And with that, the Raiders are onto Las Vegas. Fresh off a 7-9 season that exceeded all expectations in only Jon Gruden’s second season back in charge, the Raiders aren’t heading to the desert empty handed. What they’re bringing to their shiny new stadium in their glitzy new city is a roster that is loaded with young talent — thanks to the oft-maligned Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades — and oozing with potential.
But as the Raiders seek a return to the playoffs, they’ll be forced to overcome difficult circumstances. They’re stuck in the same division as the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs, who just happen to be armed with the league’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. While the Raiders enjoyed a successful offseason, so did the rest of the division. The NFC West might be the league’s best overall division, but don’t overlook just how tough the AFC West should be in 2020 and the years to come.
The Chiefs are very much atop the division by a wide margin heading into the season, but second place is entirely up for grabs. The Raiders figure to factor into the race for second place behind the Chiefs, and if things break their way, the wild card race. For that to happen, they’ll need their younger, highly drafted players to become impact-now players and, of course, they’ll need either Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota to give them elite-level quarterback play.
The competition at quarterback is by far the most interesting aspect of the Raiders’ depth chart. While it appears likely that Carr will be given the first chance to seize the starting job, the Raiders didn’t bring in Mariota because Carr needed a better backup. They brought in Mariota because they’re well aware of Carr’s limitations as a starting quarterback. Mariota very well could see meaningful minutes.
With all that in mind, we decided that now is a good time to examine the Raiders’ roster heading into the summer. Below, you’ll find our projections for the way the Raiders’ depth chart should shake out as the season approaches.
Rookies will be denoted with a (*).
There’s no more intriguing roster battle than the one at quarterback, where Derek Carr, the incumbent, is suddenly forced to deal with the presence of a capable backup quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Carr is undoubtedly the favorite to wind up with the starting job come Week 1 given the truncated nature of the offseason and his familiarity with the offense, but if he struggles at any point, it’ll be Mariota’s job to steal.
Elsewhere, the Raiders are sneakily loaded on offense. First-round pick Henry Ruggs was added to a receiving corps led by Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow, who exceeded expectation as a fifth-round pick with 605 yards. Behind the main targets is decent depth in the form of Nelson Agholor, who never quite caught on in Philadelphia, but is still a 27-year-old receiver who averages over 500 yards per season. He likely won’t start when the Raiders are at full strength, but he should see the field a decent amount. Meanwhile, Josh Jacobs is back for Year 2 after a 1,316-yard debut. Darren Waller returns after a 90-catch, 1,145-yard season that still feels underappreciated — and he has a new backup in veteran Jason Witten. Finally, the offensive line appears to be mostly set after ranking sixth in both run and pass blocking last year, per Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics.
The offense has a chance to be good, as long as one of the quarterbacks steps up.
On paper, the Raiders’ defense is vastly improved from a year ago, which is good news considering just how bad they were in 2019: 24th in points allowed, 19th in yards allowed and 31st in DVOA. Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton were brought in to stabilize the linebacker group, Prince Amukamara and Damarious Randall should help shore up the secondary, and first-round pick Damon Arnette is an exciting long-term piece (along with Johnathan Abram, who missed nearly his entire rookie season).
Up front, the Raiders will be counting on a couple of young players to make the leap from promising to productive, most notably Clelin Ferrell, the fourth-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Arden Key, a third-round pick two years ago. It is worth noting that the Raiders actually have decent depth on the defensive line in the form of veteran defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Maliek Collins, who bring some much-needed experience to an otherwise young group.
For the most part, the depth chart doesn’t appear to be in flux, but keep an eye on Arnette and if he’s able to win an immediate starting job in the aftermath of the team’s decision to bring in Amukamara, who is coming off a successful stint in Chicago before eventually becoming a salary cap casualty. Amukamara gives the Raiders an opportunity to ease Arnette into action.
The only notable change on special teams — and it’s still a minor one — is at both returner positions. A year ago, Trevor Davis led the team in both punt and kickoff returns. Davis is no longer with the Raiders, which creates a void at returner. The best bet to win the job is Jalen Richard, who ranked second on the team in both kickoff and punt returns a season ago. Renfrow also returned five punts a year ago, so he could be in the mix too. Rookie Lynn Bowden Jr. could potentially factor into the return game, as well, after a career at Kentucky that included 71 kickoff returns and nine punt returns.
Beyond that, the depth chart on special teams appears to be set in stone.