Raiders Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season
The 2021 season has the potential to be a crucial one for the Las Vegas Raiders. It may even be the year when the team returns to the playoffs.
Having only reached the postseason once in the past 18 seasons (2016), the Raiders are looking to get back there in the upcoming campaign. They have yet to reach the playoffs since Jon Gruden returned as head coach in 2018, although the team's win total has increased in each of his three seasons back at the helm.
In order for Las Vegas to continue to take steps forward, it will need several key players to show progress. And some of these names will be looking to have strong years to show the organization they're going to be part of the group that helps turn the franchise's regular-season fortunes around.
Here's a look at three Raiders players who have the most to prove heading into the 2021 season.
Bryan Edwards, WR
The Raiders didn't get as much out of rookie wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards in 2020 as they might have hoped, but both still have potential to be integral parts of the team's offense for years to come.
While Ruggs flashed his potential last season, though, Edwards had less of an opportunity to do.
The 22-year-old missed four games due to injury and didn't get many targets when he was on the field. He finished the season with 11 receptions for 193 yards and one touchdown, which came in Las Vegas' season finale against the Denver Broncos.
However, Edwards has the potential to become a contributor, which is why Las Vegas used a third-round pick to draft him in 2020. And he recently got the endorsement of a former Raiders wide receiver.
"I really think the guy to look out for this year is Edwards," Tim Brown told Austin Boyd of Heavy.com. "I think he's going to be a major, major cog in what happens with this Raiders offense because of his ability to run those 10 and 15-yard routes."
Don't be surprised if the South Carolina product has an uptick in production while proving he's deserving of a larger role in the Las Vegas offense.
Alex Leatherwood, OT
It may have seemed like a bit of a reach when the Raiders took Alex Leatherwood with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but they made it clear that they liked the offensive lineman's potential and added him to immediately fill a hole at right tackle.
"We knew it would be controversial," Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock said, per Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We completely understand that."
But the Raiders also believe the 22-year-old will prove the doubters wrong. He was part of a dominant offense during his time at Alabama, and it's possible his size and skill set will help him quickly make an impact upon his arrival in the NFL.
Although Leatherwood appears to have the starting job at right tackle even before training camp, he'll need to play well to hold down that spot, which could be his for years to come.
The Raiders are counting on him to help solidify their offensive line, and that's what he'll try to do.
Clelin Ferrell, DE
Clelin Ferrell hasn't quite produced at the level worthy of a first-round draft pick during his first two NFL seasons.
After getting taken by the Raiders with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Clemson product has recorded only 6.5 sacks in 26 games, which included only two in 11 games last year.
But Ferrell is still only 24, so there's plenty of time for him to make more of an impact for Las Vegas' pass rush. It's needed, too, as the Raiders struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season, and improving their defensive front was one of their top offseason needs.
By signing free-agent Yannick Ngakoue, Las Vegas not only improved its pass rush, but it may also have added a player who can help Ferrell put up bigger numbers. Ngakoue will surely draw plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines, so Ferrell might be more successful at creating pressure from the other side.
Ferrell has plenty of NFL experience under his belt now, so it's time to start producing. Otherwise, he could go down as one of the Raiders' bigger draft busts in recent history.
However, there's still a chance for the former Tigers standout to prove that isn't the case.