Out of all the Raiders' position groups, the wide receiver room may have the most upside on the roster.
The Silver and Black have invested a lot of draft capital at wide receiver the past several years – and all signs are pointing to them receiving capital gain for those investments.
Two players poised for a breakout season are second-year receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. Fans had high expectations for both after tearing apart top-tier SEC defenses at Alabama and South Carolina. They were also the first rookie duo to start at wideout on opening day for the Raiders in more than a decade.
Ruggs' and Edwards' roles last season were not as big as some expected due to injuries and COVID-19 — not to mention the general rookie learning curve. Nevertheless, both receivers averaged more than 16 yards per reception last season and possess rare athleticism with Ruggs' speed and Edwards' verticality and strength. The two have also been putting in a diligent amount of work in their offseason training.
"Honestly, I don't think anybody's expectations for me are higher than myself," said Ruggs during OTAs. "If I'm frustrated with anything, it's because I didn't do what I feel like I can do or I am able to achieve. It's not critics or what other coaches or what the fans around the league may say about me — that doesn't really do too much for me because I know what I can do, and I am my biggest critic. So, no one else can make me feel bad about that.
"If you ask me any goals, [be] better than last year. That's the biggest thing, just improvement and improve everything every year. That's what I want to do. Last year is in the past. I guess it was probably frustrating at times, but like I said, that's in the past and we build on it. It's a fresh start now and we're going to work to make it better."
Edwards also expressed the same sentiment of leaving the past in the past.
"Last year is last year; I can't change that," Edwards said during minicamp. "I had some injuries and things like that. My main focus this year is just being the best person I can be for this team and trying to stay healthy and make as many plays as I can.
"It definitely was a process and it obviously was frustrating. Any time I'm not getting the results I want to get, I'm frustrated and I'm trying fix it. But Rome wasn't built in one day. All good things take time, and I'm just trusting the process."
The wide receiver corps is also stacked with veterans that can lead the way. Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones are going into their third season with Derek Carr as their quarterback and have established great relationships on and off the field with Carr. Renfrow has found a knack for getting open, accumulating 105 catches and six touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL. Jones has connected with Carr for more than 40 catches in his two seasons with the Raiders and has used his time in the desert to reignite his love for football since leaving the Buffalo Bills.
Two others in line for valuable snaps will be free-agent signings John Brown and Willie Snead IV, previously teammates in Baltimore for a season. Brown and Snead will not only be critical in replacing Nelson Agholor's 896 yards and eight touchdowns last season but have extensive playoff experience that can help the Raiders get over the hump and back to postseason play.
"I definitely can see [the Raiders being a playoff team]," Brown said during OTAs. "First, it starts off with respecting each other, and we do that real well. And with the communication on the field, we do a great job with that and these guys, they want it real bad. So, I feel like we're in a great spot."
While the Raiders didn't draft any more receivers, they added a few undrafted rookie free agents in Oklahoma State's Dillon Stoner and Pittsburgh's DJ Turner, who could each be players to watch this Training Camp. Overall, Gruden is excited to see what he can get out of his receivers approaching the upcoming season.
"We've got competition there," said Gruden. "John Brown is a good player. A couple years ago, he had over 1,000 yards. He has great speed. He's learning three positions right now just like 'Nelly' [Nelson Agholor] did at this time. I think he's going to give us some pop. He can really run, get out of routes and he can run a wide array of patterns.
"Willie Snead IV has come in here and he's a real pro. Strong hands, really precise route runner. Tough as hell. He's going to compete with [Hunter] Renfrow in the slot. Dillon Stoner has done well. This DJ Turner, the punt returner from Pitt, very interesting. He's quick, smart. Zay Jones came back ready to go. Our two picks from last year, the guys I've really been focusing on, [Bryan] Edwards looks good and [Henry] Ruggs [III] looks much better than he did this time last year."
Last season, every defensive coordinator knew Darren Waller was going to get the ball early and often.
Yet they still couldn't find a way to stop him.
Waller is not only the lead tight end for the Raiders going into the 2021 season but a top-tier tight end across the entire league. Waller etched his name in the Raiders' record book last season with 107 receptions, breaking Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown's single-season record. He also was named to his first Pro Bowl last season.
With Waller etched in as the No. 1 guy at tight end, the Raiders will still expect big things out of the guy behind him in Foster Moreau. The former LSU Tiger had a productive rookie season, catching five touchdowns in 2019. While his numbers dipped in 2020 with the addition of perennial All-Pro tight end Jason Witten, Moreau still played all 16 games and caught two touchdowns. Many are confident Moreau is in line for his best statistical season since he's been in the league, including his fellow record-breaking teammate in the tight end room.
"I mean, his explosiveness just continues to increase every time we come back together as a team," said Waller. "Just from working with him in the offseason, he's working hard with me — like he's even pushing me with the way that he works. With the attention to detail that he's been working with this offseason, it's carrying over out here. He looks a lot more fluid and is just continuing on that path to being the player that I know that he can be. He can be an extremely vital component to this offense.
"I can't wait to see him expand the routes that he runs and the way that the offensive staff continues to challenge him because you can never have too many weapons, and I feel like Foster can really show the world who he's capable of being this season and can continue to build on top of that. So, I'm really excited for him."
To round out the rest of the tight ends battling for a spot are returning players Derek Carrier and Nick Bowers, who both excel as blocking and red zone threats. The Raiders also brought in Alex Ellis — who most recently played with the Philadelphia Eagles — and highly-touted BYU undrafted rookie free agent Matt Bushman.
Bushman was ranked as one of the top college tight ends after his junior season with 125 career receptions for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns, but an Achilles injury sidelined him during his senior season and hindered his draft stock. Training Camp and preseason will give Bushman an opportunity to prove he can make it in the NFL.
With how many weapons that Derek Carr has to throw to, I can easily see five or six different players eclipsing 600 receiving yards this season, in contrast to the three from last season. I predict Waller will still be the leading receiver, but Coach Gruden and Coach Olson will be in the lab generating more for Ruggs, Edwards, Renfrow and Moreau to alleviate Waller's workload.
I also believe John Brown will fill the role of being the unsung hero of the Raiders offense, the same way Nelson Agholor did in 2020. Derek Carr has a history of building chemistry with veteran wide receivers with elite speed, and Brown fits that bill to a T. I would not be surprised if Brown has his best statistical season since 2019, when he had more than 1,000 receiving yards and six touchdowns with the Buffalo Bills.
View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders tight ends and wide receivers heading into 2021 Training Camp.