Last season seemed like a positive step, but the Las Vegas Raiders really look like a darkhorse to pick No. 1 in 2021.
From Year 1 to Year 2 under Jon Gruden, the Raiders went from four to seven wins. The move to Las Vegas has things looking up overall, even in what promises to be a tough AFC West. A push to playoff contention is the next step.
The Raiders had a good bit of fortune last year, with a 7-3 record in one-score games. The positive light on that is the notion bad teams find a way to lose close games, and the Raiders found a way to win them. On the flip side, six of their nine losses last year came by at least 18 points. In Gruden’s two seasons back on the sideline, 10 of the Raiders’ 11 wins have been by one score.
Wins and losses may not accurately reflect any progress the Raiders make this season. But a deeper look, courtesy of Warren Sharp, shows real signs of potential regression.
The Raiders faced a chunk of essentially backup quarterbacks in 2019 (six out of 16 games, as deemed by Sharp). They went 3-3 against them, with all three wins by one score.
Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are itching to move on from quarterback Derek Carr when the time is right, and the path to do it remains solid looking to 2021. They both loved Marcus Mariota in their previous lives as NFL Draft analysts, and the contract they gave Mariota allows him to cash in big if he usurps Carr this year.
Come next March, a move via free agency or trade for a quarterback upgrade will be on the table for the Raiders. The draft will also be an obvious option to find Carr’s replacement.
Tanking is a big word, and the Raiders won’t be doing it. But natural regression stands to push them to a higher pick than they’d like next April, and don’t dismiss their chances to land the No. 1 overall pick.