Raiders' 2020 rookies are talented, but won't have same impact as 2019 class

Raiders' 2020 rookies are talented, but won't have same impact as 2019 class

Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden hit a home run in their first draft class together. Hell, it was a grand slam.

The Raiders got meaningful contributions from seven rookies in their 2019 class. Running back Josh Jacobs rushed for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games and would have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year if injuries didn't force him to miss three of the last four contests.

Fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby notched 10 sacks, and No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell added 4.5 of his own and turned a corner late and showcased the talent that has the Raiders believing he will be a defensive cornerstone.

Fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow was a demon in the slot, putting together a seven-game stretch that compares favorably to some of the best receivers in the NFL. Trayvon Mullen flashed shutdown corner potential after grabbing a starting job in Week 8. Tight end Foster Moreau was a touchdown machine, and undrafted full back Alec Ingold was as solid as they come blocking for Jacobs.

The 2019 draft class came in as the foundational piece of a full-on rebuilt. They entered with a focus on changing the culture and had their sites set on a building a dynasty halfway through Year 1 in silver and black.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Mayock and Gruden entered the 2020 NFL Draft looking to stack talent on top of talent, hoping to add more foundational pieces to a young, talented group. They did that. The Raiders added speed in Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs, toughness in Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette, versatility in Kentucky athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. and physicality in South Carolina wideout Bryan Edwards. Tanner Muse, Amik Robertson and John Simpson round out an impressive class that should mesh well with last year's foundational group.

But don't expect the 2020 class to have the same type of impact that the 2019 crew did. Last year, the Raiders rookies had the most touchdowns (17), most yards after the catch (676), most rushing yards (1,167) and most rushing touchdowns (seven) in the NFL. They came in, were accountable, helped jump-start a culture change and were seven of the most important players in silver and black. That was just Year 1. Not to mention first-round pick Johnathan Abram played just one game after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 1.

The 2020 class is talented, of that, there is little doubt. All are supremely motivated players with chips on their shoulders the size of a Gruden raised eyebrow. Ruggs will start immediately and give the Raiders much needed speed and playmaking ability on the outside. The Alabama will eyes off Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller as defenses try not to get burned by his 4.27 speed. Gruden undoubtedly has spent the last few months scheming up a number of ways to get the ball in Ruggs' hands, hoping the electric receiver can give the Raiders' offense a dimension it was sorely lacking a year ago.

But after Ruggs, who might be the most talented prospect in both classes, the 2020 class has a lot of question marks. Not about their overall talent, but pertaining to the roles they'll have on the 2020 Raiders.

Arnette is a tough, physical press corner who returned to Ohio State for his senior season in order to reshape his legacy. He did, playing the entire season with a broken hand while allowing the lowest passer rating against when targeted. But the coronavirus pandemic wiped out minicamp and OTAs, and now Arnette will enter training camp in a battle with Prince Amukamara for the other starting corner spot opposite Mullen. Amukamara is a steady veteran who Pro Football Focus ranked as the No. 5 press corner in the NFL last season. After an odd offseason, it's easy to see Amukamara getting the starting nod to take some pressure off Arnette initially.

Bowden enters camp as a complete enigma. A super-versatile athlete, Bowden played wide receiver at Kentucky before playing wild-cat quarterback last season. The Raiders drafted him as a running back but plan to play him as "Joker" in Gruden's offense. Bowden has playmaking ability, but we have no idea how he'll be used or how often he'll be on the field in 2020.

Edwards was the steal of the draft. A first-round talent who fell to the third round due to a foot injury, Edwards is a big, physical receiver who should pair nicely with Ruggs. Edwards will enter camp in a battle with Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones for the No. 4 receiver spot. While the lack of OTAs might hurt Edwards' ability to earn the job, his raw talent and massive upside make him the rookie who is most likely to make a massive impact in 2020 after Ruggs.

Robertson, Muse and Simpson all enter 2020 as depth pieces who the Raiders expect to be starters in the future. Robertson is an undersized corner with good ball skills who should take over for Lamarcus Joyner at slot corner in a year or two. Muse will spend the year transitioning from safety to linebacker and Simpson will provide interior line depth.

[RELATED: Four Raiders position battles to watch in training camp]

The 2020 class is solid, with talent to help the Raiders make a big leap in 2020. But it's rare for a team to get as much out of a rookie class as the Raiders did in 2019. It was a combination of supreme talent and opportunity that allowed them to shine and show they were the future of the Silver and Black.

The 2020 class will be essential to the Raiders' growth as Gruden's rebuild hits Phase 2. But in 2020, Ruggs might be the only rookie to make an immediate, eye-opening impact. Edwards and Arnette face tough training camp battles to earn starting roles, and the rest of the solid class will be viewed with both eyes on the future.

The 2019 class set the bar in the stratosphere. It's OK if the 2020 class can't clear their mark. Few can.

Raiders rookie Bryan Edwards drawing comparisons to Pro Bowl receivers


Raiders rookie Bryan Edwards drawing comparisons to Pro Bowl receivers

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on Tuesday compared rookie wide receiver Bryan Edwards to Carr’s former Fresno State teammate and current Packers’ star Davante Adams. On Friday one of Edwards’ high school coaches said he has long seen similarities to another perennial All-Pro.

“He’s always reminded me of A.J. Green,” said Conway (S.C.) head coach Carlton Terry, who was an assistant when Edwards played there and coached against Green in high school. “They both just have that ability to make plays at receiver and return punts. Just men on the field in comparison to the other players. Not only did they stand out vertically, but for big men to have that athleticism is just so rare.”

Edwards’ natural gifts were evident from the moment he walked into Conway High School as a 13-year-old freshman.

Read more at the Las Vegas Review-Journal


Raiders place Maxx Crosby, Rod Smith on NFL's COVID-19 reserve list


Raiders place Maxx Crosby, Rod Smith on NFL's COVID-19 reserve list

Raiders coach Jon Gruden on Thursday talked about the need to adapt every day to the practice availability of his players.

It went without saying he was referring to the potential impact of COVID-19, the constant shadow he and the Raiders will be operating under this year.

By late afternoon, that possibility became a reality when Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby and running back Rod Smith were added to the COVID-19 injured reserve list.

Read more on the Review-Journal