NFL young talent: No. 20 Raiders have a few elite players and a lot of questions

The Las Vegas Raiders are a top-heavy team. They have two premier players in edge rusher Maxx Crosby and running back Josh Jacobs, both of whom are ranked easily inside the top seven at their positions. Then the Raiders’ young talent falls off a steep cliff.

Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden ran three drafts from 2019-2021. Between misevaluations and tragic off-field incidents, their draft picks did not hit. 

The Raiders drafted three players in the first round of the 2019 draft and only Josh Jacobs is on the roster. They did hit Maxx Crosby in the fourth round and Hunter Renfrow in the fifth. Only one of the seven draftees from the 2020 class remains on the roster, with fourth-round pick Amik Robertson on the back end of the cornerback depth chart. 

The Raiders’ 2021 first-round pick is playing for the Bears, their second-round pick has underachieved and third-round pass rusher Malcolm Koonce has two sacks in 22 games (zero starts).

Young core

P AJ Cole

OLB Maxx Crosby

RB Josh Jacobs

TE Michael Mayer

S Tre’Von Moehrig

WR Hunter Renfrow

DE Tyree Wilson

A behind the scenes look at Maxx Crosby on and off the field

A behind the scenes look at Maxx Crosby on and off the field

Standout: Maxx Crosby

Josh Jacobs might get the national spotlight, as one of the NFL’s best running backs. But he’s not the most important Raider.

In four NFL seasons, Maxx Crosby, who turns 26 in a few weeks, has established himself as a premier pass-rusher. Crosby was voted an All-Pro in 2021 and has made the Pro Bowl in two straight seasons. Crosby has 43 total sacks in his short career, including 15 last season. That number is impressive on its own, but considering how often the Raiders have been behind in games, it’s downright stunning.

He’s got fewer opportunities to see offensive linemen in one-on-one opportunities than his peers. Not only does Crosby close on quarterbacks, he’s able to influence the quarterback by being around him more often than not. According to Pro Football Focus Crosby was third in total pressures last season.

Crosby is able to consistently win with his good length and elite athleticism. For such a young player, he’s got a toolbox of refined pass-rush moves. He’s able to stress offensive tackles with his ability to win while working both edges. His ability to counter and layer moves is special and keeps offensive tackles guessing.

Crosby is also an outstanding run defender. He shocks offensive tackles and uses his power to stun and shed those players out of his way. He was the fourth-highest-graded edge defender against the run according to Pro Football Focus.

Potential Breakout: Tre’von Moehrig

The thirdyear safety was drafted in the middle of the second round in 2021 and has yet to live up to his draft status. He’s graded near the bottom of the safety group by Pro Football Focus. While he’s an adept tackler, his poor coverage skills outweigh any positives. 

Moehrig’s passer rating allowed was 132.7 in only 40 targets last season. Twenty-nine of those targets were caught, for an average of 12.2 yards per reception. Now that we have that out of the way, there’s optimism within the organization that he will reach his potential in year three. 

The addition of safety Marcus Epps, who started every game for the Eagles in 2022, has been huge for him. Moehrig has played more confidently in camp and there’s hope that it carries over into the regular season.

Contracts to consider

RB Josh Jacobs

The Raiders’ starting running back is playing the 2023 season under the franchise tag. While Jacobs has not signed his tag and is not in camp, he won’t miss out on 10 million dollars by not playing this season. I believe there’s almost no chance Jacobs is back in a Raiders uniform in 2024.

There’s an ongoing discussion about the monetary value of running backs in the NFL and this isn’t the place to continue that discourse. Josh Jacobs is an outstanding talent who rushed for a career-high 1653 yards last season as the Raiders won just six games. Jacobs logged 340 carries, which was nearly 70 more than any other season of his career. In the lone year the Raiders made the playoffs in his four seasons, he only had 217 carries for 872 yards. 

Expect Josh Jacobs & Raiders to agree on contract extension?

Expect Josh Jacobs & Raiders to agree on contract extension?

This Raiders front office is not the group that drafted him, and there’s no allegiance or emotional connection to him. The Raiders will win or lose this season based on how QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the defense play. That is the harsh reality for the running back position in the NFL.

WR Hunter Renfrow

Hunter Renfrow was not drafted by this front office. He was injured for parts of last season and his production dropped. In 2021, a season in which he made the Pro Bowl, Renfrow caught 103 passes, which makes him the third Raider ever to tally at least 100 receptions in a season.

He’s had good days in a Raiders uniform. However, it seems unlikely this staff will keep him around. They’ve released or traded nearly every player from the previous administration who’s not a left tackle, their best pass-rusher or top running back. With the Raiders having to rebuild next offseason after they likely struggle, I don’t think Renfrow will be in their plans.

Key stats

  • Among all defensive linemen in 2022, Maxx Crosby ranked first in tackles for loss (22), second in total tackles (88), tied for fourth in sacks (12.5), tied for first in forced fumbles (three) and second in quarterback hits (36).
  • Through four seasons, Josh Jacobs has totaled 4,740 career rushing yards, surpassing Marcus Allen (4,638) for the most rushing yards by a Raiders back through their first four seasons.
  • AJ Cole ranked fourth in average gross yards per punt (48.9) on 59 attempts in 2022, downing 26 punts inside the 20-yard line en route to his second career Pro Bowl selection.
  • Tyree Wilson’s 18% pressure percentage was the second-highest in FBS last season, after UCLA’s Laiatu Latu. The first-round pick totaled 61 tackles (36 solo), including 14.0 for a loss and 7.0 sacks in 10 games.
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