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Fantasy Forecast: Las Vegas Raiders

Are the Las Vegas Raiders a fantasy jackpot? Can Derek Carr save his career and help your fantasy team? Evan Brown’s got it all figured out in today’s fantasy forecast.

Once a Raider, always a Raider.

– Al Davis

The Las Vegas Raiders…yeah that is gonna take some getting used to. Just before you grab your leather suit, slick your hair back and start belting out VIVAAAAA LAS VEGAS, let’s have a quick look in the rearview at the 2019 Oakland Raiders.

2019 Recap

To say it was a mixed bag from the Black and Silver last season would be an understatement! Somehow this team managed to finish the year ranked exactly 24th overall on both offense AND defense. They were the only team to finish the exact same on both sides of the ball, and unfortunately, that finish was in the bottom third of the league. 

What went wrong? 

I believe that the “Antonio Brown Experience” went a long way towards derailing the Raiders 2019 season. We all saw it, read about it, and heard about it far too much last summer, but I don’t think we can overemphasize the impact this situation had on the team. It is NOT easy to replace an Antonio Brown level of talent at the best of times and certainly not mere weeks before the season starts. Tyrell Williams (a new addition himself) was all of a sudden thrust into the WR 1 role in Oakland practically overnight.

The newly crowned alpha receiver then began struggling with plantar fasciitis only a few weeks into the season, severely hampering his output for the rest of the campaign (Tyrell recorded 47 percent of his receiving yards and five of his six touchdowns within his first five games). With the WR core depleted, rookie RB Josh Jacobs faced a lot of loaded boxes (8+ defenders over 20% of the time). JJ himself missed a few games at the end of the season with a nagging shoulder injury, which further limited the run game. On top of all that, several injuries and a season-long suspension on the defensive side just further compounded the misery for Gruden’s boys.

 If it weren’t for bad luck, the Raiders would have had no luck in 2019.

2020 off-season

Enough of the “Bad News Bears.” Let’s peek behind the curtain at some of the key changes from this off-season and see what we can expect (other than a change of scenery) from the LAS VEGAS Raiders.

Key defensive signings:

  • LB Nick Kwiatkoski
  • LB Cory Littleton

A significant effort (and investment) has gone into plugging some of the holes on the 24th best defense of last year. Cory Littleton was undoubtedly one of the biggest free agent LB’s on the market this offseason. Kwiatkoski is no slouch himself and a low-key fantastic signing in his own right!

Key offensive signings:

  • QB Marcus Mariota
  • TE Jason Witten

Not as flashy on this side but some smart additions to give depth and leadership to the squad. Carr now has a genuine “threat” behind him at backup QB, something that hasn’t been the case in recent seasons. Witten ads another veteran presence in the locker room.

Key NFL draft picks:

  • WR Henry Ruggs III – 1st round
  • WR/RB/QB Lynn Bowden Jr. – 3rd round
  • WR Bryan Edwards – 3rd round

2020 Fantasy Outlook

Let’s have a quick look through each skill position and even dip into the IDP world for my fellow defensive degenerates and see what we can expect from the Men in Black in 2020.

Quarterback

Derek Carr 

You probably already have a strong opinion on Derek Carr. (Most fantasy owners do!) He finished around QB14-16 in most scoring formats last season and was fairly inconsistent in terms of fantasy production. I want to have a little un-biased look at the actual NFL numbers and see what we can learn from 2019. You might be surprised!

(stats courtesy of playerprofiler.com)

Synopsis = Carr takes care of the ball and is pretty accurate. He finished top 10 in True Passer Rating, Passing Yards and True Completion %. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Oakland offensive line ranked 6th in pass protection, only allowing 29 sacks all season at a 5.9% adjusted sack rate. He does have a difficult 2020 strength of schedule according to FantasyPros.com ranked at 29th in the league for QB’s. However, with that offensive line and the much-improved weapons, I still expect a rock-solid high-end QB2 season from Carr with some QB1 weeks sprinkled in. I think he is a super sneaky buy-low right now in SuperFlex leagues. (He is being drafted as QB19 in June SuperFlex ADP at dynastytradecalculator.com and is one of the cheapest starting QB’s you can buy.)

Marcus Mariota

A quick note on Mariota- while I do think it is Carr’s job to lose, there is always the chance that he does pull a “Mariota” and gets benched for the backup if his performances aren’t meeting expectations. Mariota is on a lot of waiver wires right now, or you can get him as a throw-in as part of a bigger deal. Given the weapons, in Vegas, I think he is a decent stash, especially in SuperFlex.

