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Las Vegas Raiders: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders have a new general manager and head coach and Derek Carr has his college teammate as his new No. 1 wide receiver as Las Vegas looks to contend in the rugged AFC West.

After surviving a tumultuous series of unexpected off-field incidents to reach the playoffs, the Raiders reset their leadership group by hiring new head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler as the replacements for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. The result is a new energy and mindset that guided the Raiders to an efficient offseason in which they added game-changers at wide receiver (Davante Adams) and pass rusher (Chandler Jones) while securing quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Maxx Crosby with long-term contracts.

The well-executed plan pushes the Raiders into the conversation as possible contenders. McDaniels, the longtime offensive coordinator with the Patriots, has vowed to learn from the mistakes that sabotaged his first head-coaching gig with the Broncos. The 12 years since the Denver fiasco have served him well. It will be fascinating to see how he handles his second chance.

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OFFENSE

The addition of Adams, the longtime wide receiver for the Packers and one of the most productive weapons in the NFL, to McDaniels' offense is expected to lift the Raiders to a new, explosive level. Carr, who helped lead the charge to reel in Adams, his good friend and former Fresno State teammate, now has a bevy of targets to turn to. And it will force opposing defenses to make the unenviable choice each play of whom to devote extra attention to, knowing full well that decision will open the field for other qualified players capable of making them pay.

The key is the turbo-charged tandem of Adams and tight end Darren Waller, each of whom is capable of carrying a passing game by himself, let alone as a two-headed monster. The Raiders will dare teams to double-team one or the other, which will create space for one of them to get busy.

While each will benefit greatly from their colleague, the greatest beneficiary might be slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, one of the most efficient route-runners in the league and a reliable go-to for Carr. Renfrow should thrive alongside Adams and Waller, especially in a McDaniels offense that historically utilizes weapons like Renfrow to their utmost.

It should also mean more space for the run game to thrive, as defenses will be so focused on defending at the second level that it will leave them vulnerable to Josh Jacobs and the deep running back room McDaniels and Ziegler have built.

The combination of the assortment of playmakers and a smart, highly accurate quarterback in Carr should mitigate the on-paper weakness of an offensive line that never got untracked last year. The Raiders are set at left tackle, where Kolton Miller has emerged as one of the best in the game, but outside of center Andre James, who played well over the second half of last season, there is uncertainty at both guard positions and right tackle.

The biggest question facing the Raiders is what to do with Alex Leatherwood, who was drafted in the first round last year but eventually moved to right guard after struggling on the perimeter. If Leatherwood remains at guard, it means either Brandon Parker or rookie Thayer Munford Jr. gets the nod at right tackle. Meanwhile, veteran John Simpson is likely to start at left guard, especially following the unexpected retirement of Denzelle Good at the start of training camp. Good was expected to reclaim his starting job even though he was coming back from a torn ACL but instead, he was placed on the reserved/retired list less than a week after the start of camp. Lester Cotton Sr. and rookie Dylan Parham, who can also play center, will compete for the other guard spot.

Las Vegas Raiders 2022 Schedule

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DEFENSE

The Raiders will be playing under their third defensive coordinator in as many years, and while they made subtle — albeit impactful — changes in going from Paul Guenther to Gus Bradley last year, the switch to Patrick Graham and an expected change from a 4-3 scheme to a base 3-4 look might create a bit of a transitional learning curve.

Graham has advised that regardless of what his base defense looks like, that formation will only be used occasionally and typically on early downs. The Raiders will predominantly play out of their sub-package looks, which could mean four down linemen, one or two linebackers and five to six defensive backs.

The Raiders made a bold move in reeling in Jones in free agency to man an edge rush position opposite Crosby. Much like the offensive tandem the Raiders created with Adams and Waller, the Jones/Crosby duo has a chance to create havoc. Jones' 107.5 sacks and 33 forced fumbles are the most in the NFL since 2012. His familiarity with Graham, who was his rookie position coach back in the day in New England, should lead to a seamless transition in Las Vegas.

Crosby led the NFL with 82 QB pressures in 2021 and, according to Next Gen Stats, generated the fourth-highest pressure rate (15.7 percent) among 89 defenders with 300-plus pass rushes. That earned the former fourth-round pick a four-year contract extension.

The Raiders revamped in between Jones and Crosby, with only interior anchor Johnathan Hankins being brought back. The addition of free agents Bilal Nichols, Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings and Kyle Peko and the draft selections of Matthew Butler and Neil Farrell Jr. add size, versatility and flexibility. Keep an eye on Clelin Ferrell, who has disappointed after being selected fourth overall in 2019 but could be in line for a reset under Graham, who is tasked with figuring out a role for him in a new system.

At linebacker, Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo are expected to man two starting positions, and with Jones lining up as a rush OLB in the base defense, it will be interesting to see who lines up at the other OLB spot. Expect a camp battle that will feature a host of possibilities, and 2021 third-rounder Malcolm Koonce is someone to keep an eye on.

The Raiders are expected to roll with Trayvon Mullen and Rock Ya-Sin as their two perimeter corners, with second-year slot corner Nate Hobbs manning the inside. Mullen and Ya-Sin are going into the last year of their contracts, so expect their best effort as they play for their Raiders futures. It should help they are playing behind a defensive line that can get to the quarterback.

The Raiders struck draft gold in 2021 with free safety Tre'von Moehrig, and prior to a season-ending shoulder surgery, Johnathan Abram was coming into his own playing the box safety position. Abram faces a make-or-break season after the Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option, and his ability to fit into yet another defensive scheme will go a long way in solidifying the Raiders' back end, and his future.

SPECIALISTS

The Raiders are solid on special teams, and both kicker Daniel Carlson and punter AJ Cole were rewarded with contract extensions last year reflecting their stature among the best at their positions. Carlson's five game-winning field goals tied for the most ever in a single season, and he set a franchise record with 150 points while connecting on 40-of-43 field goals. Cole was selected to his first Pro Bowl while finishing with a league-high and career-high 50 yards per punt average on 64 punts. Renfrow is likely to handle punt return duties, with an open competition for kickoff return duties.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Raiders have the makings of a powerful offense and a defense for which the strengths can help offset the weaknesses. And if those uncertainties can ultimately be stabilized, the Raiders should be able to confidently match up with any team on their schedule. As opposed to years past, their weekly challenge won't be overcoming a consistent talent disadvantage but merely playing crisp, efficient football and avoiding the normal pitfalls that deny teams wins. Where that leaves them in a loaded AFC West will be a fascinating watch, and certainly coaching and in-game and in-season adjustments will be paramount. The talent is on hand. Now it is a matter of taking care of business.

Prediction: 4th in AFC West