Clelin Ferrell

Raiders' playoff hopes rest on these five players not named Derek Carr

Raiders' playoff hopes rest on these five players not named Derek Carr

The Raiders entered the 2020 offseason with a checklist of holes to fill and positions to upgrade. They damn near did it all.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock spent most of their free agency dollars improving a defense that ranked 31st in DVOA in 2020. They added talent to all three levels, giving defensive coordinator Paul Guenther his most-talented unit to date. In the draft, the Raiders stacked talent on talent, focusing mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards and running back Lynn Bowden will all be welcome additions to an offense that lacked the ability to create explosive plays in 2019.

The Silver and Black injected talent into their roster at key positions and look to be a much better team than the one that went 7-9 last season. An improved defense coupled with a more explosive offense and an extra playoff spot should give the Raiders hope for a postseason berth in 2020.

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But in order to do so, they'll need some of their key members -- not named Derek Carr -- to stay healthy and have big seasons to make that dream a reality.

Honorable Mentions: Henry Ruggs and Cornerback No. 2

Big things are expected from Ruggs. You don't get drafted with the No. 12 overall pick just to fly in under the radar. But receivers often struggle in their first season in the NFL and Gruden's offense is one of the more complex units in the league to grasp.

There's no doubt the Raiders will find ways to get the ball into Ruggs' hands as much as possible, but it might take a few weeks for the speedy receiver to find his footing in the NFL.

As for the other honorable mention, it belongs to what is perhaps the Raiders' biggest question mark. Whoever wins the cornerback job opposite Trayvon Mullen will have to be able to hold down their side of the field. Last season, the Raiders got virtually nothing from Daryl Worley at that position and their past defense suffered because of the gaping hole on that side of the field.

Getting production from Prince Amukamara, Damon Arnette, Amik Robertson or Isaiah Johnson is paramount for the Raiders to contend for a playoff spot.

5. Johnathan Abram

We don't know exactly what to expect from Abram, who missed all but one game during his rookie season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. But the Raiders need him to be healthy and to play an important role in the back end in order to keep the defense together.

Abram's injury in the Raiders' Week 1 win over the Denver Broncos was a bigger blow than most realize. Without sufficient depth at the position, the Raiders secondary struggled with communication and was burned too many times to count. Erik Harris eventually filled the role adequately, but once Karl Joseph went down in Week 10, the Raiders' secondary was unable to recover.

Abram is a physical safety who we expect to play more in the box, letting Damarious Randall handle the deep safety duties. But Abram must harness that aggression, play under control, stay healthy and give the Raiders 16 solid games if they are to make the playoffs. The defense has been rebuilt, but losing Abram again would be a hard loss to overcome.

4. Trent Brown

In a 2019 class of splashy free-agent signings that didn't pan out, Trent Brown was the lone Raiders home run.

Brown's first season in silver and black was a roaring success. He was named to the Pro Bowl and, when he was healthy and active, the Raiders' offensive line was as strong a unit as there is in the NFL. Brown allowed only one sack and registered a 77.8 pass-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.

But multiple injuries ailed Brown and he eventually had to go on season-ending injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle. All told, Brown played 582 snaps for the Raiders, about 57 percent of the team's total. He missed six games and was hobbled in at least two that he suited up for.

When healthy, Brown is as good a right tackle as there is in football. The Raiders need him to be 100 percent in 2020 for the line to function at optimal capacity.

3. Clelin Ferrell

We know all about Ferrell's rookie season. The No. 4 overall pick battled an illness around midseason that forced him to lose weight and he spent the rest of the season trying to get back to his ideal playing weight.

He played inside and outside. He was a good run defender but notched just 4.5 sacks, a low number for the No. 4 overall pick. Ferrell vowed to return a different player in 2020. He's a hard worker who is filled with talent. The Raiders got great production off the edge from Maxx Crosby in 2019 and signed Carl Nassib to join the rotation for 2020. But Ferrell is the most talented player in the rotation and the Raiders need him to play as such.

His value won't be judged on sack totals, as that's often misleading. But Ferrell must increase hit pressure numbers in 2020. During his rookie season, Ferrell notched just 18 pressures and three hits. Those numbers must increase in 2020 for Guenther's unit to go from awful to average during the first season in Las Vegas.

The addition of Maliek Collins up front should help Ferrell improve his production and put the Clemson product in a more stable role on the edge.

2. Tyrell Williams

Big things are expected of Ruggs, but the rookie can't be expected to be a top receiver from Day 1. It will take time.

That's where Williams comes in.

Before the plantar fasciitis flared up, Williams looked to be worth every penny the Raiders spent on him. In the first two weeks, Williams caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. But he didn't go over 100 yards after Week 1 and had just two games with more than three catches after Week 2.

His feet were an issue, there is no doubt.

The Raiders need Williams to be healthy and productive from the jump in 2020 to take the pressure off Ruggs as he settles in. Williams has shown he can be a solid No. 2 receiver with the ability to level up at times. He went over 1,000 yards with the then-San Diego Chargers in 2016 after injuries forced him to become the No. 1 option.

Carr and Williams have good chemistry and it will be imperative for the offense that the veteran receiver is the player he was in Week 1 of 2019 for all of 2020.

[RELATED: Carr primed for career year after Raiders restock arsenal]

1. Cory Littleton

After years of toiling in linebacker hell, the Raiders went out and welded the hole shut by signing Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.

