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Silver and Black Las Vegas NFL Combine - Las Vegas Raiders Mock Draft
Photo credit: Silver and Black Pride

 

Silver and Black Muse w/ Rooz

www.franchisesportsmedia.com

 

It seems as though every year we hand in our draft card and nearly every season NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces that “the Raiders have selected _______________(cornerback, safety or wide receiver) out of _____________ University”.

 

Immediately Raider fans throw up their hands in disgust, yelling back at the TV “Another corner!” or my personal favorite, “How many F***ing cornerbacks are we going to draft?!?!?!” For Raider fans, Draft Day (the first round in particular) seems like Groundhog Day. Different year, same positions selected. When will the madness end? Never. Here’s why.

Photo Credit: Costacos Brothers

One of the most overused clichés in football is “It’s a passing league.” More real words have never been spoken. Growing up as a young child in the 80’s, the NFL was still a league dominated by menacing linebackers like Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Harry Carson, Wilbur Marshall, and Seth Joyner. On the offensive side of the ball, it was all about the running backs. Across America, iconic Costacos Brothers Posters of Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, and Herschel Walker festooned the walls of every teenager. NFL game logs used to read something like this: Run, Run, Pass, Punt. 

The ’90s ushered in a new era of Pro Football. Life started to move a lot faster than before. Computers, algorithms, and analytics became a part of our digital world. Naturally, this carried over onto the football field as well. The Cincinnati Bengals began using the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Offense (HUNH) in the late ’80s. Then the Buffalo Bills introduced the “K-Gun” offense led by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly

The K-Gun was not named after Kelly, but rather tight end Keith McKeller who possessed rare speed for the position. Buffalo rode the K-Gun offense to 4 straight Super Bowls from 1991 – 1994. Unfortunately, they were not successful in winning a World Title, but the impact that offense made was profound. 

 

A spin-off of the K-Gun was the Run-N-Shoot Offense.

 

The premise of this offense was to flood the field with four receivers and only one running back in the backfield. In essence, the fullback and tight end were replaced by two additional receivers. One of the staples of this offense required a receiver to move in motion parallel to the line of scrimmage pre-snap. Once the ball was snapped, the receiver would then dart in whichever direction the route called for. This has multiple benefits; the quarterback could determine pre-snap if the defense was in man or zone coverage based on how the defenders would react to the man in motion.

Furthermore, it allowed smaller, shiftier receivers to get a clean break off the line who would otherwise struggle to beat press/man coverage. Finally, it was a cheap and effective way to manufacture offense for a team that might not have the most talented skill position players.

Offensive Coordinators across the league quickly fell in love with the HUNH along with the Run-N-Shoot. In a league once dominated by defense, offenses now had the upper hand over stoic defensive minds Tom Landry, Bud Carson, Dick LeBeau, Fritz Shurmur, and Buddy Ryan. Ryan despised the offense so much he famously dubbed it, “The Chuck and Duck.” 

His comments were about the lack of extra pass blockers offenses had in favor of extra receivers. Against teams with fierce pass rushers, Run-N-Shoot quarterbacks had to get rid of the ball quickly, then proceed to duck in an effort to avoid consistent punishment.

NFL offenses now incorporate a myriad of disciplines. Nearly every team has some variation of the Hurry-Up, K-Gun, West Coast, and Spread Offense combined. Offensive chess masters are continuously looking for a way to catch the defense napping. Teams might not use four wide receivers and one running back, also referred to as ‘10 Personnel’ (short for one running back and 0 tight ends), as their base offense, but every team has a package of plays exclusively featuring 10 Personnel

On any given Sunday, you will see NFL teams adopting 11 Personnel (1 running back and one tight end) roughly 67% of the time. That is an exponential increase from the days of ‘3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust’ offenses that dominated the NFL landscape for the better part of 70 years. 

 

Like all things in life, you must adapt or you will not survive.

 

With three receivers on the field 67% of the time, it forces defenses to counter with a 3rd cornerback, aka Nickle Defense (short for five defensive backs). The 3rd corners typically play in the slot position. Slot Cornerbacks previously were your 3rd best. Offenses realized an easy way to gain an advantage is to move your most dynamic receiver in the slot so he can work on subpar corners.

Defenses quickly caught on and developed smaller corners with excellent change of direction ability to match up with slot receivers. These receivers did most of their damage within 10 yards of the Line of Scrimmage. What these slot corners lacked in long speed to play on the boundary, they more than made up for with short-area quickness. It’s not uncommon for a team’s slot corner to now be their best.

NFL offensive gurus like Kyle Shanahan, Andy Reid, Josh McDaniels, Greg Roman, Doug Pederson, Bruce Arians, and Las Vegas’s very own Jon Gruden can scheme with the best of them. They stay up into the wee hours of the morning, brewing up game plans to effectively attack this week’s opponent. It’s not enough to have a primary receiver and a possession receiver. 

Defenses have caught on; they will throw numerous coverages and double teams at the offense in an effort to take away your primary option. If a defense is good enough, they will take away your primary and secondary options. This will force Playcallers to get creative. If your team lacks receivers who can win one on one matchups, you better have a Pro Bowl level punter. You’ll not just struggle to score points, but at times you won’t be able to even move the ball. 

A perfect example of this was the 2019 Raiders

Photo Credit: The BigLead

Jon Gruden understood how essential a true #1 wide receiver that can dictate coverage was to his offense. Despite all of the red flags associated with former Pittsburgh wide receiver, Antonio Brown, Gruden felt the juice was worth the squeeze. Brown was the key to the entire offense. The signing of Tyrell Williams filled an important need as he has the size, length, and catch radius quarterback Derek Carr yearns for. 

