In their first season in Las Vegas, the Raiders took another step forward under Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock but came up short of the postseason for the fourth-straight year, stumbling down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games, and finishing 8-8.
While the product on the field improved, Mayock said he wanted to see more from his rookie class.
“I was disappointed in the productivity of our rookies, I’ll be the first person to admit that,” the Raiders general manager said, via the team’s official website. “You can make excuses, you can have a conversation why. Henry Ruggs, I think is who he is, I’m not disappointed in Henry; 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.
“(Damon) Arnette was the other first-rounder. In training camp prior to injury, he was playing really well. 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.”
The Raiders had seven draft picks in 2020: wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, cornerback Damon Arnette, running back Lynn Bowden, WR Bryan Edwards, linebacker Tanner Muse, guard John Simpson and CB Amik Robertson.
Vegas bailed on Bowden quickly, trading him to Miami before the season started. Muse suffered a foot injury and didn’t play a snap. Simpson played about as well as you’d expect for a mid-round rookie offensive lineman in spot duty. Robertson appeared in eight games, earning four tackles and no passes defended. Edwards played in 12 games with three starts, catching just 11 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown. Arnette appeared in just nine games (seven starts), earning 25 tackles and two passes defended. And Ruggs earned 26 catches for 452 yards and two scores in 12 games.
Clearly injuries played a role, but none of the 2020 class had a big influence on the season. The late-season swoon, when rookies either become difference-makers or hit a wall, could be a direct result of younger players not stepping to the forefront deep into the season.
Mayock knows the 2021 picks must hit for Vegas to take the next step. Getting improvements in Year 2 from the 2020 rookies would also be a big boon.
The GM is specifically intent on upgrading the defense this season, in the first year with new coordinator Gus Bradley.
“Well, you have to start on defense,” Mayock said in a separate interview with The Athletic. “And, to be honest with you, it’s all three levels. We’ve got to rush the quarterback better; we’ve got to play better at the linebacker position and our young defensive backs have got to be more cohesive and play better. You can make excuses, which I don’t want to do. We’ve got a really young defensive backfield. It was a COVID year. I think we had a bunch of injuries. John Abram did not practice much all year. Our first-round pick, Arnette, had a couple concussions and COVID. We just never got it going on the back end. Some of those guys were drafted high and they need to play better.”
Mayock’s message is clear: The Raiders need more out of their young players in 2021, or they might once again get shut out of the postseason.