Littleton was the big fish of the Raiders' offseason. He's an athletic, three-down linebacker who can cover tight ends and run sideline-to-sideline with running backs. That's something the Raiders haven't had and they've been scorched because of it.

Adding Littleton and, to a lesser extent, Kwiatkoski, gives the Raiders the ability to defend modern NFL offenses like the ones they'll face in the AFC West. The Silver and Black have been at a disadvantage playing without athletic linebackers and have been exploited time and time again.

Littleton is in the prime of his career and he has all the tools the Raiders need to field a defense that won't be gutted every time it takes the field.

He needs to be as advertised in 2020.

Josh Jacobs, Clelin Ferrell get Raiders tattoos after rookie seasons

Josh Jacobs, Clelin Ferrell get Raiders tattoos after rookie seasons

Josh Jacobs and Clelin Ferrell loved their first season with the Raiders so much that they both got the team's legendary logo tattooed on their arms. 

Jacobs added the logo on right arm while Ferrell went with his left. Both players shared the new ink Sunday on their Instagram stories.

The Raiders added both players last year in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. General manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden called Ferrell, a defensive end out of Clemson, when they were on the clock with the No. 4 overall pick. They then used their second first-round pick on Jacobs at No. 24 overall, and the former Alabama running back starred from Day 1. 

Jacobs became the first Raiders rookie to run for over 1,000 rushing yards and finished the season with 1,150 yards despite missing three games to a shoulder injury. He was a finalist for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and proved himself worthy of the award.

[RELATED: Ex-Raider Nelson believes Gruden, Carr have strong bond]

Ferrell played 15 games as a rookie and recorded 4.5 sacks. Earlier this offseason, he was working out with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner as he has vowed to be much better in Year 2.

Both Jacobs and Ferrell will play key roles to the Silver and Black making the leap in Las Vegas, and clearly are full in on Raider Nation.

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Clelin Ferrell discusses Antonio Brown's Raiders exit, Mike Mayock tiff

Clelin Ferrell discusses Antonio Brown's Raiders exit, Mike Mayock tiff

The Raiders went through a roller-coaster prior to the beginning of last season, and Antonio Brown was the one driving the lead car.

The All-Pro wide receiver highjacked training camp, with everything from frostbitten feet to multiple helmet grievances taking the spotlight off a Raiders team looking to take a massive leap in Year 2 under coach Jon Gruden. Brown's tenure ended in silver and black ended before it ever began, with a training camp blowup with general manager Mike Mayock and a guerilla-style Instagram video serving as the catalyst for his release prior to Week 1. 

The Raiders never discussed Brown much after their Week 1 win over the Denver Broncos. But with all that in the rearview mirror now, defensive end Clelin Ferrell discussed the altercation between Brown and Mayock for the first time Wednesday on ESPN's "First Take."

"I was just kind of thrown off by it," Ferrell said. "Obviously, you see the stuff in the media but when Antonio was in the locker room, he was the chillest dude. I had never really seen that side of either of them, so I was just kind of caught off guard, and was like, 'Woah! What's going on here?' They had a really good relationship. Obviously, the three of them -- Antonio, Mike and coach Gruden -- they always had a good relationship. I was just kind of caught off guard, but grown men gonna be grown men and have disputes sometimes."

Brown reportedly called Mayock "a cracker" and threatened to punch him. The star receiver was released and signed with the New England Patriots, but his stay in Foxboro lasted just under two weeks, as Brown was released after sending threatening messages to a woman who accused him of making unwanted sexual advances towards her in a story for Sports Illustrated.

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The Raiders entered training camp with Brown, Tyrell Williams, rookie Hunter Renfrow, tight end Darren Waller and veteran J.J. Nelson looking to give quarterback Derek Carr the most dynamic supporting cast he's ever had. Brown's abrupt exit changed all of that, and the Raiders' offense eventually suffered from the lack of a true No. 1 receiver.

The Silver and Black got by on guts, grit and an "us against the world" mentality through the first 11 weeks, hitting mid-November at 6-4 and in the playoff hunt. But their holes and injuries were too much to overcome and they limped to a 7-9 finish.

Ferrell knows that if Brown hadn't gone nuclear, things could have different. But he hopes his former teammate can get through the rough patch he's going through.

"When you feel like you got Antonio Brown at his best, the sky would have been the limit for us offensively," Ferrell said. "Just been a guy who is top five in receiving yards and touchdowns every single year. Would have did his thing. When all the different stuff happened with everything going on, that was tough on us. As a team, we just want to be quiet.

"Especially with 'Hard Knocks,' there was already so much attention and to have all this other stuff added in, it was kind of tough on us. But I feel like at the end of the day, we just want the best for him because he did go through a lot, so no matter the disarray or dysfunction he has caused, you just want to see him get back to who he was."

[RELATED: Raiders' draft position has Mayock set up to hit home run]

The Raiders left Brown in the dust and are forging ahead without him as the franchise heads to Las Vegas.

They still have a massive hole at wide receiver, one they likely will address in the 2020 NFL Draft. Cornerback and defensive line also are big needs.

The Silver and Black also hope Ferrell can take a leap in Year 2. The No. 4 overall pick struggled at times during his rookie season, but a light bulb came on in the second half. If he can harness and build off a strong second half, the Raiders should be able to improve on last season's success.