Raiders' Breakout Players to Watch in 2021 Training Camp
Getting above .500 is going to take breakout seasons from some players who have underperformed to this point.
In the NFL, success doesn't always follow neat timelines and progression isn't always linear. The player who was on the path to being a disappointment one season can see everything click the next.
As the Raiders prepare for training camp, they will be looking to see improvement from these three players to maximize their roster's potential in the 2021 season.
WR Henry Ruggs III
Henry Ruggs III was the first receiver taken in the 2020 draft in one of the most anticipated classes at the position in recent memory. His production was far from that kind of hype as a rookie.
The 22-year-old was ninth among rookies in yards (452), 11th in receptions (43) and 10th in touchdowns (two). Those are fine numbers for a No. 3 receiver, which is essentially what he was in the Raiders' offense last season. He was fifth on the team in targets, with Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs also outpacing him.
Ruggs was effective within the offense, and fellow receiver Hunter Renfrow pointed out that his speed and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team were invaluable last season.
"I think Henry is a great player," he said, per the team's website. "I thought that last year, y'all didn't see all the things he did for everyone else, opening up the field for everyone else. What he's doing, you can't put a stat on, and what he did last year you can't put a stat on."
That may be true, but the Alabama product wasn't just drafted to be a hypothetical producer who influences defense. He has to actually produce.
With a year under his belt and an actual offseason with minimal COVID-19 impact, the pieces are in place for him to come in with a better understanding of the offense and what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
It's a good thing because with Nelson Agholor gone to the Patriots, the Raiders need Ruggs to produce like a No. 1 receiver sooner than later.
CB Damon Arnette
The Raiders set up cornerback Damon Arnette with a ton of buzz when they took him with their second first-round selection in the 2020 draft.
The Ohio State product wasn't expected to get taken in the first round, but Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock saw something they liked in the defensive back and took him at No. 19.
The 24-year-old is off to a rough start one year in, though. He battled a wrist injury early in the season and dealt with a concussion later in the year. He ended up playing in eight games but it wasn't pretty.
Some of that can be attributed to the injury. The Ohio State product eventually had surgery to correct the problem but played through it at times. Some of it can be attributed to the difficulty of playing defensive back as a rookie. There's a steep learning curve and it's a volatile position to begin with.
He will be one to keep an eye on in camp as he's going to face added pressure with the additions of Casey Heyward and Rasul Douglas in the offseason.
Arnette might be a second-year player but there's a lot of pressure to take a leap in 2021.
DT Solomon Thomas
The Raiders made a huge signing with Yannick Ngakoue. They'll count on the explosive edge-rusher to pair up with Maxx Crosby, but an under-the-radar move that could pay off big is the one-year, $3.25 million deal they made with defensive tackle Solomon Thomas.
It's a low-risk flier for the Raiders, but one that has considerable upside. The 25-year-old was the third overall pick of the 2017 draft but has thus far been a bust. He has just six sacks in four seasons entering his fifth year but was held back an injury last season.
Thomas played in just two games last season while dealing with a torn ACL. He has also opened up about how the death of his sister has impacted his own mental state over the last two seasons.
"I've learned so much in the last six months—believing in myself, loving myself, working, grinding, being hungry and loving the game again,” he said, per Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun. "Not that I lost love in the game but I've fallen in love again like I'm a fourth-grader. I'm ready to go show the world how great I can be, but more importantly, I'm ready to show my teammates how great I can be."
The Stanford product showed promise in his rookie 2017 campaign. He had 41 tackles, three sacks and 10 TFLs. To date, it's still his most productive year.
With a change of scenery and a renewed mindset, Thomas could be a surprise breakout player who would elevate the defensive line.