The 2020 Raiders haven’t officially met as a full squad, while the offseason program continues virtually during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. More and more players are moving to Las Vegas in advance of a scheduled training camp in late July and the possibility that players could soon be allowed into a gorgeous new training facility in Henderson.
Dozens are meeting at a local park in the Las Vegas suburbs to work on what they learn in meetings, with quarterback Derek Carr leading a group that started small and has significantly grown in recent weeks. How long that continues remains to be seen, after the NFLPA medical director advised against players conducting group workouts.
The point in saying all that, we’re a long way from knowing how the Raiders will fare in 2020. The Silver and Black look a lot better on paper, suggesting they’ll put an improved product on the field.
Time will tell on that front, but I can make some bold predictions about 2020 while we’re all staying at home waiting for football to (hopefully) crank back up again. And we’re not going to guess overall records. There was plenty of that when the schedule was released. I won’t attempt to guess stats, either. That’s ultimately a stab in the dark, with numbers most of you will forget quickly. Instead, here are broad, bold statements I can gladly take credit for when they turn up, or fans can razz me for striking out on this fall.
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So let’s get to it. Here are five bold, slightly off-kilter predictions for the Raiders.
Darren Waller’s an All-Pro
Notice how we didn’t say Pro Bowl. That honor should be easy, considering Waller’s talent and the volume of folks who either initially honored or join up as replacements. All-Pro’s a much more exclusive list.
That would include just two tight ends, one on the first team and another on the second. Waller’s certainly capable of such an exclusive title, even with several worthy candidates. He was awesome last year, with 90 catches for 1,145 yards without a quality receiver corps to divert coverage. Waller regularly was blanketed without threats on the outside, but he should roam more open space with Henry Ruggs III’s speed, Tyrell Williams’ renewed health and Hunter Renfrow’s increased respect from opponents each demanding attention.
This could be a huge year for Waller, one of Carr’s most trusted targets. He’s capable of a monster statistical year and an impactful place on what should be a prolific offense. He’s currently not mentioned in a truly elite tight end group that includes George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. He should be, and after 2020, he will.
Derek Carr silences doubters
Okay, well that’s impossible. Carr could win the MVP in 2020, and some would still wonder if they should consider draft options. Let’s re-phrase: He’ll play well enough to win disgruntled fans back. The Raiders tricked out the offense. Carr's operating behind a talented offensive line that’s also the NFL’s most expensive. He knows Jon Gruden’s offense well, something valuable in an offseason without team-sanctioned on-field work.
The stage is set for a monster year. Carr’s stats have steadily improved under Gruden. If wins (and a playoff berth) come with it, Carr’s detractors might just take a breath from all that screaming and enjoy the ride.
Collins earns a big contract extension
Defensive tackle Maliek Collins is surely the best value signing the Raiders made this offseason. The 25-year old interior defensive lineman signed a one-year deal worth up to $6.25 million, with an opportunity to re-enter the market in his mid-20s looking for a monster deal.
It’s possible he never gets there. The Raiders desperately need a dominant three-technique, and Collins is capable of filling that role with strong play against the run and pass. He only had 4.0 sacks in 2019 but would’ve led the Raiders in total quarterback pressures, a sign that he can flush quarterbacks and force sacks even if he doesn’t always bring them down. Interior pressure is as valuable a commodity as any in the modern NFL, and Collins can bring the heat.
Locking him up long term is a worthy endeavor is he proves proficient in the Raiders scheme, and they could buy out his prime years with a four-year deal before he hits the open market that secures a vital spot in the defense that makes those around him better.
Clelin Ferrell sees significant sack increase
Last year’s No. 4 overall pick vowed to return from a shoulder-shrug of a rookie year, one where he played several techniques and lost 15 pounds to a Week 5 illness, a completely different player. Ferrell has been grinding all offseason to get into excellent shape and be ready for his second professional season. He did some good things in his first but should be able to hit the ground running and be more productive in 2020.
A quantum leap doesn’t mean Ferrell will hit double-digit sacks. He could go from 4.5 to 8.0 no problem, balancing extra pressure in the passing game with an improvement on already solid run defense. The Raiders' front four should be productive getting after the quarterback, with Ferrell, Collins, Maxx Crosby and new edge rusher Carl Nassib in the mix.
Raiders get contributions (again) from across rookie class
Let's say Henry Ruggs equals his 2019 college numbers of 749 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Damon Arnette works his way into the starting lineup by season’s end. Bryan Edwards’ foot feels fine and he becomes a physical downfield threat. Lynn Bowden Jr. becomes a headache to opponents as a runner, receiver and returner. Getting significant contributions from four of seven draft picks would be a major boon for the Raiders and a sign that they stacked draft classes to form a young, potent foundation for sustained success.