Don't think for one second the Las Vegas Raiders aren't stewing at seeing Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs preparing to take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. You might ask why that is, outside of the obvious and longstanding AFC West rivalry, and it's because the Raiders were one of only two teams to defeat the Chiefs this season -- the only one to do it when it mattered -- upsetting them at Arrowhead Stadium with a 40-32 haymaker heard around the world. Losing five of their last eight doomed them to an 8-8 finish and an omission from the playoffs though, and general manager Mike Mayock places some of the blame at the feet of his 2020 rookie class.
To put it plainly, he's expected to see more.
"I was disappointed in the productivity of our rookies," Mayock said, via the team's website.. "I'll be the first person to admit that."
In Mayock's second season with the club, the team attempted to finally rectify the need to give quarterback Derek Carr some weapons at receiver that would hopefully take over games but, at minimum, provide strong complement(s) to what Darren Waller is able to do as one of the best tight ends in football. To the end, they went heavy at drafting the position, using the 12th-overall pick on turbo-powered Henry Ruggs III before circling back to double dip in the third round with the selection of Lynn Bowden, Jr. and Bryan Edwards -- Bowden then being traded to the Dolphins in September.
In the end, the top three receivers on the team were Waller (as expected), Nelson Agholor and Hunter Renfrow, with Agholor being the biggest surprise of the bunch after joining the club in free agency following an unceremonious split from the Philadelphia Eagles due to issues with drops. In assessing the three rookie receivers, while Ruggs had a solid year in yardage (452), he delivered only two receiving touchdowns, fumbled twice and missed several games with injury. Edwards fared worse overall, grabbing only 193 receiving yards and one touchdown, as the veteran receivers mostly made his production a wash.
Mayock didn't pull punches on what he wants to see going forward, particularly from his former first-round pick.
"You can make excuses, you can have a conversation why," said Mayock. "Henry Ruggs -- I think is who he is, I'm not disappointed in Henry [but] I think Henry has to get better. We knew how fast he is, but he has to get stronger, and he has to get in and out of his breaks better. You got to feel him coming out his breaks more for him to get to the next level, and I think he will, but we have a long-term view on Henry Ruggs."
Ruggs wasn't the only rookie to feel Mayock's wrath though, with cornerback Damon Arnette catching heat as well. The rookie first-round pick (selected seven spots after Ruggs) missed a large chunk of the season with injury and once he returned, his contributions left much to be desired, finishing with no interceptions, no sacks and only two pass deflections in nine games played with seven starts.
"In training camp prior to injury, [Arnette] was playing really well," Mayock said. "We were really excited about Damon Arnette. He's instinctive, tough and fast, but concussions, a broken hand, COVID -- he's got to take care of business in the offseason. Nutrition, strength coach, consistency of a day-to-day program."
Mayock is holding everybody's feet to the fire this offseason, and that includes veterans who didn't step up in their 8-8 season, particularly those on the defensive side of the ball.
"The way I look at it is last year we did not have a dynamic playmaker at any level [on defense]," he added, speaking from the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. "And that's hard -- when you go into a game on Sunday and [the opponent] doesn't have to specifically gameplan for one player. When you take a step back and you go, 'Is there anybody in the building that could be a dynamic playmaker?'"
The 62-year-old went on to note he believes the Raiders have "a few guys" that might be able to step into that role, but it's clear there's still a lot of work to be done in Las Vegas before they can take the next level and potentially displace the Chiefs atop the AFC West. They're hoping hiring Gus Bradley at defensive coordinator will be a turnkey move in that mission, but Mayock is also demanding more from his players -- rookies and veterans alike.