Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock's Raiders Are Finally Ready to Shine

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 21, 2020

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden speaks after an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

One year ago, we were watching Antonio Brown rehab his way back from frozen feet and moan about an outdated helmet.

It seems like it was much longer ago than that, but the-then Oakland Raiders were the focus of HBO's Hard Knocks last summer. We saw the fallout of Brown's antics and the rise of young players like Johnathan Abram as the team prepared for its last season in Oakland before a 2020 move to Las Vegas.

The cameras are packed away, but there is plenty of hype and excitement both internally and externally about the 2020 Las Vegas Raiders.

With the high-octane, defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the division, the Raiders (and others) entered the 2020 offseason aiming to both keep up with the Chiefs offensively while attempting to add defensive pieces to perhaps slow them down. The Raiders did it with two first-round picks—wide receiver Henry Ruggs III of Alabama and cornerback Damon Arnette of Ohio State—and throughout the entire 2020 NFL draft.

Raiders rookie WR Henry Ruggs III
Raiders rookie WR Henry Ruggs IIIJohn Locher/Associated Press

It's the addition of Ruggs and Arnette along with the rest of the draft class plus the return of veteran quarterback Derek Carr and young stars like running back Josh Jacobs, tight end Darren Waller, defensive end Maxx Crosby and Abram that has the Raiders excited.

Last summer, we saw via Hard Knocks just how important deep speed was to the Raiders offense. Head coach Jon Gruden was salivating at the prospect of Antonio Brown opening up his game plan. That fell through due to Brown's numerous on- and off-field issues, but the Raiders' front office feels they've adequately replaced that role in the offense while upgrading the X receiver spot.

"Ruggs is going to pick up what AB was supposed to do last season," one Raiders source said. "This is a mature bunch of young receivers, but they're attacking camp like pros. Carr loves them already."

If Carr finds his chemistry with Ruggs and third-rounder Bryan Edwards, the AFC West should lead the NFL in scoring.

Raiders QB Derek Carr enters his third year in coach Jon Gruden's offense
Raiders QB Derek Carr enters his third year in coach Jon Gruden's offenseJohn Locher/Associated Press

Edwards, a player many NFL scouts told me was a first-round talent before two injuries derailed his predraft process last year, is the ideal X receiver in Gruden's offense. Edwards' 6'3", 212-pound frame fits into that mold of big, powerful possession receiver who can crush defenses on slants and option routes much like Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson and Michael Irvin have in iterations of this offensive scheme under Gruden and his mentors; while the uber-talented Waller busts seams, and Ruggs stretches the field.

"You want a basketball team at receiver, they say," one Raiders coach said. "We have ours with Ruggs running point and a whole lot of scorers around him."

With Ruggs, Edwards, Waller, 2019 breakout rookie Hunter Renfrow, 2019 fourth-round tight end Foster Moreau and veteran wideout Tyrell Williams, the Raiders have a pass-catching corps that Carr should love. It's the best group he's worked with since the Raiders selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Ed Zurga/Associated Press

"[General manager Mike] Mayock really set the table for this team," one Raiders scout said. "He brings in Cory Littleton and Damarious Randall to fix the middle of the field, then gets Derek legit weapons in the draft. This is a good roster."

Asked how the heat and frenzy of camp was treating the players, one coach laughed.

"Man, we love this s--t!" he said. "We just want to compete."

A move to the heat of Henderson, Nevada, hasn't been able to slow the team down in padded practices. Gruden and Mayock will hope the defenses in the AFC West can't, either.