HENDERSON, Nev. -- There were more than a few bumps in the road for the Las Vegas Raiders in their first year of operation under the new regime of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler.
After seemingly every bounce went the Raiders’ way in their unlikely run to a 10-7 record and a playoff appearance in 2021, the exact opposite happened on their way to a 6-11 finish in 2022. The Raiders blew five double-digit leads, including a franchise-worst 20-point advantage over the Arizona Cardinals.
As such, it’s been an offseason of retooling the roster for Las Vegas -- particularly at the most important position in team sports -- so while the Raiders fell one spot in total offense (from No. 11 in 2021 to No. 12 last season) and five spots in passing offense (from No. 6 to No. 11), Las Vegas jumped six spots in scoring (No. 18 to No. 12).
The offense has star power and a pair of All-Pros at a couple of key skill positions, but questions remain. Such as, did the specific position groups get better, stay the same or trend worse?
Returners: Chase Garbers
Better, worse or the same? Better ... with a caveat.
Wait, how can a position group that replaced a nine-year starter in Carr with Garoppolo, who could not take part in on-field workouts this spring due to his recovery from left foot surgery, be, well, better?
Simple -- Garoppolo is a better fit in McDaniels’ system, given his previous experience with him in New England. Granted, they were last together in 2017. Which brings us to the caveat, meaning that Garoppolo, who has missed considerable time over the past few seasons due to injury, must be available, right? And if he’s not, a case could be made that allowing Stidham to leave could be a bigger blow as he looked more comfortable in his two starts than Carr did in his 15 games last season. But if Garoppolo is ready to roll, and all indications are that he’ll be good to go at the start of training camp, where he excels over Carr is in the red zone.
Consider: Last season, among 31 qualified QBs, Garoppolo’s red zone QBR of 69 ranked 10th, while Carr’s red zone QBR of 54 was 21st, per ESPN Stats & Information. And including the playoffs, Carr’s 15 career red zone interceptions are tied with Ryan Tannehill for the most in the NFL since Carr entered the league in 2014. Since 2018, Carr has committed the second-most red zone turnovers among the 28 QBs with at least 150 pass attempts in the red zone.
Better, worse or the same? Same.
With literally no movement at all with this position group, how can it be anything but the same? In actuality, there is a potential for it to be worse, much worse, given the apparent stalemate in contract talks with first-team All-Pro Jacobs, who became the first Raiders RB to lead the league in rushing since Hall of Famer Marcus Allen in 1985.
Jacobs, who rushed for 1,653 yards and led the NFL with 2,053 yards from scrimmage, did so after his fifth-year option was not picked up and then was slapped with a franchise tag -- which he has yet to sign as he wants a long-term deal.
It was strange, then, to see the Raiders with only the No. 17-ranked rushing offense in the league, despite Jacobs’ exploits. Still, his play and production surprised the Raiders’ new regime as McDaniels’ system traditionally relies upon a running back-by-committee approach. Bringing back the entire RB roster could portend an intention to share the ball more, which might not sit well with Jacobs. Stay tuned.
Better, worse or the same? Worse.
While Mayer may be the second coming of Hall of Famer Dave Casper -- hey, they have that whole Notre Dame connection in common and Mayer, as a second-rounder, may actually be a draft steal -- it’s hard to say the tight end room remained the same, let alone improved, when there is little to no carry-over.
A former Pro Bowler in Waller, who actually got a contract extension before the season began, was traded to the Giants, and Moreau was allowed to leave in free agency to join Carr in the Big Easy. While Waller’s production dipped precipitously, from a franchise-record 107 catches in 2020 to 55 receptions in 2021 and 28 last season, injuries had a lot to do with it. But his mere roster presence made this group a threat that opened opportunities for others. There are more questions than opportunities here unless Mayer has all the answers. And keep in mind McDaniels’ affinity for tight ends in his system.
Losses: Mack Hollins
Better, worse or the same? Better.
Adams solidified his standing as the best receiver in the NFL as he led the league with 14 TD catches and had 100 catches for 1,516 yards and averaged a career-best 15.2 yards per reception. And the Raiders essentially swapped out Hollins, who was a better special teams player than a wideout, for Meyers as WR2.
The wild card, then, is slot man Renfrow, a former Pro Bowler who caught 103 passes in 2021 but had just 36 catches last season, missing seven games with numerous injuries. It was peculiar, then, to see the Raiders sign another slot receiver in Dorsett and use a third-round pick on another speedy slot man in Tucker. It all set off a string of stories that had Renfrow as trade bait.
Still, McDaniels has said the presence of Renfrow was one of the reasons he came to Las Vegas, and he does have a history of success with slot receivers. Paging Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
Better, worse or the same? Same.
Yes, the Raiders really ran it back with a group that contributed to Carr being sacked 40 times in 2021 and was taken down “only” 27 times in 15 games last season. Plus, this same oft-criticized O-line opened up enough holes for Jacobs to lead the league in rushing. So maybe it was better than advertised, and bringing back the same cast of characters is actually a good thing?
Versatility is key here, and the fact that Las Vegas did not draft an offensive lineman speaks volumes, though right tackle could be an intriguing camp battle, with Eluemunor the key as he faces challenges from second-year lineman Munford, a now-healthy Parker and Herron and undrafted rookie Wagner. And if Eluemunor, who can also play guard, is better suited as a swing tackle, that would create more possibilities.
Coming soon: Defense