In the draft, they selected slot receiver, Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow had a propensity to make tremendous plays in clutch situations, time after time at Clemson. He did it so often that he earned the nickname “3rd and Renfrow”. On paper, Gruden had everything he needed. Three supremely talented wide receivers, each with a specific skill set that he can deploy on Sundays. 

Brown never played a down for the Raiders. Gruden was forced to rewrite the playbook just days before the season was set to kickoff. Oakland had a gaping hole in its offense that simply could not be filled by anyone else on the roster or in Free Agency. It was too late in the game for that. He would have to fabricate offense the old-fashioned way, with the scheme. 

For the first ten games, he did an admirable job as the team got out to a 6-4 record. There was legit playoff talk floating in the air. Like a cheap suit in the Las Vegas heat, those dreams folded quickly. Williams was battling a debilitating case of plantar fasciitis, Renfrow suffered a broken rib along with a punctured lung, which forced Zay Jones and Keelan Doss to play extended snaps. No disrespect to Jones and Doss, but if those two are your starting receivers, your offense is in deep trouble. 

 

Heading into the 2020 offseason it was paramount that the Raiders address the receiver position.

 

Henry Ruggs III: The Original Las Vegas RaiderNot only did they need a #1 receiver, but they also needed to upgrade the overall talent at the position. Check and check. You cannot measure Ruggs’ impact by stats alone. His sheer presence will open up the entire offense for brilliant running back, Josh Jacobs, and superstar tight end, Darren Waller. Once Williams and Renfrow suffered injuries, the opposition could allocate more attention to stopping Jacobs and Waller

No other team had fewer passing yards to their receivers than the Raiders in 2019. That will surely change in 2020. Third-round pick Bryan Edwards is similar in size to Tyrell Williams, but he’s far more physical. He attacks 50/50 balls the way a gluttonous person raids a Las Vegas Buffet. If he can stay healthy and pick up the offense quickly, Edwards can push Williams off the roster in 2021. 

This will make the offense more explosive, you get younger at the position, and save upwards of $11 Million in cap space.

Naturally, in a passing league, a defense needs to counter the offense. Receivers coming into the league look like NBA Shooting Guards. You rarely see an X or Z receiver under 6’0” anymore. The majority of premiere outside receivers are 6’3” or greater. Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, AJ Green, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, and Alshon Jeffrey are gargantuan targets. 

They made careers feasting on smaller cornerbacks. The Seattle Seahawks prophetically understood how to slow these racers down. Starting in 2011, they assembled what ultimately became known as the Legion of Boom. The LOB was made up of cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Byron Maxwell. The safety positions were manned by Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor

Sherman stood 6’3”, Browner checked in at 6’4”, and Maxwell was the ‘small corner’ at 6’1”. What Seattle put together went against every defensive philosophy known to man. How dare they put all of these giants at a position that values straight-line speed, fluidity, and loose hips? 

There’s no way it can work, right? Wrong, not only did the LOB leave an indelible mark in the hearts of Seahawks fans forever, they terrorized receivers across the league. Their length and power allowed them to easily abuse and reroute most receivers. Gone were the days when quarterbacks would just throw it up there, and their 6’5” Wide Receivers would come down with the ball over 5’9” corners. 

Much like the Chuck and Duck Offense, the LOB changed the NFL scene permanently. 

 

Now take a look at what the Raiders have done the past two drafts.

 

In 2019, they drafted Trayvon Mullen in the 2nd round and Isaiah Johnson in the 4th round. Both Mullen and Johnson are 6’2” and over 200 pounds. Neither player is a “stiff,” though. In fact, stack.com did a profile on Johnson’s athletic prowess and his immense physical gifts. Gruden and Mayock’s vision came into clear focus during the 2020 NFL Draft. They drafted the boundary guys last season. Now it was time to address the inside guys. In the 1st round, they drafted Damon Arnette out of Ohio St. then chose Amik Robertson in the 4th round. Arnette, who’s 6’0” has never backed down from a challenge on the football field.

Meanwhile, Robertson personifies a Junkyard Dog. What Robertson lacks in height (5’8”), he more than makes up for with his tenacity. Post-draft, Robertson was proclaimed by numerous respected draft analysts as a steal. His slide was attributed to a nagging groin injury, which prevented him from working out for scouts. Once he recovered, COVID-19 put an end to all unnecessary travel. Gruden and Mayock had zero concerns. They called in the picks without hesitation and were delighted to get their guys. 

2020 NFL Combine
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Defensive Backs Coach Jim O’Neil has all the talent he needs to mold this unit into a top tier group. Whether or not they reach the heights of the Legion of Boom remains to be seen. One fact that isn’t up for debate is the level of talent, exuberance, leadership, and playmaking ability in the defensive backs room. Byron Jones, Darius Slay, and Chris Harris Jr. are the sexier names compared to the Raiders group, but that doesn’t make them better choices. 

Fans would like their teams to make splash moves in Free Agency every year. More often than not, the return on investment is disappointing. The luster quickly wears off once you realize your team is vastly overpaid. Splash signings are often associated with huge guaranteed money. These guarantees make it an encumbrance on your Salary Cap to disassociate yourself from said player. Lamarcus Joyner ring a bell?

Gruden and Mayock are fully aligned with the type of men they want on this football team, in meetings, in the locker room, and on the football field representing the Silver and Black. These young men were hand-chosen to be a part of something special in Las Vegas. The excitement around the team is palpable. You have a group of hungry dogs ready to eat. The Hall of Fame is peppered with former Raider receivers and corners. The pedigree is there; they just have to put the work in.

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-Rooz – Franchise Sports Media

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