Running Back

Josh Jacobs

The main attraction in the backfield for the LV Raiders is going to be sophomore sensation, Josh Jacobs. He had an outstanding rookie campaign and would have had a chance of finishing as a low-end RB1 had he not missed a few games through injury down the stretch. He eclipsed the 1,100 yard rushing mark and managed 7 rushing TD’s. Jacobs managed this in only 13 games played!

(courtesy of fantasydata.com)

My main concern for JJ is the receptions. Even though he proved a competent pass-catcher in college, Gruden has chosen NOT to utilize him heavily as a receiving back. He only had 27 targets all of last year, which is NO BUENO when we are looking for stud-muffin RB1’s! The Raiders have brought back Jalen Richard AND drafted Lynn Bowden Jr., so I don’t see his pass-catching going way up in year two. I still think Jacobs will be a great fantasy asset for you in 2020 and will get the lion’s share of the rushing attempts when healthy. With the lack of passing work factored in, I would project a very high-end RB2 with RB1 upside. 

Lynn Bowden Jr.

Lynn Bowden Jr. HYPE is a real thing in dynasty at the moment! Bowden is a super intriguing all-around “weapon” at RB, WR, kick-returner, or even QB, where he spent most of his final year at Kentucky. Bowden broke or tied the following SEC/UK records:

  • most rushing yards by a quarterback school history (1,369 in eight games in 2019)
  • most rushing yards by a quarterback in a bowl game (233 vs. Virginia Tech in 2019 Belk Bowl)
  • most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback in SEC history (284 vs. Louisville in 2019)
  • tied the school records for most TDs in a game and most rushing TDs in a game (four vs. Louisville in 2019)
  • most 100-yard rushing games in a single season by a QB in school history (seven in 2019)
  • tied the school record for most 200-yard rushing games in a season and a career (three in 2019)
  • best yards per rushing attempt in a single season (7.9 in 2019)
  • most kick return yards in a single season (869 in 2017)

#mindblown

You can quickly start to see how he adds a new dimension to this offense that Gruden is building. I understand the excitement from an actual NFL perspective, but I would temper expectations for fantasy football. He is a “gadget” type player who can fill in across several positions, but the plan for him this season seems to be mostly at RB, (according to the rumor mill). I would expect him to get some of the passing-down work we want for Jacobs (annoyingly) and receive limited touches in specifically drawn up plays each week, but his only substantial value will come if Jacobs is injured.

I would prefer to stash him on my taxi squad and see how things develop this year without counting on him in my starting roster. If you own Jacobs, I would probably be sending out some offers and see what the Bowden owner wants as he would be a valuable handcuff. (It might be worth waiting till a couple of weeks into the season once rookie fever has died down a bit. As I said, Bowden hype is real!)

Wide Receiver

Tyrell Williams

As I touched on earlier in the 2019 recap, Tyrell had a Lemony Snicket’s of a season (a series of unfortunate events). The reports suggest that Williams is over his foot injury, so hopefully, health will not be a concern this season. Given the madness that is the Covid-19 world we live in and the lack of rookie camps etc., it would NOT surprise me to see Gruden stick with Williams at least at the start of the season as his WR1.

Gruden tends to love a good “vet” on the team (see Jason Witten signing). Bryan Edwards is just recovering from his foot injury, so I can’t see him taking on a significant workload early on. I think Williams is a sneaky value for 2020, especially in deeper leagues as a flex option. His ADP has dropped him to WR80 so he can be drafted or traded for very very cheaply. I would project him in the WR3/4 range this season based on current circumstances.

Rookie Double Dip

Henry Ruggs III

The new hotness in Las Vegas is the 1st round rookie WR Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama. Ruggs is an absolute speed-demon (4.27 40 at this year’s combine!) and an underrated route runner that can break a game with a single play. Taken as the 1st WR in the draft, it shows what sort of expectations the Raiders have for him. Gruden and Mayock believe in him, and he certainly brings an element to the team they didn’t have last season.

The main question for me: will he do more for the NFL Raiders then he will for your fantasy team? Gruden doesn’t tend to do a lot of deep-ball, gun-slinging in his offenses, and Carr is notorious for not loving the deep ball himself (2.9 attempts/game in 2019). Is he just a smokescreen to make room for Jacobs, Waller, and Renfrow underneath? Or will they utilize him in a Deebo Samuel type role with screens and handoffs to take advantage of his next-level speed? In terms of my 2020 dynasty roster, I am maintaining somewhat reserved expectations for Ruggs until I can see how he fits into the offense and adjusts to life in the NFL. I would feel most confident stashing him on the taxi squad this season. Maybe a flex play in deeper leagues. If utilized properly though the sky’s the limit for this guy!

