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raiders 2020 draft
Photo Credit: Raiders

The Raiders 2020 Draft: Just Add Juice

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Like most Raiders drafts it’s easy to get upset and walk away asking yourself “what are we doing?” It had all of the makings of a typical Al Davis draft, but it wasn’t. Not even close!  Confused yet? Well, allow me to elaborate.

 

The fan in me wanted to see the Las Vegas Raiders go all defense and inject some much-needed talent at all three levels of their much-maligned defense. In 2018 they allowed 467 points and followed that up with 419 points allowed in 2019. You would think that those numbers alone would have indeed spelled the writing on the wall for Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther.  

As a team, the Raiders had a measly 13 sacks in 2018 while former All-Pro defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack alone tallied 12.5 sacks in Chicago. 2019 saw significant improvement as the Raiders finished the season with 32 sacks. Much of that production came from rookie defensive end Maxx Crosby who chimed in with ten sacks. The arrow is certainly pointing up for the young defense. Pre-Draft, I was almost sure the Las Vegas Raiders were going to go “all-in” on defense in the draft again. 

Boy, was I wrong!

 

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Jon Gruden is always in search of “some juice” for his offense. In a bit of a surprise, the top three wideouts  (Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and CeeDee Lamb) were all on the board when the Raiders picked at twelve. The majority of mock drafts had Jeudy going to the Raiders at 12. Many felt Jeudy was the most polished and best route runner of all the wide receivers in the 2020 draft. Gruden was thirsty for some “juice,” and no receiver in the entire draft had more “juice” than Henry Ruggs III. He was the pick at 12.

 

 

The Las Vegas Raiders got a legit home run hitter. 

 

In free agency, the Raiders were targeting a starting corner to play opposite of budding star Trayvon Mullen. They were unable to land Byron Jones, Darius Slay, or Chris Harris Jr. New Orleans corner Eli Apple agreed to terms on a 1-year deal, but the deal fell through once the Raiders grew wary of Apple’s rehab from a preexisting ankle injury. 

The free agency period left the corner position as a significant need at draft time. It was no surprise when they called in pick 19, and it was a corner. There was a surprise in who was selected with that pick, however. The result was a knee jerk reaction from fans that the Raiders reached for Ohio State’s Damon Arnette

 

Most analysts felt as though Arnette was a Day 2 prospect. 

 

Here’s some insider information for you… NFL personnel men don’t care about what TV analysts think. Arnette was the Raiders guy, and they were delighted to land him regardless of where “the experts” had him ranked. Day 2 started a bit late for the Raiders as they didn’t have a pick until the 3rd Round.

They continued to add more “juice” to the offense by taking all-around sensation Lynn Bowden Jr. out of Kentucky with the 80th pick. Once again, Raider Nation was stunned by the selection. Bowden was listed as a wide receiver for the sake of the draft, but he played quarterback, receiver, and running back during his time at Kentucky. Wherever he’s listed, his real position for Gruden is “weapon.” 

With the very next draft pick, the Raiders continued to add even more “juice” on offense with the selection of receiver Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina with the 81st pick. This left Raider fans asking aloud, “offense again?!” 

 

Monday Morning Beef
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites – Franchise Sports Media

One thing is for sure, that electric bill is going to be sky high at Allegiant Stadium with these players able to score touchdowns as quickly as lightning strikes!

Mayock must have unmuted his microphone and told Gruden that it was his turn. The next two picks were purely the General Manager’s forte. He used them to draft Clemson safety Tanner Muse (who will move to linebacker) with the 100th pick and followed that up with another Clemson Tiger in guard John Simpson with the 109th pick. 

Both guys are tough, smart football players with championship pedigree. What’s not to like about “Clemson West?”

Mayock wrapped up the draft with another gem in the 4th Round by selecting a corner extraordinaire out of Louisiana Tech with the 139th pic, Amik Robertson. Many felt as though Robertson would have been a much higher draft pick if he was able to work out for scouts and interview with teams in person. He was unable to because of the  COVID-19 pandemic. Robertson is the epitome of a junkyard dog and plays with physicality and aggression. Maxx Crosby was drafted in the 4th Round last year as well. Can lightning strike twice?

 

I was able to objectively break down the draft picks once the shock and awe subsided. Not only were the Las Vegas Raiders able to add “some juice” to the offense, but these moves are multifaceted. Let’s dig a little further to find out exactly why:

 

Since coming back to the organization, Gruden has been desperately trying to improve the wide receiver position. In 2018 he sent Pittsburgh a 3rd round pick for Martavius Bryant. Last offseason, he signed Tyrell Williams in free agency to a massive four-year, $44 million contract. 

Gruden then sent Pittsburgh a 3rd and a 5th round pick for Antonio Brown before the 2019 season. During the season, he sent Green Bay a 6th round pick for Trevor Davis and later sent Buffalo a 5th round pick for Zay Jones. Bryant turned into the White Tiger, Brown froze the soles of his feet off, couldn’t find a helmet to fit his noggin, and never played a down for the Silver and Black.  Also, Williams was plagued by plantar fasciitis, and Davis was released after just nine games. Jones made little to no impact.

 

raiders 2020 draft
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For Gruden’s offense to work, he needs a real number one receiver, aka the type of receiver that can dictate how the defense plays coverage. This type of player must be accounted for on every single play. Otherwise, it’s going to be a quick six points. Ruggs is that guy. No player has more functional speed from this draft than he does. Many guys run fast in spandex, but it doesn’t translate on the football field. Ruggs, on the other hand, leaves a vapor trail in opposing secondaries. 

