Every offseason, the hype builds around how the new, high-profile playmakers will impact the team. However, this article will explore the most underrated players on the Raiders roster and how they will contribute in 2020.
Clelin Ferrell – Defensive End
As the surprise 4th pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Clelin Ferrell has been highly scrutinized from day one. Coming into the league, the Clemson defensive end was widely regarded as a mid to late first round prospect who had a high-floor but a low-ceiling.
This was largely accurate for his first season in the NFL. He finished the campaign with 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 15 starts, which seems like an extremely underwhelming season for a top five pick.
Ferrell took the majority of the Raiders DE snaps over the season alongside fellow rookie Maxx Crosby, who had a stellar start to his NFL career. The two rookies had an enormous job on their hands trying to change the fortunes of a defense that registered just 13 sacks in 2018. The inexperience was clear in some games, such as week 4 versus the Colts where he had just one assisted tackle, but Ferrell did show signs of his potential towards the end of the season.
After starting out with a sack against the Broncos in his first game, it took Ferrell another five games before he managed another. But week 10 vs the Chargers was the first clear sign that his potential was shining through.
In this game, Ferrell racked up eight tackles and 2.5 sacks, which built his confidence for a fine end to the season. He finished the last five games of the season as PFF’s 9th highest rated defensive lineman with a grade of 81.4. In week 15 against the Jaguars, he managed an elite grade of 90.4 – a breakdown of this game is below.
If Clelin manages to bring his game forward in 2020, he will be a force to be reckoned with. He has already spent the 2020 offseason gaining 13 pounds of muscle. This should add some extra strength to his game and help his pass rush progression to add to his impressive run stopping game. A second year Ferrell and Crosby pair should be fun to watch alongside an improved Las Vegas defensive line.
Kolton Miller – Offensive Tackle
After suffering a bad knee injury in week 4 of his 2018 rookie campaign, Kolton Miller started all 16 games and played 100% of the Raiders offensive snaps in 2019. He was the lone offensive lineman to perform this feat. Along with this, he showed significant improvement from a poor rookie season.
Miller still allowed seven sacks but, in comparison to the 2018 season where he allowed 16, there was clear development. He also committed only three penalties on the season, compared with eight in his rookie year.
Miller’s matchups against the Chiefs in 2019 were the biggest indicator of improvement. In both games, he went up against veteran pass rusher Frank Clark whom he faced in 2018. In the 2018 games, Clark managed 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles pressuring Miller when playing for the Seahawks. One year later, Clark played two games for the Chiefs against the Raiders, and Miller did not allow a sack or a hit over either of these games.
Offensive linemen development
In an interview conducted in 2015 as part of the Brock and Salk Show in Seattle (via CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini), Miller’s current offensive line coach Tom Cable made a note about offensive linemen’s development which still rings true today.
I’m not wanting to offend anybody, but college football, offensively, has just gotten really, really bad, fundamentally. You see these big bodies and think, ‘He’s 6-5, 300, and his arm is (this long),’ and you watch him, and he’s not a finisher, he doesn’t strain, he can’t stay balanced, he can’t play with leverage. You see all these negatives and think, I can get a (defensive) guy who runs a little faster, jumps a little higher, that’s got an aggressive streak in him. At least I can see that on defense. I’m going to have to re-train an offensive lineman that’s coming out of college right now anyway.
Miller struggled to adapt, but after two seasons in, he’s looking like he can take the next steps to become a very good NFL tackle. Raiders insider Vic Tafur posted that a number of the Raiders coaches think that Miller has what it takes to be a pro bowl left tackle in 2020. If he can develop as expected then Las Vegas will have a very solid offensive line going into the 2020 season.
Jalen Richard – Running Back
This offseason, the Raiders gave Jalen Richard a well deserved new contract; worth $7 million over two years. After going undrafted in 2016, the running back out of Southern Miss has made a name for himself as an explosive player with great pass catching abilities.
In 2018 when Gruden returned, his utilization went up dramatically from previous years. Jon Gruden has played Richard as a third down rotational back, mainly used for his receiving skills.
In 2018 he caught 68 balls from 81 targets and had an additional 55 rushing attempts. In 2019, he took a backseat to outstanding rookie Josh Jacobs, but was still used in passing downs. One of the Raiders best plays of the year was a 31 yard pass by Carr, seen below. It was caught by the elusive Richard to help seal victory over the Lions.
One of his weaknesses has always been his ball security. Over his career, Richard has had 13 fumbles, which is a large number for a backup player. He seemed to address this issue in 2019, reducing his fumble count from eight to two; proving he can be relied on to secure the ball when needed. If Richard can further reduce this number and therefore the risk of giving him touches, he will be a vital piece for the Raiders in 2020.
With Richard likely rotating alongside rookie running back Lynn Bowden Jr, Gruden will scheme up some interesting match-ups for passing downs. This should also help to take some pressure off Jacobs and leave him to run first and second down plays. Don’t underestimate Richard’s role in this offense.
Tyrell Williams – Wide Receiver
Tyrell Williams was picked up in the 2019 free agency period with the belief that he was going to be the Raiders number one receiver, even before the Antonio Brown saga. Williams’ first season was slightly underwhelming just looking at the stats. After signing a four-year $44 million deal, he produced just 42 catches for 651 yards and six touchdowns. However, when studied in a little more detail his production can be explained.
After four touchdowns in his first four games for the Raiders, Williams suffered plantar fasciitis and battled with this for the rest of the season. He returned in week 8 and produced another touchdown versus the Texans. He still played the remaining 9 games injured but had as many yards in these games as he did in his first five games – but with only one touchdown. Gruden acknowledged this at the end of the year and will expect bigger things from the wideout in his second season for the Raiders.
A healthy Tyrell Williams gives the Raiders another weapon to utilize in 2020. According to Vincent Bonsignore, Williams is making good progress with his injury. You can expect him to be the starting wide receiver alongside explosive rookie Henry Ruggs III this season. Along with Darren Waller at TE and Hunter Renfrow in the slot, the Raiders have some serious firepower in their starting lineup. This is without even considering the other rookies from the draft. A healthy Williams, without the pressure of being a true number one receiver, will be fun to watch.
Can the Raiders have a successful season with Derek Carr? Check out this article here.
The Raiders have many underrated players that can provide them with the ability they need to take the next step. If they can stay healthy then they should have a massive impact on the team in 2020. This should help drive them to a winning season and into the playoffs.
Did I miss any players you would have included? Comment below or continue the discussion on twitter.