Raiders Rookies Look to Shoulder the Load in 2020

Evan Groat
Las Vegas Raiders rookies Henry Ruggs III

In 2019, the Las Vegas Raiders relied heavily on first-year players to contribute and deliver. This year the Raiders rookies will again need to contribute in a meaningful way meaning the future is now.

A big part of the progress shown by Jon Gruden’s team during the 2019 season was due in part to the efforts of the Raiders rookie class.

Running back Josh Jacobs led the way on offense rushing for 1,150 yards in 13 games and Maxx Crosby was the star on defense reaching double-digit sacks in his first season.

Without question, it was the accelerated development of the entire class including Foster Moreau, Trayvon Mullen, Hunter Renfrow, and undrafted free agent Alec Ingold who played significant snaps in their rookie seasons that have many believing the rebuild is ahead of schedule.

Now with the 2020 season just a couple of weeks away from kicking off, a new core group of Raiders rookies will be called upon early to step in and contribute.

It won’t surprise anyone when Henry Ruggs III is named as one of the starting wide receivers. After all, he was the 12th overall selection in the draft and the first in a talented group of wideouts to hear his name called on draft night.

Jon Gruden’s plans for his new offensive playmaker might change with the news this week that veteran Tyrell Williams will miss time with a torn labrum. Williams isn’t a true number one receiver but would have played a 1A, 1B role with Ruggs. Instead, Ruggs will step in from day one as Derek Carr’s number one receiver on the outside.

Speaking of expanded roles, fellow rookie Bryan Edwards is now expected to be the next man up in Williams’s absence. Edwards has been one of the bright spots in camp, getting the praises of both coaches and his teammates.

“We knew he had the pedigree, he’s the all-time leading receiver at that place (South Carolina),” Gruden said of Edwards. “But he’s physical, he’s got tremendous hands, he’s a quick learner. He’s a businessman too. He’s got a lot of other interests other than being a great receiver. He’s a really focused young man. We’re happy to have him.”

The concern for many is the idea of starting two rookie wide receivers without an offseason program and zero preseason football games.

The transition from the college game to the NFL is a difficult one, but we have seen over the years that the jump is not as big at the receiver position as it is with others. Look no further than last seasons group of rookie pass-catchers, specifically AJ Brown, Deebo Samuel, and DK Metcalf. All three had very productive rookie seasons, playing on playoff-caliber teams.

Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Bryan Edwards (89) runs a drill during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

One of the other positives that Ruggs and Edwards have going for them is the experience of playing in a big-time conference in college – the SEC. Both faced the best competition that college football has to offer on a weekly basis and have played in many big games.

On the defensive side of the ball, first round selection Damon Arnette is making a very strong case to win the right corner job opposite of Trayvon Mullen.

Heading into camp, the popular belief was that newly signed Prince Amukamara, who has 99 career starts, would keep the seat warm for Arnette while he got up to speed with playing the position in the NFL.

Apparently, Damon Arnette did not get the memo because his impressive play through training camp has him on the brink of winning a starting job. What Arnette lacks in experience he makes up for with his supreme confidence and brings a swagger to the defense that has been lacking for a long time.

“He’s a talented corner, that’s why we drafted him,” said Paul Guenther speaking of Arnette. “He’s not scared, he’s real patient at line of scrimmage and that’s a really what we expect each and every day when he gets out there.”

The optimism surrounding this Raiders rookie class is very high and for good reason, but general manager Mike Mayock’s plan is to reserve judgment until they prove it on the field.

“In particular with our rookie class,” Mayock said. “I think they’ve gotten a lot of good press, I think a lot of people are kinda tapping them on the butt, and you know what it’s not the time to anoint anyone yet. So the snapshot of the rookies has been good, but that doesn’t mean anything yet. There is an awful long way to go before we anoint anyone in this rookie class.”

The Raiders rookies have a great task ahead of them. If Las Vegas is to take the next step up, and push toward the playoffs, their young players must come through.