A 10-win season and a trip to the wild-card round capped off quite the ride for the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders. Before we completely move on to the offseason and turn to the upcoming draft, Raiders.com's Levi Edwards, Eddie Paskal and Rachel Gossen wrap up the season by weighing in on the bright spots, top moments and standout players for the Silver and Black.
Who is your MVP?
LE: Statistics won't exactly prove it, but if you watched any Raiders game this season, Maxx Crosby was the X-factor on the field. After leading the team in sacks the first two seasons of his career, he turned it up another level in his third season. With the way he played, his biggest effect was through pressuring the quarterback. He produced eight sacks, but helped his team succeed just as much. The Raiders defense totaled 35 sacks and 114 quarterback hits this season – with Crosby leading the league in quarterback pressures, according to PFF and NFL Next Gen Stats. The passion, zeal and intensity was always on full display with Crosby in his first Pro Bowl season. And yes, while quarterback Derek Carr was indeed the ultimate leader of this team – I truly believe Madd Maxx was the most valuable player on the Raiders roster, pound for pound.
EP: Easy answer here, it's Derek Carr. Let's ignore the numbers for a second – we'll get there, don't worry – but think about this; I don't know if there was a player in the NFL who was thrown more curveballs this season than DC. From a surprise head coaching change early in the season, to losing one of his most dynamic weapons out wide shortly thereafter, to dealing with another season of the COVID protocol, all while consistently putting his team in positions to win, Carr deserves all the praise he's getting, as well as a nice vacation. In terms of the numbers, Carr threw for a career-high 4,804 passing yards, and his 68.4 completion was actually a touch higher than it was a season ago. That's not even accounting for his unwavering leadership and professionalism throughout a really tough season. DC's the guy for this one.
RG: I'm with Eddie on this one, I think it has to go to Derek Carr. Not only did he have a career season of 4,804 passing yards that broke the single-season franchise record, but his leadership in the locker room showed out on the field. As the team faced what felt like mountains of adversity at times, Carr kept his – and the team's – focus on the task at hand: winning. It was evident in his press conferences with the media, saying "I have a job to do" and "Nobody cares" what you've been through. But it was also evident in the way the team rallied in many of the close games, fighting until the bitter end. His mantras became the team mantras, and together, they finished with a season to be incredibly proud of.
Rookie of the Year?
LE: I'm going 1994-95 NBA Rookie of the Year mode on this one – I'm giving out co-ROTY awards. It's hard to come in and make an immediate impact at any position as a rookie, let alone as a defensive back. And the Raiders seemed to have hit big in the second and fifth round on safety Tre’von Moehrig and cornerback Nate Hobbs. The two rookies were Day 1 starters since the beginning of the regular season. What makes this even more impressive is both were depended on to do very different assignments then they were accustomed to in college.
Moehrig went from being a man coverage free safety to a single-high, last line of defense safety in Gus Bradley's system. He fulfilled that role well as the Silver and Black allowed the sixth-lowest amount of pass completions over 20 yards this season. Hobbs went from playing outside cornerback at Illinois to nickel with the Raiders and was one of the best nickel cornerbacks – not just for the rookie – but in the NFL in general. His 78.8 PFF run defense grade was a testament to him being one of the best open field tacklers on the team.
EP: I had to think on this one for a while, but after much reflection, I'm going with Tre'von Moehrig. The rookie safety played – and started – all 17 games for the Las Vegas Raiders this year, and that's no easy task – especially for a young guy navigating his first NFL season. The fanbase rejoiced when the Silver and Black took Moehrig in the second round of last year's draft, and give the former TCU Horned Frog credit, he didn't disappoint them with his play in 2021. Sure, there are areas for him to improve this offseason, but Moehrig showed that he's clearly capable of being a staple on the backend of the Raiders defense for years to come.
RG: I'm taking what some may consider a dark horse candidate here and going with Divine Deablo. In the beginning of his rookie campaign, he saw most time on special teams, but when his number was called amid injury after injury to the linebacking corps, the young third-round pick brought the juice and embodied the "next man up" phrase. Not to mention, Deablo played safety in college and has been transitioning to the linebacker role since Training Camp, where he missed time with injury. He started the last five games of the season, showing his impeccable run-stopping skills, and in that span, totaled 30 tackles and one pass defensed. It may not be the craziest stat line, but I think Deablo should be commended for stepping up the way he did. Getting that experience in while also working with veterans like K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman will only strengthen Deablo for the future.
