Bold Predictions for Raiders' 2021 NFL SeasonAugust 23, 2021
Bold Predictions for Raiders' 2021 NFL Season
It wasn't a super-eventful offseason for the Las Vegas Raiders. They made a few free-agent signings to fix some roster holes. A wave of young talent joined the organization via the 2021 NFL draft. And now the team will hope to continue the steady improvement it's shown the past few years.
Since Jon Gruden returned as the Raiders head coach prior to the 2018 season, they have boosted their win total each year, which led to an 8-8 campaign in 2020. If Las Vegas improves again this upcoming season, it could get back into the playoffs.
The Raiders are a solid team, but are they capable of taking the next step? As the start of the new season nears, here are three bold predictions for Las Vegas.
Ruggs Totals More Than 1,000 Receiving Yards
The Raiders return their No. 1 weapon in the passing game (tight end Darren Waller), but they have lost their top wide receiver from last season, as Nelson Agholor signed with the New England Patriots in free agency. So Las Vegas is going to need at least one receiver to step up and give quarterback Derek Carr somebody other than Waller to consistently throw to.
The most likely option to take on an expanded role is Henry Ruggs III, a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft who flashed his potential during his rookie season. He had only 26 receptions, but he turned those into 452 yards and two touchdowns because of his big-play ability.
If Ruggs can develop other parts of his game and become more than a deep threat, he should take over nicely as the Raiders' No. 1 wide receiver. And it seems he's progressing well.
"I'm feeling a lot more comfortable, especially with the playbook," Ruggs recently told NFL Network (h/t Clint Buckley of 247Sports). "Last year with no offseason, no extra time to put in work, it was like I was confused and just thinking too much. But the game, it feels slower. It feels like I'm moving at my speed."
That's why Ruggs will break out in his second season and surpass the 1,000-yard mark, living up to the potential Las Vegas saw when taking him in the draft.
Defense Improves, Finishes in Top Half of NFL
Last year, the Raiders ranked 25th in the NFL with 389.1 total yards allowed per game. In 2021, they are going to fare better. In fact, they will be among the top half of defenses in that regard.
There are several reasons Las Vegas should be stronger on that side of the ball. For one, Gus Bradley has taken over as the defensive coordinator after serving in that role for the Los Angeles Chargers the past four seasons. He spent time under Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2006-08. So not only does Bradley have a ton of experience, but there's also familiarity there.
Bradley will also have a better defense to utilize than Las Vegas had last year. Yannick Ngakoue signed during free agency and will immediately give the Raiders pass rush a huge boost. Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson and cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. were also solid free-agent additions. And rookie safety Tre'von Moehrig, a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has the potential to be the breakout star of the defense.
There are other young players who should show improvement and thrive in Bradley's defensive scheme, which could be a better fit for Las Vegas' personnel. All that will add up to the Raiders making things much more difficult on opposing offenses in 2021.
Raiders Will Notch 1st Playoff Win Since 2002 Season
At the end of the 2002 season, the Raiders won the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XXXVII, which they lost to the Bucs. Since then, they haven't won a playoff game. In fact, they have only made it to the postseason once during that span, losing to the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Round in the 2016 season.
So the Raiders are due a playoff appearance and way more than due a postseason win. And with this being their second season in Las Vegas—but the first that will have people in the seats at Allegiant Stadium—they are going to be looking to give their fans something to remember.
Las Vegas won't win the AFC West; the Kansas City Chiefs are too talented to overtake. But the Raiders are capable of finishing second ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos, and they should win enough games to secure a wild-card berth.
With plenty of talented playmakers on offense and an improved defense, Las Vegas will finally win another playoff game. It will probably only be win one before elimination, but it would be a clear step forward for the franchise that provides plenty of optimism for the Raiders and their fans.