The Raiders didn’t make the playoffs. A four-game, late-season losing streak killed what could have been a rags-to-riches story in the second year of Jon Gruden’s reign.
But even with all that went wrong in 2019 for the franchise – which is now pulling up its Oakland stakes to move to Las Vegas – the Raiders have reasons to be optimistic in 2020.
As longtime Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted this week, this year’s draft class was dynamic. Running back Josh Jacobs could be the league’s Rookie of the Year on offense. Hunter Renfrow started at wide receiver, as did Trayvon Mullen at cornerback. Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell were strengths at defensive end. Tight end Foster Moreau showed he has significant potential. And safety Johnathan Abram and cornerback Isaiah Johnson impressed coaches and teammates, yet had little to no playing time and are possible impact players in Year 2.
Yet even with injuries, growing pains and the distractions of the Antonio Brown situation and the move from Oakland, the Raiders still had a slim shot at the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
After a 4-12 season a year ago, a jump to 7-9 was significant.
“If you had said in training camp the Raiders would be in the hunt come Week 17, you would have taken it,” wrote Gutierrez.
Now, as the team and its fans look toward 2020, there are reasons for more improvement a year from now, even besides this crop of rookies.
Wrote Gutierrez: “(GM Mike) Mayock and Gruden have two first-round picks next year and, as Gruden notes, the Raiders have five picks in the top 90 selections.” That could net a high-impact wideout and more defensive playmakers.
Plus, QB Derek Carr – despite some disappointing games – had a relatively strong season and seems eager to play in Las Vegas (if the team wants to continue to go with him). As Gutierrez pointed out, even with a lackluster receiving corps, Jacobs’ late-season injury and problems on the offensive line, Carr improved.
The team that tied for the worst record in the NFL in 2018 made strides, finishing 22nd in NFL.com’s final power rankings and 20th in ESPN’s and Bleacher Report’s. The Raiders moved up from a Tier 4 team in 2018 to Tier 3 in 2019’s Bleacher Report rankings.
With another solid offseason, it’s easy to see the Raiders taking another big step in 2020.