The Las Vegas Raiders are entering the 2021 season harboring hopes of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Since that fateful year, the Raiders have hired a new head coach and moved to a new city, hoping for a change (that humongous stadium helped just a little).
The potential for tourists to lose money at a fancy casino and watch a Raiders game on the same day is intriguing. However, in order to gain a new fanbase, the Raiders need to leverage their strengths and fix their blind spots.
Here are five strengths and weaknesses for the Las Vegas Raiders going into 2021.
Las Vegas Raiders strengths
#1 - Josh Jacobs
Josh Jacobs has started his career on fire. His rookie season saw him earn 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he earned 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns. For the first time in quite a while, the Raiders have a solid homegrown player. The Raiders are hoping they can build around him.
#2 - Henry Ruggs III's second season
Henry Ruggs III is coming off a slow rookie season. In 2020, he earned 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns.
With the growing pains mostly in the rear-view mirror, the Raiders are expecting him to take a step forward in 2021. If he has a typical sophomore jump, the Raiders will have a strong cornerstone at wide reciever to build around going forward.
#3 - Darren Waller
Darren Waller has been the de facto number one receiver for the Raiders for the last two seasons. After earning a combined 18 catches for 200 yards in the previous four seasons, he exploded in 2019. Waller earned 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. In 2020, he was even better, racking up 107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns.
#4 - Daniel Carlson
The Raiders had the sixth-most accurate kicker in the league last season with Daniel Carlson, who made 94.3 percent of field goals. Considering the Raiders also kicked the fourth-most field goals in the NFL last season, the fact that his accuracy was as high as it was should make the Raiders mightily confident about the position going into 2021.
#5 - Backup quarterback
Marcus Mariota has played in the playoffs before and has a 29-32 record as a starter. If Derek Carr goes down with an injury, the Raiders should be able to stay afloat until he comes back. Even if Mariota has to play in a playoff game, the Raiders should not feel a sense of despair.
Las Vegas Raiders weaknesses
#1 - Cory Littleton
The Los Angeles Rams look back at their time with Cory Littleton as the good ol' days. However, the Las Vegas Raiders are not looking at him with the same enthusiasm.
Originally, they thought they were getting the 2018 or 2019 version of Littleton, who had five interceptions over the span. The Raiders have instead been treated to a player who did not earn an interception and had a meager 47.1 PFF score in 2020.
#2 - Defense trending down
The Raiders' issues on the defensive side of the ball weighed them down in 2020 and it could get worse; the Raiders ranked 25th in total defense. In 2019, the Raiders were ranked 19th in total defense. An already-shaky defense has been trending downwards. If the trend continues in 2021, the Raiders will be in trouble.
#3 - Tough Division
Of course, the Denver Broncos could be an easy sweep depending on who the quarterback ends up being in Week One. If they somehow land Aaron Rodgers, though, the Broncos could end up sweeping the Raiders. In addition, the Raiders have to contend with Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers. Even if the Raiders outrace the Chargers and Broncos, they still need to take on the Chiefs, a mountain too high to scale.
Sharing a division with the Super Bowl losers is not a great recipe for success. In order to win the division, the Raiders will likely need to win about 14 or 15 games in order to usurp Kansas City.
#4 - Huge pressure on the Raiders and Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden was signed to a massive contract as head coach: a ten-year deal valued at around $100 million, according to NBC Sports. Now starting his fourth season with the team, they have slowly gotten better.
In 2018, the Raiders were 4-12 and finished fourth in the division. In 2019, they jumped to 7-9 and finished third. In 2020, they finished at 8-8 and second in the division. Now in 2021, the Raiders are at a tipping point.
Up to this point, the Raiders have been getting better each season. If they get any better, they'll be winners over .500. However, if they regress after the slow growth, there will be talk of the team hitting its ceiling.
If the Raiders get stuck at .500 or worse, Gruden's presence will be questioned. All of this puts a lot of pressure on the 2021 Raiders to become winners. It's quite a monkey to have on your back.
#5 - Wide receivers
While Ruggs can make the jump up to be a great receiver, the rest of the receiving corps is not quite at that level. John Brown is over 30 years old and coming off a season in which he earned less than 500 yards. Behind Brown is a bunch of replaceable talent. For the Raiders to have an explosive offense in 2021, they will need reliable talent on the roster, something that's clearly in short supply in Vegas.