Las Vegas Raiders with Something to Prove

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The Las Vegas Raiders head into the 2021 NFL season looking to erase doubt in critics and fans alike. After the 2020 season resulted in a pedestrian 8-8 record, the team looks to build upon limited successes they did have. All players will have to showcase their talent if Vegas is to win more than eight games; however, there are many Raiders with something personal to prove in 2021. Draft expectations, contracts, and production at the position are just some of the pressures players face during an NFL tenure. With more than just winning games on their mind, these players’ efforts in 2021 should not leave much to be desired.

Las Vegas Raiders with Something to Prove: A Look Ahead at 2021

Alex Leatherwood

Earning a first-round draft position is no easy task by NFL standards. The 17th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft saw the Raiders draft Alex Leatherwood, who enters a scenario that is more than ideal. During the off-season, the Raiders traded right tackle Trent Brown back to the New England Patriots. Leatherwood will likely fill the hole left in Brown’s place.

The former University of Alabama standout looks to quiet talk about the Raiders reaching for him in the 2021 NFL Draft. Even after an impressive Senior Bowl outing, rumors projected Leatherwood as a day-two selection on most boards. Nonetheless, the rookie will become an instant starter for the offense. Tasked with protecting quarterback Derek Carr, Leatherwood must deliver early to succeed.

Henry Ruggs

Another first-round selection, Henry Ruggs III has yet to break out as head coach Jon Gruden expected. Carr’s tendency to play conservatively as a passer is partially to blame; Ruggs, however, has struggled on his own. Hampered by injuries, his 2021 campaign saw just a few flashes of his field-stretching speed. The receiving corps in Las Vegas is not elite and the top spot on the depth chart is still uncertain. This opens the door for a breakout sophomore season for Ruggs.

With fellow second-year receiver Bryan Edwards nipping at his heels, Ruggs has all the reason to work harder in 2021. Boasting a nearly elite skillset, Ruggs is arguably the most talented offensive Raiders player with something to prove.

Clelin Ferrell

The first-round trend unfortunately continues for the Raiders. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell may have the most to prove of all, as he has yet to live up to his draft position at fourth overall. That said, more talent has joined the defensive line in Las Vegas, which could bode well for Ferrell’s production.

Conversely, Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby could dominate the position, leaving less numbers for Ferrell’s stat sheet. The former Clemson Tiger has also decided to wear number 99 in 2021. Although trivial, Ferrell converting back to his college number could be just the morale boost he needs to take a step forward next season. Entering year three, however, Ferrell is running out of time to take that step— at least in Las Vegas.

Tanner Muse

Injuries are commonplace throughout most NFL players’ careers. Tanner Muse’s rookie season as a professional was cut short by injury. Despite the injury, Muse is a player who excites both Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. A cerebral linebacker, Muse looks to show how efficiently his athletic talents translate at the NFL level.

Resilience will prove pivotal to Muse’s return to the field. Support from Cory Littleton and Nicholas Morrow should also build a foundation from which Muse can finally produce for the Raiders. On the other hand, a position switch by Divine Deablo could cost Muse necessary reps. If healthy, Muse could prove an improved asset for a suffering Raiders front seven.

Johnathan Abram

Primarily a box safety, Johnathan Abram has a target on his back headed into the 2021 season. Safety was easily the weakest position on the defense in 2020, prompting Gruden to address it in both free agency and the draft. Abram has contributed to these failures, but not for lack of trying.

His 2019 rookie season was cut short by an injury. Eager to return in 2020, Abram saw himself over-pursuing, going for big hits instead of sound tackles, and giving up big pass plays. Las Vegas hopes new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can fine-tune Abram’s instincts and fundamentals. Veteran safety Karl Joseph could also mentor Abram, as they play a similar brand of football. With depth at safety no longer a problem for the Raiders, this presents a possible obstacle for Abram. If his miscues continue, the team could (and would) bring in younger talent to phase him out.

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