What was the biggest surprise for you this season?
LE: The biggest surprise to me was how the Raiders played against elite competition with their backs against the wall in contrast to how they played against subpar teams. The combined overall record of teams the Silver and Black defeated this season was 80-72-1 – six wins came against teams that finished with a winning record. In the Raiders' seven losses this season, the opposing teams' combined overall record was 48-54 – the Bengals and Chiefs being the only two teams off that list that made the playoffs. Another great surprise to me was how much playing on the road didn't negatively affect the Raiders this season. The team finished with a 5-4 record at home and a 5-3 record on the road – with three of those road wins being on the East Coast.
EP: The Gus Bradley Effect. Going back to last year, we all knew the Gus Bradley hire was one of the biggest moves of the offseason, but I'll be honest, I didn't think he would essentially transform the Silver and Black's defense in his first nine months on the job. With very few exceptions, the Raiders defense unquestionably held up their end of the bargain week in and week out, showing a dramatic improvement from what we saw in 2020. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue indeed became one of the premier pass rush duos in the NFL, and Denzel Perryman became a Pro Bowler in his first year in Silver and Black. The expectation coming into 2021 was that from top to bottom, the defense would be better – had to be better – but credit to Bradley and his staff for really elevating the group in a way that surpassed my expectations.
RG: Look, this is my first season with the team so there were a lot of surprises for me, but the amount of overtime, down-to-the-wire games? And then to win all four of them? That's unheard of – and also gave me a few gray hairs. Truly, while those games were stressful for those of us watching, I can't imagine how it felt out on the field. Those Raiders were hungry to get it done for themselves, their coaches and for Raider Nation, and their resiliency showed week after week. Those games, for me, made this season what it was.
Which game/moment do you think was the defining game/moment of the season?
LE: The head coaching debut of Rich Bisaccia in Denver was the season-defining moment for me. After the resignation of Jon Gruden, the team could've folded. Instead, they rallied behind Bisaccia and played some of the best football they had the entire season. Derek Carr threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns and the defense forced a season-high four turnovers. Six more wins after that would come for the Raiders in path to their playoff berth. Were there more exciting, nail-bitting moments for the Raiders this season? Absolutely. Was this their most important win in the grand scheme of their season? Probably not. But when it comes down to a game that defined the Raiders' resilient, find-a-way-to-win type of season – I put my finger on this game and the way the players fought for their new coach.
EP: Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns. Going into that game, the Silver and Black were coming off a tough loss to the rival Kansas City Chiefs, and after dropping four of their past five, Derek Carr and Co., were hanging on to their postseason dream by the thinnest of threads. Put it this way, they were playing for their season on Dec. 20, as wild as that sounds. And after finally getting a chance to play the game – it should have been played 24 hours earlier, but I digress – the Raiders took care of business, and flew back to Vegas with a much-needed W. From there, we all know what happened. They rattled off three more wins, punching their ticket to the postseason in perhaps the most dramatic way possible. That final month of the season for Raider Nation was a spectacular ride, but if the Silver and Black hadn't won that game in Cleveland, we'd be singing a different tune today.
RG: It was a real rollercoaster, and with the ups and downs, there's so many moments that could be the moment. But the biggest for me was defeating a Colts team that seemed like a shoo-in for the playoffs. It felt like everyone had written off the Raiders. Their two previous wins came against the COVID-riddled Browns, and some banged up Broncos, but they were still wins after that rough loss to KC. The Silver and Black shut out the noise, doing everything they could to stay in it and the victory against Indy gave them a giant push to keep postseason hopes alive and the chance to control their own destiny – when just a few weeks before, their odds of making the playoffs were at 11%. Not to mention the momentum from the Week 17 win no doubt had a hand in rocketing them to an electric win over the Chargers in primetime to end the regular season.
View photos of the leaders on offense and defense for the Silver and Black during the 2021 season.