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FSM Presents: 2021 Raiders Position Preview- Special Teams

Franchise Sports Media


After covering every position group for the upcoming 2021 Las Vegas Raiders roster, it is kind of fitting that we at Franchise Sports Media finish with the special teams unit. Always undervalued, rarely given the emphasis needed, often the reason games are won and lost for the silver and black is due to its special teams units.



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Rich Bisaccia is coaching the units once again, now in his 38th year of coaching overall, his 11th with head coach Jon Gruden, and his fourth with the Raiders. Admittedly, I did not have a lot of detailed information on Bisaccia upon his hire with Gruden’s original staff in 2018, but I have seen enough to assess him in the first three years in Oakland and Las Vegas.

And well, results for Bisaccia’s units, like most of the staff, have been uneven. Per Football Outsiders, here is how the Raiders have finished in the last three years in special teams DVOA (you know, Defense-adjusted Value over Average).


  • 2018-22nd
  • 2019-25th
  • 2020-13th

The main culprits have been the kickoff return and punting units, neither of which has finished in the top half of these statistics on a per-play basis in the last three years. A straight line can be pointed at the release of enigmatic but talented Pro Bowl punter Marquette King. In the prior season (2017), the Raiders finished 10th in punting DVOA.

Overall, the special teams units under previous coach Jack Del Rio were 19th, 14th, and 17th from 2015-2017. Not world-beating, but statistically and visibly better.


As for the kickoff return game, or lack thereof, the Raiders have not had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Jacoby Ford’s run in 2011. That includes when the dynamic Cordarrelle Patterson was a Raider, which represents the only team he has played for and not had a kick return for a touchdown with in his career. Amazing. And not in a good way.


It is not just the big plays, however. It is often the lack of what I call default field position that has hurt the Raiders. What I mean by default is the standard 25-yard starting line when a touchback is made. Las Vegas averaged a paltry 19 yards per kickoff return in 2020, good for 30th in the league. That correlates directly with the fact that the team is in the bottom 12 of the team’s starting position since 2018. The fact the offense scored 434 points despite this last year was a statistical anomaly.

All of which is to say, this unit has to be improved to help the Raiders offense sustain success and to assist the defense in gaining a measure of success. Despite the struggles overall, the main members of the units will largely be back.


Projected starters:

  • Kicker-Daniel Carlson
  • Punter-A.J. Cole
  • Long snapper-Trent Sieg
  • Kickoff returner-Jalen Richard
  • Punt returner-Hunter Renfrow


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Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Bottari

Let’s start with Carlson. The fourth-year kicker out of Auburn has had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde career with the Raiders so far. Even number years have been good to him, as he went 16 for 17 in 2018 and 33 for 35 on field goals in 2020. Carlson struggled somewhat in 2019, going just 19 for 26 and also missing two extra points. Considering the club re-signed him for $3.38 million in the offseason, the front office is betting that he does not come up snake-eyes in 2021.

Beyond the obvious of field goal kicking, the other net positive from Carlson’s bounce-back 2020 season was his increased power on kickoffs, sending a career-high 64.2% of those kicks in to or out of the end zone for touchbacks.

Next up is Raiders punter A.J. Cole. The third-year man out of North Carolina State saw a little regression, dropping from an even 46 yards per gross punt in 2019 to just 44.1 yards in 2020. However, some context is required here. One, the Raiders offense required Cole on the field much less in his second season, attempting just 44 punts versus the 67 in his rookie 2019 season.

The biggest improvement in Cole’s game was the ability to pin opposing offenses deep. Of his 44 punts, 20 were downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, tied for a respectable 17th in the league. Considering that of the players ranked ahead of him, only two had fewer punts than Cole: Tennessee’s Brett Kern (37) and Carolina’s Joseph Charlton (42). Cole also had six touchbacks in 2020, the same as in 2019, but on 23 fewer punts.

Ultimately, Cole can stand to improve his overall net yardage (40.1 yards), which was just 19th in the league. The more opportunities the Raiders defense has with a pinned offense to stop, the better its chances to improve in 2021.

Long snapper Trent Sieg is in his third year at the position, replacing long-time Raider Jon Condo. Like offensive linemen, the less you know about a long snapper’s work, the better they typically are. And to keep this short and sweet, Sieg hasn’t had a botched snap in his three years. Kudos to him.


Probably the most tenuous of all these positions is kickoff return. That comes back to the fact that it still is not a given that incumbent returner Jalen Richard will have a spot on the 53 man roster come August 31st.


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Photo Credit: Associated Press

Richard has been largely mediocre as a returner, with a 20.9 career return average on kickoffs. Given the aversion to risk for someone faster and more dynamic like Henry Ruggs III, it is likely that if Richard remains on the roster, he will continue to man this position by default. Personally, I hope that means many more touchbacks.


The player I am most excited about in this unit is the newly established punt returner, Hunter Renfrow. The Slot Machine as a few others have coined him, definitely surprised with his combination of quickness, wiggle, and ability to set up his blocks in the punt return game. He averaged a very nice 11.5 yards per return, and that would have been higher had a couple of long returns not been called back because of penalties.

Only Dwayne Harris in 2018 had a better average returning punts, and without the genius level 99 yard return he had against Denver that season, his totals would have been less than Renfrow’s 2020 campaign. So this is definitely the high point of the entire special teams and keeping Renfrow healthy is paramount given his importance to the passing game.


So there you have it. The primary players on the special teams unit on the surface do not appear to be that bad. Ultimately, the key is not about the immediate starters, but the men that will make up the coverage teams. The blockers, the gunners, the tacklers. The Raiders have lacked a discipline in these units that have cost them and with a margin for error not as wide as other elite teams in the NFL, it will be incumbent to get viable contributions from those players.


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CJ Baldwin – Franchise Sports Media

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