcus Mariota (QB), Nelson Agholor (WR), Cory Littleton (LB), Nick Kwiatkoski (LB), Damarious Randall (DB), Maliek Collins (DT), Jeff Heath (S), Carl Nassib (DE)
Henry Ruggs III (R-WR), Lynn Bowden Jr (R-RB), Bryan Edwards (R-WR), Amik Robertson (R-CB), Damon Arnette (R-CB)
Overview: In 2019, the Raiders finished 24th in points scored and 11th in total yardage. Carr led a passing game that finished 9th in passing yards and 19th in passing TDs. Jacobs led a ground game that finished 13th in rushing yards and 18th in rushing TDs. With regards to opportunity, the Raiders finished 21st in passing attempts and 11th in rushing attempts. The Silver & Black added a trio of young versatile offensive weapons that should help to stretch the field and increase touchdown production.
Quarterback: In his 2nd year under head coach Jon Gruden, quarterback Derek Carr had an ultra-efficient season. His production lacked the gaudy numbers produced by the likes of the Lamar Jacksons and Dak Prescotts of the world. Carr finished the campaign as the QB17. For fantasy purposes, Carr’s 15.77 PPG wasn’t enough to be more than a match-up based flyer or an emergency play in a Superflex league. With the untimely exit of Antonio Brown, Carr spent the season without a true WR1 or deep threat on the outside. Despite the lack of outside talent, Carr managed the highest completion rate in the league (70.40%) and a 2.63 TD/INT ratio while starting all 16 games. There is some truth to the saying “The best ability is availability.” Carr has historically been extremely durable and has limited his mistakes. The Raiders made a concerted effort to bring in young explosive weapons in the 2020 draft class. If Carr can continue his efficient play and further develop under Gruden’s system, he may be a sneaky value pick late in fantasy drafts.
In a curious offseason move, the Raiders brought in ex Tennessee Titan’s QB Marcus Mariota. The 2015 2nd overall pick is fresh off losing the starting role to the resurrection of Ryan Tannehill’s career. I fully expect Carr to be the starter, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Mariota in certain packages due to his mobility. For fantasy purposes, Mariota doesn’t need to be rostered in any format.
Running Back: When it comes to the Raiders’ running back group, I have one thing to say. Let the good TIDE roll! Josh Jacobs, the 2nd round pick out of Alabama, burst onto the scene with an 85-yard 2-TD performance against a tough Broncos defense. Jacobs finished the season as the RB14 by compiling 1,150 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs in only 13 games. The Raiders ended the year with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard in the backfield. In 2019, the Raider offense simply didn’t target the running back position. Jalen Richard led the group with 43 targets and 36 receptions while Jacobs recorded a meager 27 targets and 20 receptions. In PPR formats especially, the lack of volume in the passing game is what will keep Jacobs from taking that next step into elite territory. Jacobs’ rookie season usage is even more perplexing when you take his collegiate body of work into account. Jacobs is currently being drafted bottom of the first to top of the second round. If Gruden and Carr can increase his work in the passing game, Jacobs has top-5 upside.
The Raiders took Lynn Bowden Jr. out of Kentucky in the 2020 draft. It’s not completely clear how Bowden will be incorporated into the offense moving forward. I don’t think his presence affects Jacobs’ touches but he may compete with Richard for 3rd down work. Similar to my thoughts around the Mariota signing, I believe the Raiders may try to implement some special packages around Bowden’s versatility. He’s listed as an RB, but he spent his senior year as the Wildcats starting quarterback. It’s too early to invest a draft pick much higher than your last in any Raider back not named Jacobs.
Wide Receiver: As previously mentioned, the Raiders spent the 2019 season without a true WR1. When Tyrell Williams was signed last offseason, I distinctly remember thinking how he’d be a stellar complimentary piece. I thought adding Tyrell as a big body possession receiver to a nucleus including AB, Jacobs, and Renfrow would work harmoniously. Losing the #1 in that group forced the various pieces of the receiving corp into roles they weren’t ready for. Tyrell got out to a hot start snagging a TD in each of the first 5 games, but injury and inconsistency led to him finishing the season as the WR44. Hunter Renfrow was a pleasant surprise racking up 605 yards and 4 TDs on 49 receptions.
When Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb were sitting there ready to be drafted, Gruden and Davis selected the speed merchant out of Alabama at 12th overall. Henry Ruggs III is an electric talent that should put pressure on opposing defenses all over the field. Whether it’s getting the ball in space or blowing the top off a la Tyreek Hill, the Raiders now have that weapon to take their offense vertical. I’m looking at Ruggs as a dynasty asset but staying away from Raider receivers in 2020.
Tight End: In an offense void of any vertical receiving threats, the TE group excelled early and often. Other than Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller emerged as the most explosive offensive weapon during the 2019 campaign. While going mostly undrafted, Waller finished the 2019 fantasy season as the TE4 by compiling 1,145 yards and 3 TDs on 117 targets. While Waller was a lethal asset in PPR leagues, his ceiling was really restricted by his lack of endzone looks. Backup Foster Moreau ended up vulturing 5 TDs while only accumulating 174 yards on 21 receptions. There is no doubt that Waller has top 5 ability, but his ceiling will be restricted by the wealth of young receiving threats joining the team in 2020. For me, Waller is in that 3rd TE tier with Zach Ertz and should be targeted in the mid to late rounds of the draft.
Defense: The Raiders addressed several defensive needs in both free agency and the draft. By all accounts, the splash move came in the form of signing Cory Littleton to a 3-year deal worth up to $36M. In 2019, the swiss army knife linebacker racked up 134 tackles (78 solo), 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, and 3.5 sacks. His durability will provide a reliable spark plug to captain the Raiders on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders also signed 2019 standout LB Nick Kwiatkoski from the Chicago Bears. While Kwiatkoski won’t be any sort of All-Pro he brings a toughness to the linebacking core and stepped up when given the chance as Chicago dealt with some injuries last year. An uber talented group of young pass rushers, led by 2nd year players Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrel, adds Carl Nassib who will bring depth and versatility. Veterans Jeff Heath and Damarious Randall will bring discipline to a DBs group that added Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson at the CB position. Lastly, Maliek Collins will bring some much needed depth to the interior of the defensive line. In 2019, the Raider defense struggled mightily against the pass and performed surprising well against the run. While they were 21st in the league in rushing TDs given up, they ended 8th in rushing yards allowed and 5th in rushing yards per attempt. I began the article mentioning the desire to build a roster to compete with KC. The Raiders signed an athletic LB to shadow Kelce in the passing game. They’ve added youth and experience in the secondary including a speedy Robertson to run track with Hill. They’ve added help along the D-Line to collapse the pocket for Mahomes. While time will tell on how these new pieces fit together, most weaknesses were addressed in some way, shape, or form.
The 2020 Raiders are a mixed bag of fantasy assets. If he can remain on the field, Jacobs is a surefire homerun pick. Waller will be a mid TE1, but you can find that production further down in the draft than where he’s being taken. None of the WR options offer enough of a floor in redraft, but I like Ruggs as a dynasty stash. Carr is a safe QB2 with some upside especially in multi-QB or Superflex leagues.
Written by Justin Kirkland of Sin City Fantasy Football
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