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Why Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs will be Crucial to the Raiders’ Success in 2020

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The Las Vegas Raiders finished their last season in Oakland with a 7-9 record.

 

That does not sound good at first, but people are starting to realize that this Jon Gruden experiment is coming together. After finishing with a 4-12 record in the 2018 NFL season, they had three first-round picks, using one of those for Alabama running back, Josh Jacobs. This has already proven to be successful, but it did not stop there. Tight end, Darren Waller, was picked up from free agency by the Raiders in 2018, and that has proven to be successful as well. The Raiders had two first-round draft picks for the 2020 NFL Draft to improve their team even more than they already have with Jacobs and Waller last season. In this article, I will explain why Waller and Jacobs will be crucial to the Raiders’ future success.

 

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As noted earlier, the Raiders had two first-round draft picks, meaning they can further improve the squad at some key positions. Drafting Jacobs last season improved their run game immensely. For the 2018 season, they were 25th in rushing yards, rushing for a total of 1,628 yards. They were 27th in the league for rushing touchdowns, finishing the season with nine. Their leading rusher was Doug Martin with 723 yards and four touchdowns.

In 2019, they were 13th in the league for total rushing yards, finishing the season with 1,893 rushing yards. They were 19th in the league for rushing touchdowns with 13. Jacobs was their leading rusher with 1,150 rushing yards and seven touchdowns for the season.

Even though 2018 was a struggle because of Marshawn Lynch’s injury, the massive improvement from the previous seasons’ rushing game shows Jacobs has had a meaningful impact. It’s even crazier to learn that Jacobs only played in 13 games last season and that it was his rookie year. The Raiders rushing game managed to improve that much because of Jacobs playing in 13 games.

Without injuries or problems with the offensive line, Jacobs can only get better with experience. Having more time to understand Gruden’s system will help the running game even more. Since one season with Jacobs managed to jump the teams rushing yards from 25th in the league to 13th, another season to work with Gruden will be threatening for the rest of the league if nothing goes wrong.

Quiet as kept, Chucky likes to run the ball. The Raider’s improving their running game further will be crucial to their success in the hellish AFC West, where you HAVE to score points.

 

Another offensive piece that sparked out of nowhere for the Raiders last season was tight end, Darren Waller.

 

The Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft but did not use him much. The Raiders ended up signing him off the Ravens practice squad before the 2018 season. In all his three previous seasons of play (he was suspended for the 2017 season), he had a total of 18 receptions. Last season, he managed to catch 90 balls! This season seriously came out of nowhere, he produced 1,145 yards and caught three touchdowns. He even started in all 16 games. 2019 was his first season starting in more than three games, meaning the Raiders have found a diamond in the rough. Waller averaged 71.56 receiving yards per game last year, which was third in the whole league for tight ends. Travis Kelce finished 1st in that category averaging 76.81 yards per game. Waller fell short of the receiving yard per game leader for tight ends by only 5.25 yards per game.

 

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Again, this is Waller’s first season starting in more than three games; the sky is the limit for him. Zach Ertz finished the yards per game category in fourth amongst tight ends with 61.07 yards per game, meaning that Waller beat him out by a whole 10.49 yards. Waller also finished second in total receptions amongst tight ends.

The amount of action Waller was given last season can drastically increase. He was already one of the best receiving tight ends in the whole league; his only slight downside is only catching three touchdowns. That’s not the worst thing for tight ends at all; this just shows that Gruden can come up with more ways to get him involved in the end zone. Aside from last season, Gruden hasn’t had serious time to work with and improve Waller’s game.

Now, he’s had a season to learn what kind of a player he is and what he’s capable of doing. In an interview last season, Gruden said, “He leads the league in receiving right now at his position. If you’ve watched him block, I don’t know if there’s a better tight end in football, really.”

This quote not only shows that Gruden believes in Waller, but it shows that he is confident in his blocking ability as well. Gruden knows Waller is versatile and is more than likely going to get him involved in the offense in more ways next season. The Raiders showed even more trust in him by signing him to a three-year extension last season. Once again, the sky’s the limit for Waller; he will be essential for the Raider’s future success.

 

Even with the bright futures of Jacobs and Waller, many are saying the Raiders won’t be any good because of Derek Carr.

 

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Many doubt Carr because he has never caught up to the success of his 2015 season, but he did not do as bad as many think he did in 2019. He averaged the highest completion percentage of his career at 70.4 percent and finished with the highest quarterback rating of his career at 100.8. Statistics aren’t everything, but this shows he is still capable of being a great player.

Another reason people should believe he will ball out this year is that he has faced a lot of unfair criticism. It is a fact that he has not reached the level of his performances of 2015, but damn, can the guy get some consistency? In his rookie season (2014), Tony Sparano was the Raiders head coach, from 2015-2017 their head coach was Jack Del Rio, and now it is Jon Gruden. It is hard for any player to get used to a system and improve when the coach who oversees everything is constantly changing. Carr has had two years with Gruden, and going into his third camp, has a full grasp of a complicated offense. With that kind of consistency and repetition, I expect his numbers to improve drastically, just like Jacobs and Waller’s will do.

 

 

This Raiders team is bound for success in 2020. Jacobs and Waller will be crucial to it. But this is NFL football, and the man holding the ball makes all the difference in the world. Even with all of the new weapons, RaiderNation should hang their helmets on this trio from 2019.

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-Kyle Randolph – Franchise Sports Media

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