Gruden and Mayock drafted guys who can step in on day one and contribute. Whether it’s on offense, defense, or special teams, these cats are going to make an impact and improve the overall depth. In years past, the Raiders had players playing far too many snaps in large part due to the lack of depth on the roster. It was filled with too many developmental type players. 

These guys didn’t know if they were even going to be on the roster from week to week. Not anymore. Take a look at the 2018 roster and compare it to the projected 2020 roster. Raiders fans should rejoice at how rapidly the roster has turned over. Traditionally, it takes three years to complete a rebuild. Gruden is entering year 3. It should be noted that in Gruden’s first stint with the organization, he didn’t get the team humming until his 3rd season.

This year they drafted guys with the intent of them taking the job of the incumbent placeholders. Attempting to sign players in free agency at cornerback and receiver has become prohibitively expensive. It doesn’t matter if you want to resign your guys or sign players away from other teams. These are two positions that I firmly believe you must draft and develop. 

In a passing league, corner and wideout have increasingly become premium positions. You will have to break bread if you want them, and the chances are that the performance will not match the contract. Always keep in mind that blue-chip talent rarely hits the open market. Most teams’ free agents are available because their old unit doesn’t want them. In other words, they are available for a reason.

Speaking of salaries, the guys selected can allow the front office to move on from higher-priced veterans. Players whose best days are clearly behind them or their production doesn’t match their pay. I am explicitly talking about John Simpson. Gabe Jackson has been oft-injured since signing his large contract extension. Incognito was also great in 2019. However, he will be 37 in July, and Father Time is undefeated against all athletes.

 

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Edwards can be that dynamic big receiver on the outside to replace Williams and his $11+ million cap number next offseason. Arnette will play on the outside, and his projected 4-year contract should amount to 4 years at $13.4 million with a $7.3 million signing bonus. 

That’s significantly cheaper than the five-year $82.5 million contract that former free-agent target Byron Jones received from the Miami Dolphins last month. Robertson could potentially allow the team to move on from LaMarcus Joyner in 2021. 

The Raiders are returning second-year corners Keisean Nixon and Isaiah Johnson as well. Bowden is the Swiss Army Knife that can play a multitude of positions. Bowden’s real value is in his versatility. He allows the coaching staff to have that extra linebacker, defensive end, receiver, or defensive back active on game day because he can play running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. As the season progresses and attrition kicks in, Bowden’s value will be even more evident. 

TQ from Franchise Sports Media repeatedly stated during the Draft Podcast how the team looked tired on the sidelines at the end of games and later in the season. Better depth can keep veteran players fresher.

If the players can develop into quality players, it will allow the Raiders to save just a hair under $30 million in 2021 with the releases of Williams, Joyner, and Jackson alone. That affords the franchise approximately $70 million in cap space heading into 2021. That isn’t even counting the projected cap increase once the new CBA goes into effect. The Raiders could potentially enter free agency in 2021 with upwards of $80-$90 million to spend. 

 

This amount of flexibility cannot and should not be understated.

 

Culture, culture, culture. That is precisely what Mayock and Gruden are trying to build in Vegas. They don’t want the Raiders’ locker rooms of the past—filled with over-the-hill mercenaries who don’t have a vested interest. Those types usually only sign with the Raiders because they were the highest bidders. Basically, their last shot at a decent payday before they hang them up. Peel back the layers, and you can see what they’re doing. 

 

Ferrell was drafted with the 4th pick for a reason. Mayock and Gruden loved him at the time and like him even more now. He’s a glue guy and was the alpha male of all alpha males at Clemson. FSM’s Nyshon Zaragoza shed some light on this very topic in her interview with Clelin Ferrell (read the article here). 

Tanner Muse? He was a team captain at Clemson as well, and he’s one of Ferrell’s best friends. 

Henry Ruggs? FSM’s own Chris Sproule astutely pointed out during the NFL Draft Podcast that in an uber-talented receiver room at Alabama, it was Ruggs who was the unquestioned leader. He’s the one that set the tone there; he was the one that brought it every day in practice. He carried himself like a pro, and guys emulated the way he went about his business. 

Simpson is also an extremely high character individual as well. 

Robertson is a fierce competitor who is all about his business. 

Arnette played at a very high level at Ohio State and did it with a broken wrist.

 

The point is love for the game. All of the selections are football junkies: lunch pail men that are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Questionable drafts by the Raiders in years past had a lot of guys in their building that simply lacked work ethic and genuine desire to play the game. 

 

raiders 2020 draft
Photo Credit: Terrence Quaites- Franchise Sports Media

There are no JaMarcus Russells on this team, no Rolondo McClains, no Obi Melifonwus, no Gareon Conleys, no Terrelle Pryors, no Jared Cooks, no Michael Crabtrees and Amari Coopers either. That alone will make this team a more cohesive unit. Once a true brotherhood is established, they will naturally fight harder for one another.

In a nutshell, the draft looks very promising once you delve a bit deeper than what’s on the surface. With more in-depth insight, RaiderNation should better understand the reasoning behind our 2020 draft picks. Gruden and Mayock are hellbent on building a winning culture in the locker room as well as a willingness to play for each other. 

 

Vegas can be a dangerous place for a young millionaire athlete, but it doesn’t have to be. They selected a group of young men that will hold each other accountable, excel on the practice field, pay attention to details in meetings, self-police the locker room, and hopefully return to glory on Sundays. 

Before the Nation gets down on their team’s draft picks, they should give these players a chance to prove themselves. Rest assured, there is not a single player on the roster that is loafing and just wants a paycheck. This is a new era for Raider football, and in Al Davis’s eternal words, “The greatness of the Raiders is in its future.”

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-Rooz

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