Bryan Edwards

Edwards only fell to the 3rd round because of an injury concern combined with a ridiculously deep WR class. Make no mistake about it though, Bryan Edwards is a BALLER.

He finished his career at South Carolina:

  • 1st place all-time receptions: 234 receptions
  • 1st place all-time receiving yards: 3,045 yards
  • 2nd place all-time receiving touchdowns: 22 receiving touchdowns
  • 1st place all-time consecutive games with a reception: 48 straight games with a catch

I love me some Bryan Edwards! I genuinely believe he is the future WR1 for the Raiders, and they got an absolute steal on him in the draft. All that said, I don’t expect much from him this season. He is just recovering from a foot injury, rookie WR’s can be notoriously slow starters at the best of times, and combine all that with such a weird pre-season, and I wouldn’t want to be counting on him in my starting lineup this year. He is one of the main players I am hoping to buy-low on a few weeks into the season when rookie fever has died down, and teams are all focusing on winning NOW.

Hunter Renfrow

Mr. Renfrow is someone I AM excited about for this season. Hunter was only a 5th round pick in 2019 but ended up being one of the more productive rookie WR’s with 605 yards and 4 TD’s in only 13 games. If you dig a little deeper it gets even more intriguing, as highlighted here by the one and only Evan Silva:

With rookie WR’s you want to look at how they ended the season and not just the season totals. The adjustment to the NFL can and does take time for most rookies. Renfrow had 35 of his 49 catches in the last seven weeks, and he ended the season on back-to-back 100-yard games! The main reason I am even more excited about Renfrow is his price tag. His current ADP is WR63. He just isn’t a “sexy” name, and people are probably focusing on season totals when evaluating his potential. I’m not projecting a top 20 WR, but I believe he should be a viable flex option for you, especially in PPR leagues (hopefully ALL of you are in PPR leagues!), and he is dirt cheap. 

Tight End

Darren Waller

Only one name to focus on here, my main man, Darren Waller, aka the Wallerus (shout out to the Fantasy Footballers). Waller smashed everyone’s expectations last season and finished as the TE3 in ppr. Let’s run through a brief overview of the Wallerus’ 2019 season and discuss some reasons I believe he will still be a fantasy stud in 2020. 

(stats courtesy of playerprofiler.com)

Waller was on the field a LOT, ran a lot of routes, had a lot of targets, and a LARGE target share. The anti-Wallerus contingent argues that his production was simply a “perfect storm” of opportunity, and he will simply disappear now that there are more options in town. My take on it would be very different. I believe Waller should see a big increase in touchdowns this season (only three last season), and the improvements on offense will help the overall pace of play for the Raiders.

Other factors worth considering are:

  •  Waller signed a multi-year extension in Oct. (This contract extension happened BEFORE Foster Moreau got injured, just for the record.)
  • If you listen to Jon Gruden talk about his brand of football, he loves utilizing TE’s. He has talked about wanting not only Waller and Moreau on the field together but also finding ways of getting a 3rd TE out there! 
  • Waller was also ranked 2nd for YAC (Yards After Catch) and 1st in Contested Catch Rate last season among TE’s. 

The Wallerus is a very efficient pass-catcher with a tremendous athletic profile that can maximise any targets he receives. He already has a great rapport with Carr and the trust of Gruden; this isn’t going to disappear just because a couple of new rookie WR’s come into town. I would be extremely confident Waller is a high-end TE1 again this season. 

Foster Moreau

The only other TE worth mentioning would be young Foster Moreau. He had a promising rookie year, which was unfortunately cut short by a season-ending knee injury in week 13. Moreau finished the 2019 campaign with 21 catches for 174 yards and five touchdowns. Reports suggest he should be hopefully ready to start the season on time. I would not expect serious fantasy production this season from Moreau but he’s certainly a dynasty stash for the future, especially in any TE premium format.

IDP

For all my fellow defensive degenerates out there, I will do my best to break down the IDP players for the new look Las Vegas Raiders. WARNING! This is my first attempt to write about IDP players as I am still learning the ropes on this side of the game. (Also, if you haven’t tried IDP yet, you SHOULD!)

LBs:

Cory Littleton

Littleton was the marquee signing of the off-season for the Raiders and filled a massive hole at ILB for them. This signing was a real statement of intent as he was one of the top LB’s on the free-agent market this off-season.

