The Las Vegas Raiders have reached the halfway point in the season, and with that comes a few pleasant surprises and some concerning disappointments.
The Las Vegas Raiders have kicked off the season winning five of their first eight games — all while facing the toughest schedule of any team in the NFL.
They’ve received contributions from many players off the bench, filing key voids from injured starters. With the offense clicking and showing they can win by the way of the rushing attack or through the air, the Raiders desperately need their defense to step up down the stretch run.
The current playoff picture has the Raiders with the No. 6 seed and would face the Bills in Buffalo. There’s still work to be done and improvements to be made, but the Raiders look like a team on the rise thus far.
Here’s our midseason analysis for the Raiders through Week 9:
QB Derek Carr
Since Jon Gruden’s arrival back on the sideline for the Raiders, the chatter about Derek Carr being the team’s quarterback has increased nearly every offseason.
Carr has his doubters — many of them. But so far in 2020, Carr is making a valid case to be playing the best football of his seven-year career. Carr showed his potential in 2016 when he finished third in the MVP voting, but nobody has quite seen that same performance since then.
Well, until now.
Carr in 2016: 63.8 completion percentage, 3,937 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions
Carr on pace for in 2020: 69.8 completion percentage, 4,004 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions
Not only is Carr putting up better statistical numbers, but he’s doing so with a team that’s endured several injuries to the receiving core and the offensive line. And most importantly, his confidence appears to be as high as it’s been in quite some time, leading the Raiders to a 5-3 start — his best start to a season since 2016.
Las Vegas Raiders Midseason Rookie of the Year
WR Henry Ruggs III
Gruden is on the record for wanting his own version of Tyreek Hill. His rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III — provides a similar vertical dimension to Hill and has thrived when given the opportunity to do so. The issue is the volume of targets in which Gruden has dialed up plays for his No. 12 overall selection.
Ruggs hasn’t been overwhelming spectacular, but neither have the other rookies in the Raiders 2020 draft class. That reason alone, it wasn’t difficult for Ruggs to earn this nomination of the Raiders best rookie through the midpoint of the season.
When Carr and Ruggs do connect, it’s often for a large gain. The former Alabama wide out is averaging 22 yards per reception in his first NFL season.
The Raiders already have a quality group of complements such as running back Josh Jacobs, receiver Hunter Renfrow, who works over the middle of the field in the slot position and tight end Darren Waller, who lines up in a variety of alignments, making Ruggs the guy who can officially top of the foundation that Gruden has brought abroad for Carr and company.
Las Vegas Raiders Biggest Surprise
WR Nelson Agholor
When the Raiders signed Nelson Agholor last offseason, most assumed he would strictly be a depth piece to a young receiving group and not much more. Instead, he’s been nearly the exact opposite.
Currently, Agholor is playing like the Raiders’ primary wide receiving threat and one that Carr tends to lean on when attempting deep passes. Ruggs is hauling in passes for an average of 20.4 yards per reception — which leads the NFL through Week 9 among qualified pass-catchers.
Agholor leads the Raiders in receiving touchdowns with five on the season while also catching passes at a 68% clip — the highest of his six-year career.
This season, the Raiders have heavily relied on the “next-man-up” mentality with the revolving door of injuries, and Agholor has embodied that, delivering when it matters most.
Midseason Biggest Disappointment
LB Cory Littleton
Cory Littleton signed a lucrative three-year, $35.2 million contract last offseason, making him the highest-paid defensive player on the Raiders. Once players sign a contract in which they take up a bulk of the team’s cap space, lofty expectations are destined to follow. Unfortunately for the Raiders, his contract isn’t looking to age well through the early stages of the two-sided agreement.
The Raiders linebacker play has been abysmal for nearly the last decade. The hope was Littleton would change that, but instead, it’s been Nick Kwiatkoski who’s shined the most on the second level thus far.
Littleton is on pace to allow 68 catches and 772 yards when being in coverage this season — both would be career highs.
It’s still early to judge Littleton’s overall capability as he is making a transition into a new defensive system, but things don’t point in the positive direction for the Raiders up to this point.
Midseason Comeback Player
RB Devonte Booker
Jacobs was plenty good last season, but the Raiders still lacked a true thumper that could lighten the load when he needed a breather. Devonte Booker was initially thought of as a camp body in training camp. Now, he’s cemented himself into an intricate part of the Raiders’ rushing attack.
Booker has averaged 6.8 yards per carry on 33 attempts this season. Additionally, his 27.9 yards per game aren’t anything that will shatter the stat sheet, but nonetheless, he fills a void that the Raiders desperately missed last season.
After his 2019 season in Denver where Booker only saw two carries all year, it appeared the end was near for his career. Clearly, that’s not the case as Booker has revitalized himself in Las Vegas behind the Raiders’ stout offensive line in 2020.
Coaching Performance of the First Half of 2020
The collective groan let out by Raider Nation when Jon Gruden hired Tom Cable as offensive line coach was loud. Cable, in his return to the Raiders, wasn’t looked at with much enthusiasm. But if 2020 is any indication of what kind of coach Cable is, boy were many people wrong.
Having yet to have his entire starting offensive line play a full game in 2020, Cable has molded the likes of Denzelle Good, Brandon Parker, and Sam Young into better players capable of starting when needed. The development of right tackle Kolton Miller speaks volumes to how good of a coach Cable has been in his return to the Raiders.