The Raiders are a defense away from being a contender

Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Las Vegas Raiders simply need more talent on defense to even consider themselves playoff contenders.

Following the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders used up all of their first round picks acquired from the Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack trades. The ultimate goal for head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock was to build a playoff contender just in time for their move to the Sin City in 2020.

While the offense is essentially set, their defense will prevent the team from clinching a coveted postseason berth this upcoming NFL season.

Raiders first-round picks on defense have been a mixed bag

The Raiders had five first-round picks in the past two years, and three were used on defensive players. Back in 2019, the Raiders selected Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram. This year, the Raiders took Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette.

Ferrell came as a bit of a shock, considering the likes of Devin White and Josh Allen were on the board once the Raiders were on the clock with the fourth overall pick. Ferrell didn’t live up to his selection, as he forced 15 quarterback pressures and tallied 4.5 sacks through 15 regular-season games in 2019, per Pro Football Reference.

As for Abram, he was expected to be a nasty, hard-hitting safety at the pro level. As it turns out, that style came back to haunt him, as he tore his labrum during a tackle attempt in the Raiders’ regular season opener. Who knows how he’ll be able to perform in 2020.

Arnette is still to be determined. Various draft experts viewed the pick as a massive reach, considering Arnette was projected to be selected as early as the third round.

Raiders’ overall defense is lacking

We’ll give the Raiders credit for addressing the linebacker position via free agency this offseason. The team added Cory Littleton and Nick Kwitatkoski on the open market and are prime additions to the front seven to tag alongside premier pass rusher Maxx Crosby and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.

But what about the secondary? We’ll preface by saying it’s probably Gruden’s biggest weakness entering the upcoming season.

Trayvon Mullen enters his second season as the best cornerback on the roster, as he allowed just 38 receptions on 68 targets for 445 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie campaign, per Pro Football Reference. But the talent around Mullen in the defensive backfield is average at best.

The team added Prince Amukamara, who’s coming off back-to-back seasons of allowing over 600 receiving yards. Las Vegas also brought in former Cleveland Browns safety Damarious Randall, who surrendered eight passing touchdowns to the opposition in 2019. Also, the team has Lamarcus Joyner returning as their starting nickelback.

In hindsight, the Raiders’ defense would’ve been set if they had made the right decisions. So far, the job Gruden has done building the defense is 50-50. We know he loves his grinders, but when you look at the talent he passed up in the NFL Draft to select said category of players, he opened himself up to criticism.

Luckily for the Raiders, they’re not expected to contend in 2020. They can regroup by having strong free agency and NFL Draft classes next year for them to officially be called contenders.

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