Raiders' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season
This offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders lost some key contributors from 2020. They also improved their roster in some areas with key free-agent signings, as well as through the 2021 NFL draft, in which they acquired a wave of young talent to hopefully build around moving forward.
Las Vegas' roster is likely close to set. And later this summer, the players will report to training camp and begin the buildup to the 2021 season. For some, starting jobs are already secured. But for others, that will be a crucial time for them to try to earn opportunities to get onto the field this year.
The Raiders haven't made the playoffs since 2016, and while their record has improved each year since head coach Jon Gruden returned in 2018, they haven't gotten to the postseason.
Here's a look at three positions where Las Vegas is likely going to have some competitions taking place throughout training camp and the preseason.
From 2015-20, the Raiders didn't need to worry about who their starting center would be each year. Rodney Hudson started 92 games over those six seasons, and he developed into one of the top interior offensive linemen in the NFL.
However, Las Vegas decided to trade Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals in March. So it will now need to decide who will take over that spot in the middle of the offensive line for 2021. And it will likely come down to a competition between two players this summer.
One of them is Andre James, who has played 28 games for the Raiders over the past two seasons. The 24-year-old has made only one career start, but this could be his opportunity to prove that he's deserving of more time on the field moving forward.
The other is Nick Martin, who the Raiders signed in March shortly after the Hudson trade. Over the past four seasons, Martin started 62 games for the Houston Texans (including all 16 in each of the past three years), so the 28-year-old would bring experience up front for Las Vegas.
Whether James or Martin starts at center, either will have to try to fill the void left by Hudson, which won't be an easy task.
The Raiders lost their leading wide receiver from 2020 (Nelson Agholor) during free agency. Rather than trying to bring in one of the top free-agent receivers to replace him, Las Vegas instead went with a lower-profile signing, adding 31-year-old John Brown.
But that also means the Raiders are likely going to be counting on their young receivers to take steps forward in 2021. 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs III will get an opportunity to improve on his solid rookie season and should be locked into a starting role.
Beyond that, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow will be competing for playing time, while veterans such as Zay Jones, Willie Snead IV and Keelan Doss could also be in the mix. It will be interesting to see how Las Vegas incorporates all these receivers into its offense, as well as how it will cut down the group prior to the season.
This is a position group that could greatly impact the Raiders' offensive success in 2021. If some of these young receivers impress, it could lead to positive results for Las Vegas on this side of the ball.
One of the Raiders' noteworthy defensive signings this offseason was the addition of cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. The 31-year-old has been a solid player throughout his nine NFL seasons, but can he maintain that level of production entering this next phase of his career?
Las Vegas will seek the answer to that question leading up to the season, and it will likely build its depth chart at cornerback from there. Assuming Hayward will be one of the Raiders' top options to start on the outside, they'll have to figure out where to put others, such as Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette and Rasul Douglas.
While Hayward and Mullen are likely to be the starters, Arnette could be competing with Douglas and others, such as Isaiah Johnson and Nate Hobbs, for playing time. Arnette had 25 tackles and two pass deflections in nine games (seven starts) as a rookie in 2020, and if he impresses later this summer, he could increase his time on the field heading into the new season.
Las Vegas' secondary needs to perform better than it did last season, so it will be interesting to see how it opts to line up these defensive backs to maximize performance.