3 Big Changes Raiders Must Make in 2022 OffseasonJanuary 24, 2022
3 Big Changes Raiders Must Make in 2022 Offseason
The Las Vegas Raiders made an early playoff exit after falling short against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round. On Saturday, Las Vegas watched as the Bengals took out the AFC's top-seeded Tennessee Titans and punched a ticket to the conference title game.
The fact that the Raiders were within a few plays of forcing overtime with Cincinnati should tell the team that it is close to becoming a title contender. With a few tweaks, the roster could be good enough to challenge the top teams in the AFC—like the divisional-rival Kansas City Chiefs, who are also bound for the AFC Championship Game.
The Raiders are figuring out who will be their next head coach, and we recently examined three potential candidates. Now we will dive into three other changes Las Vegas should make this offseason.
Add a True No. 1 Wide Receiver
The Las Vegas offense features a dangerous top target in tight end Darren Waller and a reliable receiver in Hunter Renfrow. Quarterback Derek Carr has plenty of chemistry with those potent pass-catchers, but he lacks a true No. 1 receiver.
We're talking about a difference-making, game-dominating wideout in the mold of Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase. The receiver trio of Renfrow, Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards was serviceable in 2021—the Raiders ranked sixth in passing offense—but there wasn't a pass-catcher who regularly commanded double coverage and safety shades to open up the rest of the offense.
Adding a receiver like Adams or Chris Godwin in free agency could help change this. So could targeting a wideout like Alabama's Jameson Williams or Penn State's Jahan Dotson in the draft.
"Dotson is a very good athlete who is dangerous with the ball in his hands and has the long speed to take the top off defenses," Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote. "He is also a very good route-runner, already showing an extended route tree and the polish to win on a variety of different routes at all three levels."
The Raiders hold the 22nd overall pick in the draft. If they don't target a receiver in free agency, it wouldn't be a shock to see them go for a receiver in Round 1.
Improve the Defensive Interior
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, Las Vegas should focus on strengthening its defensive interior. The defensive front—headlined by Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue—became quite good at pressuring the quarterback late in the season, but stopping the run was an issue in 2021.
The Raiders finished the season ranked 19th in rushing yards allowed.
Finding interior defensive line help should allow the Raiders to more consistently stonewall opposing ball-carriers. With a unit that can also get after the quarterback and see solid play in the secondary, an improved run defense could make Las Vegas elite on that side of the ball.
Las Vegas should target a stout run defender like Larry Ogunjobi or Malik Jackson in free agency. Taking a down lineman like Houston's Logan Hall or Georgia's Devonte Wyatt early in the draft should also be an option.
The Raiders have to become better against the run if they hope to challenge the best that the AFC has to offer in the postseason.
Replace Alex Leatherwood in the Starting Lineup
The Raiders won't be moving away from quarterback Derek Carr this offseason. In fact, Carr's presence is likely to influence the coaching decision.
"I'm told Derek Carr's presence will factor heavily into the thinking," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "The Raiders are all-in on Carr as the franchise guy."
The Raiders need to focus on keeping Carr upright and effective in the pocket. He was sacked 40 times in 2021 and was under pressure on 21.4 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference. Rookie first-round pick Alex Leatherwood was a big part of the issue.
Leatherwood, the former Alabama offensive tackle who landed at guard, struggled mightily in his first season. He was responsible for 14 penalties and eight sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus. That's an unacceptable amount of mistakes for any starting lineman.
Las Vegas needs to replace Leatherwood in the starting lineup, at least until he's better prepared for the responsibility. Targeting a veteran guard like Brandon Scherff in free agency could be the best course of action here, as the Raiders need an immediate upgrade rather than another unproven player at the position.
Leatherwood may become a reliable player in time, but for now he's a liability, and that needs to change.