HENDERSON, Nev. — The Las Vegas Raiders open 2022 NFL training camp Wednesday at the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
The most compelling position battle: Let’s look at the right side of the offensive line, particularly right tackle. Because if the Raiders are going to run it back with the same O-line that contributed to Derek Carr getting sacked 40 times in 2021, with the right side being the weak link, this is ground zero. Alex Leatherwood, last year’s first-round pick, started the season at RT, moved to right guard in Week 5 but was seeing time on the outside in OTAs and minicamp. If Denzelle Good is healthy enough to reclaim his RG spot after going down with a torn left ACL in the season opener, that should solidify things.
And that’s not counting swing tackle Brandon Parker or Jermaine Eluemunor, who has played both spots and is already familiar with new coach Josh McDaniels’ system from his time with the New England Patriots. Seventh-rounder Thayer Munford and UDFA Bamidele Olaseni could also get looks at right tackle while third-rounder Dylan Parham seems slotted for left guard.
• Gronk embraces next stage in life
• Do Adams and Carr still have chemistry?
• Will Jags QB Lawrence make jump?
• Football slowing for Cards’ Simmons
• Pats take hit as ’19 picks fail to emerge
The player with the most to prove: We should just rename this the Derek Carr Award. Every year Carr endures the slings and arrows of so many rumors and reports of him being on the trade block and yet, he remains. What’s different now, though, is aside from the aforementioned offensive line, Carr has the most dynamic weapons at his disposal, not only in personnel but in scheme and playcalling. Plus, the Raiders went all in by bringing his college bestie, the best receiver in the league in Davante Adams, in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. No more excuses? Yeah, something like that.
But didn’t Carr just sign a three-year, $121.5 million extension? Indeed, but per the terms of the deal, the Raiders are under no obligation to pay him anything after this season and would eat just $5.6 million in dead money should they choose to move on. Plus, Carr’s Total QBR has tumbled every time he’s had a change in playcallers. Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but this is truly a make-or-break season for Carr, who, as noted before, has everything he could ask for … unless that O-line breaks again.
The biggest question: Yeah, staying on the Carr angle here, but so much has been made of the connection he has with Adams from their college days together. And while they have worked out together as pros in the offseason, they were last teammates in (checks notes) 2013. So how fresh, exactly, is the chemistry between the erstwhile Fresno State Bulldogs, and how long will it take to reconnect in a game situation? Adams has definitely benefited from playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. But while Carr has had the likes of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to throw the ball to with the Raiders, Adams is on another level.
However long, or short, it takes for Adams and Carr to get in sync will go a long way in determining the type of on-field success they have in Las Vegas. Because remember, Carr finds a target and stays with him, from Waller and his 107 receptions in 2020 to Renfrow and his 103 catches last season. Adams has averaged 119 catches the past two seasons.
Most impactful offseason addition: Non-Davante Adams division? Chandler Jones. Sure, the Raiders essentially swapped Yannick Ngakoue, who is five years younger, for Jones, who is polishing a Canton-worthy resume. Jones’ 107.5 sacks and 33 forced fumbles are the most in the NFL over the last 10 years and while five of his 10.5 sacks last year came in the season opener, there is enough left in the 32-year-old’s tank that he will still command respect and double-teams.
And that frees up opportunities for his bookend edge rusher Maxx Crosby, a rising star who was last year’s Pro Bowl Defensive MVP. Now, Jones is not in Las Vegas merely to be a decoy; he was signed to bring veteran leadership as well as wreck shop on his own. And at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Jones also has 3 inches and 19 pounds on Ngakoue, who led the Raiders with 10 sacks in 2021.
Bold prediction: The Raiders will return to the postseason for a second season in a row. Wait, shouldn’t a team that survived last season’s travails, made upgrades all over the roster, as well as in scheme and playcalling, be a lock to return to the Super Bowl tournament? If so, the truly hot take would be to predict Las Vegas would fall short, no? Well … the flip side shows so many unknowns and resulting questions in a division that saw every team make significant upgrades that picking Las Vegas to be in the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-02 seems to be the bolder way to go. At least, before training camp.