After a 6-3 start and an impressive win over the Kansas City Chiefs it appeared that the Las Vegas Raiders were a near lock for at least a wild card spot in the AFC. However during the next seven games of the season the Raiders completely fell a part and finished 2-5 over their last five games. They would have actually finished 1-6 if Gregg Williams didn’t send an all out blitz on the final play of the Jets vs Raiders game. It is important to say that the Raiders didn’t suffer any major injuries during that span to any franchise players that would greatly affect the game except for when Derek Carr tweaked his groin against the Chargers on Thursday night football.
There have been instances where teams fall apart late in seasons. Sometimes teams have a rough second half of the schedule or get tired because they had an early bye week. But the reason why this is concerning for the Las Vegas Raiders is because this occurrence also happened last season. In the 2019-20 season the Oakland Raiders started the season 6-4, but finished the season 1-5.
When a team collapses the way they have the last two seasons like the Raiders had it is easy and fair for the outside world to start evaluating the job of the most important people in the organizations success quarterback Derek Carr, head coach Jon Gruden, and general manager Mike Mayock.
Carr’s stats over the past two seasons have been consistent. He’s completes between 67%-71% of his passes, threw just over 4,000 yards passing, had a 21- 8 touchdown to interception ratio in 2019, and a 27-9 touchdown to interception ratio in 2020. These statistics confirm who Carr is as a quarterback. He is a B+ quarterback who won’t the the reason why the team loses and could a team competitive, but cannot carry an average team to the playoffs.
The Raiders have flirted with quarterbacks since Gruden took the job. It wouldn’t be shocking to the entertain the idea of taking one with a higher longterm upside than Carr if one starts to slip in the draft. Quarterbacks in Carr’s tier seem to be one bad season away from the team looking at younger options early in the draft.
It isn’t farfetched to say that a third year head coach with a 19-29 record and no playoff appearances could get fired at the end of that third year. However Jon Gruden still receives praise as one of the leagues upper echelon head coaches. He does have a Super Bowl ring and a track record of success in the late 90’s and 2000’s. But since returning to the league he’s been alright at best. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio had a great eye opening segment two weeks ago where “Big Cat” Dan Katz and him compared Jon Gruden to other coaches around the league.
This season alone Gruden has had moments against the Patriots, Falcons, Colts, Chargers, and Dolphins where he was out-coached or made a decision that cost his team the game. After signing that massive 10 year deal with the Raiders a couple of seasons ago Gruden will not have him job performance evaluated anytime soon so Raider fans should practice patience.
It will be interesting to see who Jon Gruden hires as his defensive coordinator for next season and the foreseeable future. Towards the end of this season Gruden let go of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and promoted Rod Marinelli for the rest of the season. The Raiders should return Marinelli to his defensive line coach position and hire an outside coach for the defensive coordinator position. Marinelli seemed to hold the Dallas Cowboys back defensively when he was their defensive coordinator between 2014-19. If Gruden keeps Marinelli in the defensive coordinator role, it will be obvious that Gruden cares more about hiring his friends rather than winning.
Two names that are available that should be considered for the position are Wade Phillips and Gus Bradley. Phillips was out of the league last season but has had great success as defensive coordinator around the league over the past decade. Gus Bradley is a well respected defensive coordinator and former head coach. Despite Los Angles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn being fired, Bradley is still the defensive coordinator for the Chargers, so in order for Bradley to leave for Vegas they would need permission from the Chargers. But there is no guarantee that the new Chargers head coach retains Bradley. If Bradley is let go he would become one of the hottest names on the coordinator market.
Before becoming the Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was one of the most respected people among NFL Media members and a fan favorite by the draft community. Two seasons after Mayock has taken over his draft picks have paid dividends. Mayock has hit on a few day three picks, 2019 fourth round pick Maxx Crosby has 17 sacks in two seasons and 2019 fifth round pick Hunter Renfrow has become a security blanket for Derek Carr and one of the teams best offensive players.
But Mayock has also missed on some high draft picks. His first draft pick Clelin Ferrell was immediately criticized because many thought the Raiders could have drafted him with one of their other three first round picks. Many believed that Kentucky’s Josh Allen was a better talent than Ferrell and so far they have been right. Allen was a Pro Bowler his rookie season with 10.5 sacks while Ferrell has only 6.5 sacks after his first 26 games. Another first round pick Jonathan Abram was PFF’s worst graded safety in coverage this season.
Another move that Mayock made that he will be criticized for despite not being entirely his fault is the Antonio Brown trade. Mayock traded away a third and fifth round pick for Antonio Brown. At the time it appeared to be a steal trading away two mid-round picks for a perennial All-Pro. But Brown’s off the field actions caused him to be released before the season. While the Steelers spent that third round pick on Diontae Johnson who has emerged as the teams number one wide out. Already in two seasons Johnson was named a second team All-Pro and as a punt returner in 2019 and this past season he led the team in targets and receiving yards. He finished the year with 88 receptions, 923 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. The more success that Johnson has the more this trade will be judged. To be fair to Mayock, the upside was worth the risk.
The Raiders made Henry Ruggs the first wide receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft and he finished the season with 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are the worst among first round pick wide receivers. The world was shocked when the Raiders selected Damon Arnette 19th overall last season. It could be argued that there was six better cornerback prospects on the board that Mayock could have taken. Arnette’s play this past season confirms that he may have been overdrafted.
Another surprising draft move the Raiders did involved flex player Lynn Bowden Jr. They selected Bowden Jr. in the third round and listed him as a running back despite him playing quarterback and wide receiver in college. Before his first NFL game the Raiders traded Bowden Jr. and a 2021 sixth round pick to the Miami Dolphins for a fourth round pick that was originally their’s and Raekwon McMillan. Their explanation was that they could not figure out how to use him despite his versatility. When Bowden saw consistent playing time in Miami when Devante Parker and Jakeem Grant got hurt he caught 27 balls for 212 yards in five games.
It is rare that a player gets moved his rookie season before playing a snap and it discredits the franchise’s decision making when it happens. The Raiders wasted a third round pick for the second straight season where they could have added a talented potential starter to their roster.
There is no doubt that Mayock is one of the best draft analysts and talent evaluators around the NFL. But Mayock does have a problem with overdrafting players from big schools and have wasted valuable draft assets in back to back seasons. Mayock may need to nail this offseason in order to keep himself off the hot seat for the foreseeable future because so far he hasn’t done a great job.