Las Vegas Raiders: Are we underestimating this team again?

Las Vegas Raiders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Las Vegas Raiders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Don’t forget about the Las Vegas Raiders in the now-packed AFC West.

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not going to rush to any conclusions about the now Las Vegas Raiders and how they’re going to shape out in 2020. Even now with their schedule out and about, I’m still not decided on how good or bad this team is going to be.

This continues to be one of the hardest teams to figure out in the NFL. One minute they’re blowing you away with questionable draft choices. The next, they’re winning games at an alarming level and setting themselves up for a playoff spot as was the case in 2019.

What was the narrative going into last year for the Raiders?

It was that they had an okay draft that didn’t necessarily address big needs, Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden were making questionable calls on player management — the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades — Derek Carr and Gruden didn’t get along, and that 2019 was going to be an utter disaster.

But what happened? They went into Week 12 at 6-4 with a playoff spot up for grabs, Derek Carr put to bed any doubts that he and Gruden couldn’t get along, and even after they faded towards the end, they were still in contention for the last playoff spot in the AFC as they finished 7-9.

Not only that, but they struck gold in Josh Jacobs, they found Darren Waller off the streets and now he’s a top tight end. Maxx Crosby came out blazing in the middle of the year with that four-sack game against Cincinnati after breaking his hand in preseason.

And they resurrected the offensive line with the additions of Richie Incognito and Trent Brown.

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On the surface, I can’t exactly say I loved the Raiders’ draft this year. I feel like they had their shot at Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb and they took perhaps the third-best receiver in the class in Henry Ruggs.

They then went cornerback with their second pick and took Damon Arnette seemingly out of nowhere. And ultimately, they didn’t exactly fix their biggest needs on defense but instead, they loaded up even more on offense with Lynn Bowden Jr. and Bryan Edwards.

But you know what? Now that I think about it, Ruggs was the fastest guy in this receiver class and now they have down-the-field firepower going up against Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes, and Kansas City — playing them at their own game.

I didn’t see Arnette coming as their cornerback pick, but you know what? He lined up opposite No. 3 overall pick, Jeff Okudah, at Ohio State last year and he was great in single coverage being targeted more as the “weaker” of the two Buckeye corners.

They loaded up on offense and their defense could still have some problems stopping people this year, but you know what? We just saw the Chiefs win the Super Bowl with an ordinary defense.

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And not for nothing, but the Mack and Cooper trades aren’t exactly sinking this organization. Now that we’ve had a couple of years to digest, it actually seems like the Raiders (Gruden and Mayock primarily) made good calls.

Who would’ve thought?

Maybe — now just maybe — Mayock and Gruden know what they’re doing after all. Maybe they’re the geniuses and we’re just ten steps behind.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with the Raiders in 2020, but if they can improve just a little bit on the defensive side, they’re going to be a playoff team, because it’s hard to find a hole offensively in this group.

Teams that change cities aren’t exactly known for immediate success, especially in that first year, but the Raiders have themselves a very good roster and a schedule that can work with them.

I know the Chiefs are the Chiefs, the Broncos are going to be one of the most-improved teams, and the Chargers still have a nasty defense, but the Las Vegas Raiders can compete with all of them.

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Don’t lose sight of this team amidst the Super Bowl champs and two young stud quarterbacks with big arms in the AFC West.