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The Las Vegas Raiders didn’t have a chance to host the 2020 NFL draft, but the organization still found a way to own the event during its second day.
Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have a vision of what the team should look like and how it can compete in the AFC West, where the reigning Super Bowl champions set the standard for offensive football.
“We don’t want to have a good receiving corps, I want to have the best receiving corps in football, and I think in order to have the best you have to have the best, and in my opinion we added the best wide receiver in football,” Gruden told reporters last year during Antonio Brown’s introductory press conference.
Sadly, Brown’s acquisition blew up in the organization’s proverbial face, but the sentiment remains the same today as when the coach originally made the statement.
Without Brown, tight end Darren Waller led the Raiders with 90 receptions and 1,145 receiving yards. Tyrell Williams, whom the franchise signed to a four-year, $44.3 million free-agent deal prior to the 2019 campaign, finished second on the team with 651 receiving yards. Rookie fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow emerged with 49 receptions.
But the Las Vegas receiving corps didn’t scare any opponent, especially in a division that already features Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Courtland Sutton.
The Raiders’ approach to this year’s draft became crystal clear during Thursday’s first round when the organization chose Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick.
“The distinguishing factor really was [Ruggs’] speed, his explosion and his work ethic,” Mayock told reporters during a post-draft conference call. “When you’re in the division we’re in and you look at Kansas City and you look at what they have on offense and what their explosion looks like, we needed to get faster and we think that his addition opens up our entire offense.”
Ruggs wasn’t enough, though, and the Raiders knew it. As such, Mayock continued to attack the franchise’s biggest area of need with fervor.
Las Vegas spent its initial Day 2 selections on more offensive upgrades.
Lynn Bowden Jr., whom the team chose with the 80th overall pick, is the draft’s most unique offensive prospect. The 2019 Paul Hornung Award winner, as college football’s most outstanding all-purpose player, led the Kentucky Wildcats in receiving yards each of the last two seasons. He also started eight games at quarterback during his final season on campus and led the team with 1,468 rushing yards.
Bleacher Report@BleacherReportThe Raiders third round pick is dangerous
Kentucky WR Lynn Bowden Jr. is going to be a threat in many ways https://t.co/h0zVaDiPGk
Actually, the Raiders designated the multipurpose threat as a running back upon his draft announcement. Mayock confirmed with reporters during his post-Day 2 conference call that the team will start the early entrant at running back but use him in a variety of ways.
Bowden is an offensive weapon and a special teams standout as a returner. He’s a developmental back, a slot receiver and a quarterback if Gruden wants to implement a few extra packages in his offensive scheme.
“Taysom Hill, he’s one that they always compare me to,” Bowden told reporters after being drafted. “I’m happy about that. I feel like I’m going to wake the world up. It’s only a matter of time.”
One pick later, the Raiders chose South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards. The 6’3″, 212-pound target brings an entirely different skill set than Bowden. Edwards is a physical outside route-runner who consistently wins 50/50 balls and creates after the catch. The 21-year-old caught 126 passes for 1,662 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Those numbers would have been even better, but he missed the final two games of the 2019 campaign with a knee injury.
Still, Edwards finished his career as South Carolina’s all-time leader in receptions (234) and receiving yards (3,045).
Injuries hurt his draft stock, though. Edwards suffered a broken foot during NFL Scouting Combine preparation and was unable to participate in workoutswhich is why he remained available in the third round instead of going higher. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, doctors expect to clear the wide receiver by next month.
Sean Rayford/Associated Press
After a year in which 10 Raiders wide receivers combined for 1,858 receiving yards, the team’s offense should be far more dynamic with its recent additions.
Williams and Edwards will be the outside targets with Renfrow, Bowden and free-agent signee Nelson Agholor working the middle of the field.
No more excuses exist for the offense or quarterback Derek Carr. All of the pieces are in place, albeit a young group, to create chunk plays on a consistent basis.
If the six-year veteran doesn’t get the job done at a high level despite an improved surrounding cast, Mayock invested in a significant backup option when the organization agreed to a two-year, $17.6 million dollar deal with Marcus Mariota.
Now, the Raiders won’t automatically be at a disadvantage every time they take the field with a division rival. This was the only logical path for the team to drastically improve during its first year in Las Vegas.
“We wanted to get more dynamic on offense,” Mayock said, per The Athletic’s Vic Tafur.
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The Kansas City Chiefs are doing everything in their power to add to an already nearly unstoppable offense. Kansas City used the 32nd overall pick to draft the class’s first running back. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is an ideal schematic fit for Andy Reid’s offense as the next coming of Brian Westbrook.
Like the Raiders, the Denver Broncos are trying to build a better cockpit for their quarterback, Drew Lock. General manager John Elway doubled down on the wide receiver position with the Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler selections. Plus, the team added a new starting center in LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III to complete its offensive front.
The Los Angeles Chargers landed their franchise quarterback, Justin Herbert, and their opponents have to deal with arguably the league’s best secondary. In order to do so, receivers must be able to create mismatches and separation. Otherwise, it’s a lost cause.
Today’s NFL is a pass-first league. How an offense creates opportunities through the air often defines success. Or, the squad must be able to slow opposing passing games.
The Raiders took steps to do both with three new offensive weapons and a pair of defensive backs in Damon Arnette and Tanner Muse.
Las Vegas’ brain trust knew exactly where the team needed to get better, and after the first two days of the NFL draft, the Raiders are. In doing so, they’ve matched their bitter rivals in the AFC West’s growing arms race.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.
Ben Margot/Associated Press