The Las Vegas Raiders will play in a new stadium and a new city in 2020. Unfortunately for the team, even with all that is new, the draft is the same old story.
When Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock joined forces to transform the Las Vegas Raiders franchise from a bottom-dweller in the National Football League back into a bona fide contender, fans far and wide were ecstatic. They could not believe their fortunes to obtain a legendary, brilliant head coach and one of the best TV draft analysts in all of football.
Fast forward just two year laters, and it is difficult to understand how so much has changed, and yet, everything has remained the same. The team is 11 and 21 since Gruden took (back) over, and while some would argue the team showed signs of life in 2019, finishing 7-9, it’s plausible to say that the team has more talent but not a great deal more potential than it did prior to the last change-over.
Gruden and Mayock, for all of their changes, have remained beholden to holdover quarterback, Derek Carr. Carr, who while playing under a hefty salary ($25 million per year), has yet give any indication that he is a franchise quarterback. While the pair has stuck the team in neutral with Carr, they has made a slew of other roster changes; most notably in trading the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, to Chicago.
The team’s first two drafts under their new leadership would head-scratching. The team has received very little contribution from their 2018 draft class, which includes multiple players no longer with the team (or even in the NFL). The 2019 class was noticeably better, but still including one of the more bizarre moves of the first round, when the team massively over-reached for edge rusher Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick. (Ferrell was a borderline first round pick who played worse than his projection in 2019.)
Now that the team has moved to Las Vegas, a new stadium and fan base represent new hope for the long downtrodden franchise. Unfortunately what the 2020 NFL Draft showed us was that despite the new city and new stadium: it’s still the same old Raiders.
What do we mean? Let’s take a look
2020 Las Vegas Raiders Draft Class
1-12: Henry Ruggs III, Wide Receiver, Alabama
1-19: Damon Arnett, Cornerback, Ohio State
3-80: Lynn Bowden, Wide Receiver, Kentucky
3-81: Bryan Edwards, Wide Receiver, South Carolina
3-100: Tanner Muse, Safety, Clemson
4-109: John Simpson, Guard, Clemson
4-139: Amik Robertson, Cornerback, Louisiana Tech
With the trade of Khalil Mack, the Raiders once again had two first round picks in this year’s draft.
With the 12th overall pick in the draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected pre-draft wide receiver Henry Ruggs III from Alabama. Prior to the draft, the Chiefs were rumored to have been interested in the speedster. Still, the selection of Ruggs here was surprising to many, as most seemed to believe that he was the third best receiver on the board (and in the class) at the time. Many thought the reach was in part due to the Chiefs’ feigned interest:
The Raiders are prepared to have a quarterback battle between mediocre signal callers in Derek Carr and newly signed veteran Marcus Mariota. Neither is likely to inspire much fear in the hearts and minds of of their opponents. However, drafting Ruggs III does add a dimension to the offense that rivals will have to prepare for.
With the 19th pick in the first round, the Raiders selected a defensive piece in cornerback Damon Arnette. Arnette may be a fine corner, probably, maybe, someday. But right now, he’s a day two prospect whose selection was a head-scratcher. This is the 2020 version of the Clelin Ferrell reach. That the Raiders should have chosen him here instead of trading down or selecting simply a more talented corner is mind-boggling. If the team is looking to counter the blazing fast weapons in the division, Arnette and his 4.56 second speed in the 40 does not help that a whole lot.
Las Vegas did not have a second round pick in 2020, as the pick was traded as part of the Mack trade, but the Raiders did own back-to-back picks in the third round. The Raiders opted to use both picks on potential offensive playmakers in drafting wide receivers Lynn Bowden, Jr from Kentucky and Bryan Edwards from South Carolina with consecutive picks.
Bowden is a gifted athlete who impressed as a dual-threat quarterback last year in an excellent final season for the Wildcats. He also excelled at the Combine. He likely projects into a Taysom Hill role in Las Vegas, and is listed as a running back by the team right now. As an NFL prospect, he’s a bit of a wild card who will need time to develop, and need to be schemed into the offense. With offensive and defensive line major needs for the Raiders, this was a poor pick.
Meanwhile, Edwards is one of the more talented receivers in this class who likely would have been a second round pick if a foot injury had not prevented him from participating in the Combine and other pre-draft activities. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a solid addition for the Raiders.
The Raiders traded for pick 100 with the Patriots and used it to select Tanner Muse, a linebacker/safety hybrid from Clemson. Where he likely contributes immediately is on special team. He’s going to contribute on the defensive side eventually, but it’ll take some scheming and time to get him on the field in a meaningful way.
The Raiders then used the 109th pick on John Simpson, a guard from Clemson. Simpson is a 6-foot-3, 310 pound athlete who moves well—pulling, shifting, picking up second level defenders. He’s not a polished pass-protector yet, but could be a starter for the Raiders at some point this season.
Pick 139 was the final Las Vegas selection in the 2020 draft and they used it to select cornerback Amik Robertson from Louisiana Tech, a small (5-foot-8) and slower (relatively) corner who plays with a big attitude. In Robertson, the Raiders get a physical, athletic nickel corner. He’s incredibly physical and aggressive and not afraid to lay a hit.
Best Pick: Amik Robertson
Robertson is going to be a really good nickel corner in the NFL. He may have to work on technique as he adjusts to better route runners in the NFL than he ever saw while at La. Tech. But when need meets value, it is a great combination for a franchise. Robertson was criminally underrated not only because of collegiate competition but also because of injury, and could have easily been a second round pick in a year where teams could have checked his medicals.
Worst Pick: Damon Arnette
Inversely, the other Las Vegas investment in cornerback was a travesty. It’s fair to question if Arnette (1st round) is even a worse pro prospect than Robertson (4th round). Arnette may turn out to be a fine player for the Raiders, but it seems highly unlikely they’ll ever receive first round production from the corner, and certainly will not in 2020.
The Raiders used three of their five premium picks on offensive skill positions and may only get meaningful production from one this year. They massively reached for a cornerback with the 19th overall selection instead of taking an offensive lineman (like Cesar Ruiz or Isaiah Wilson), a quarterback of the future (Jordan Love), a desperately needed pass rusher (K’Lavon Chaisson), or a ball-hawking defensive leader at linebacker (like Kenneth Murray).
In the third round they reached again with the Bowden selection and rolled the dice on a foot injury in Edwards. They traded up to the 100th pick to take a player that does not really fit the current scheme but could be a nice playmaker. And then, finally, used their last two selections on Simpson and Robertson, who ironically could be among the biggest contributors in 2020.
This was not a successful draft for Las Vegas, though it would be hard to ague they did not improve the overall athletic talent of the team.