At long last, the Raiders are set to embark on a new era in the franchise's history, officially making the move to Sin City and calling Las Vegas home this offseason. Of course, the official move to Las Vegas would've had much more fanfare had it not been for the current COVID-19 pandemic likely keeping fans outside of Allegiant Stadium for its inaugural season. Nevertheless, 2020 is set to be an interesting year for the on-field product as head coach Jon Gruden heads into his third year steering the ship and GM Mike Mayock rolls into Year 2.
Across the board, the AFC West is growing into one of the tougher divisions in the league after the Chiefs were able to fully ascend to become Super Bowl champions, the Broncos loaded up on offense this offseason around second-year quarterback Drew Lock, and the Chargers hope to have found their quarterback of the future with No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert.
Meanwhile, the Raiders haven't remained quiet, making a number of noteworthy transactions over the last several months. They were able to ink linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski to deals, bring in safeties Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath, and shockingly lure Jason Witten away from Dallas. The Raiders also brought in some high-level talent via the draft by selecting receiver Henry Ruggs and corner Damon Arnette in the first round.
With most of the roster shuffling now concluded, it's time for Gruden to see which pieces fit where and to watch as a number of position battles take place over the course of training camp. The downside to this pandemic-engulfed summer is that we won't be able to see these position battles bleed into game reps after the NFL and NFLPA agreed to forgo the preseason. In any event, these battles will be pivotal to the Raiders getting off to a hot start as they begin the Las Vegas era.
The Raiders spent a second-round pick in 2019 on corner Trayvon Mullen and, over the course of his rookie season, that pick looks like it'll pan out after the 22-year-old totaled 10 passes defended, one interception and 50 tackles over 16 games (10 starts). For 2020, he'll have a starting spot pretty much locked up, so we'll be looking at the starting position opposite of him that is still up for grabs. That'll be a battle between veteran Prince Amukamara, 2020 first-rounder Damon Arnette, and possibly second-year man Isaiah Johnson.
Amukamara is the most seasoned of the trio as he brings a wealth of experience, entering his 10th season in the NFL. He also has 99 regular-season starts under his belt, which could give him the edge in the early going. For the Bears last season, the 31-year-old totaled 10 passes defended and 53 tackles, and was Chicago's fourth most valuable player at any position, according to Pro Football Focus' WAR metric.
While Amukamara has that pedigree and experience, the Raiders did just use one of their first-round picks on a corner in Damon Arnette, so he will get a strong look to start right out of the gate. The Ohio State product comes to Vegas after totaling eight passes defended, an interception, and 35 tackles during his final collegiate season, while also allowing the lowest passer-rating in single coverage in the 2020 draft class.
Johnson, meanwhile, missed significant time last season due to injury, but the Raiders did spend a fourth-round pick on him just last offseason, so he should get a solid look as long as he is back at full strength.
The additions of Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski this offseason have given the Raiders linebacking unit a much-needed upgrade, but the club will still be looking for a starting weakside linebacker over the course of training camp. Fourth-year linebacker Marquel Lee was set to compete for this job out of the gate, but the Raiders just placed him on the physically unable to perform list to start camp, which does put him behind the eight-ball a bit.
Now, veteran Nicholas Morrow looks to have a headstart at possibly grabbing ahold of that starting spot. Morrow played in all 16 games for the Raiders last season and was given the start eight times. Over that stretch, he was third on the team in tackles (73) while also recording four passes defended and an interception.
If you're looking for a darkhorse to compete here, rookie Tanner Muse, who was selected in the third round out of Clemson, could push these veterans with a strong camp.
3. Wide receiver
At the top, it's pretty cut and dry for the Raiders at receiver. After being selected with the No. 12 overall pick at the 2020 draft, Henry Ruggs out of Alabama is going to be an immediate starter in Las Vegas. After that, however, things could get a bit interesting.
Tyrell Williams looks like he'll hang onto his starting job for at least 2020 after leading Raiders wide receivers with 651 yards and six touchdowns over 14 games played (12 starts) in 2019. Meanwhile, second-year receiver Hunter Renfrow is the likely candidate to start at the No. 3/slot receiver spot. He turned in an impressive rookie season where he caught 49 of his 71 targets (second-highest on the team) for 605 yards and four touchdowns.
What may throw a wrench into each of their playing times, however, could be the arrival of Bryan Edwards, who was taken by the Raiders in the third round of the 2020 draft out of South Carolina. After suffering a broken foot in February while preparing for the combine, Edwards is said to be ready to go for training camp. South Carolina's all-time receiving leader is extremely talented and, if truly healthy, will push both Williams and Renfrow for snaps and targets.
4. Defensive tackle
Las Vegas inked veteran Maliek Collins to a one-year deal this offseason and likely has one of the starting defensive tackle spots already locked up. The 6-foot-2, 308 pounder was able to total four sacks and 10 quarterback hits for Dallas last season while starting all 16 games, so it won't be a shock to see him starting now in Vegas. As for the other starting position, that'll be a battle mostly between Maurice Hurst, Johnathan Hankins, and P.J. Hall. All three of these defensive tackles will likely see a lot of playing time in 2020, but the pecking order is still to be determined. Hurst showed the ability to get after the quarterback, totaling 3.5 sacks in 2019 to go along with eight quarterback hits. Meanwhile, Hankins and Hall both started on the interior last season with Hankins starting all 16 games and totaling 50 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Don't get this one too twisted -- Derek Carr is going to be the starting quarterback when the Raiders kickoff the 2020 season. But, I would say to keep an eye on Marcus Mariota, who signed with the club this offseason. He saw Ryan Tannehill snatch his job in Tennessee midseason and lead the Titans to the AFC Championship. I don't expect the same exact thing to happen to the Raiders this season, but if the offense starts to struggle under Carr over the first month or so, there will be some clamoring for Mariota, especially if he puts a strong step forward at camp. After all, GM Mike Mayock is on record saying how much he likes Mariota and would have taken him with the No. 1 overall pick when he was coming out of Oregon in 2015.
Again, this won't happen overnight or likely even at training camp, but if Mariota impresses early and Carr takes a step back this will be worth monitoring.