(courtesy of NFL.com)

Littleton has been putting up some monster numbers for the Rams the last couple of years and has gone from an undrafted rookie to one of the top coverage linebackers in the NFL during that time. Seeing as the Raiders had the fifth-worst pass coverage unit in 2019, this was a MASSIVE area of need.

Sometimes moving teams is not a great thing for players in fantasy football, especially in IDP, but I have 0 concerns with this move for Littleton, and I would put him as a rock-solid LB1 for 2020. 

Nick Kwiatkoski

As excellent as Littleton is in coverage, he is a bit of a liability against the run. According to PFF, he had a 103rd-ranked 50.8 grade out of 126 qualified linebackers over the last two seasons. Enter Nick Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski was another free agency signing, this time from the Chicago Bears. Nick is far much better against the run, so should (in theory) create a fantastic dynamic-duo with his fellow 1st year Raider. Nick only played 512 defensive snaps last year but still managed to put up some fantastic numbers in his limited role for the Bears.

(courtesy of lineups.com)

I believe both Cory and Nick will be playable each week. Cory will be the higher drafted and more sought after name, but I have a sneaky suspicion Nick could be the better value this year, compared to how much you will have to pay to get him. He is probably my favorite IDP buy-low candidate for the Raiders. It wouldn’t surprise me to see LB2 numbers from him.

DE:

Maxx Crosby

(courtesy of giphy.com)

“Mad” Maxx defied all expectations and had a fantastic rookie campaign finishing as a DE1 in most scoring formats. Most people seem to be firmly on board the Crosby hype train and I admit I am one of them.

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

There are a couple of points to note to help keep expectations realistic for Crosby’s sophomore season. Maxx achieved 40% of his sacks in one game last year, against a TERRIBLE Bengals offensive line. His sack rate was a potentially unsustainable 2.5% in 2019, and he had a substantially lower pressure rate than fellow rookie standout Nick Bosa. All that being said, I love Mad Maxx. I love his heart and how hard he plays, and I certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of underestimating Maxx AGAIN! I think he will work his tail off and improve his game in his 2nd year. What he achieved in his rookie season has guaranteed him a starting job in 2020, and I project him as a low-end DE1/high end DE2 this season.

Clelin Ferrell

After his incredibly disappointing rookie campaign, I think Clelin is a fantastic buy-low opportunity for the 2020 season. He has the draft capital (4th overall pick in 2019), he has the college pedigree (27 sacks in 3 years at Clemson), and he has a seemingly improved defense to help him. I am all about nabbing Ferrell on the cheap if possible. 

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

The stats aren’t that inspiring as a whole, but I find it very intriguing how Ferrell ended the 2019 campaign. According to PFF, from Weeks 11 to 15, his grades went 62.5, 71.4, 71.9, 73.2, and in Week 15, he managed a grade of 90.8, which PFF scores as an ELITE performance. There was a clear upwards trajectory at the end of the season for this post-hype sleeper, and I think he will take another step forward in year two. 

DB:

Johnathan Abram S

Abram is, without a doubt, the most exciting prospect in the LV secondary. A highly touted college prospect, he was drafted in the first round and was a week one starter. Unfortunately, he missed the entire year with a severe shoulder injury, so we only have draft capital and college production to go off of when projecting 2020. 

(courtesy of sports-reference.com)

Johnathan has a reputation as a sure tackler, good blitzer, and very physical and aggressive defender. There is still a lot of buzz around Abram, so I don’t think you will get much of an injury discount when going into his sophomore season. If he can stay fit, I would expect excellent production from him in the Raider’s secondary and look for him to be a low-end S1/ high-end S2 in most formats.

Summary:

I would say I am cautiously optimistic for the Las Vegas Raiders going into 2020. Contrary to popular opinion, I like Jon Gruden and believe he is a good coach. I think he is wanting to rebuild the glory days of hard-hitting fast paced Raider’s football, and I’m here for it! I like a lot of the moves they are making, and I’m excited to see what the Black and Silver are building in the desert. In terms of fantasy production, I think the main guys I will be counting on would be Jacobs, Waller, and potentially Carr in a SuperFlex format.

Go out and kick some tires and see if you can snag Hunter Renfrow or even Tyrell Williams in any 12-16 team leagues and try to buy-low on future WR1 Bryan Edwards once the season gets going and rookie fever has died down! For you IDP’ers out there don’t forget to go and check on Nick Kwiatkoski’s availability and thank me later!

Hit me up on Twitter @FFEvanlution if you want to chat anything dynasty fantasy football related.

Until next time: keep learning, keep trading, and keep grinding!

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