I love a good quarterback controversy. It brings out the best of two players who could easily benefit from that added motivation.
In one corner you have six-year NFL veteran Derek Carr, who had a very mediocre 2019 stint with the Raiders. Starting all 16 games, Carr tossed 21 touchdowns against only eight interceptions as the Raiders finished the year at a mediocre 7-9.
In the other corner, you have former Heisman Trophy winner and five-year NFL veteran Marcus Mariota, who could be a real diamond in the rough for Las Vegas. After losing his starting job to Ryan Tannehill last year in Tennessee, it's hard to imagine that doesn't fuel Mariota for a chance at Carr’s starting job.
In the middle of both of those players is head coach Jon Gruden, who is balancing a new city, stadium and loyal fan expectations on what 2020 could look like. He knows, just like any good coach and competitor, that competitions bring out the best in players.
That’s where this year's NFL draft enters. The Raiders had a total of seven picks, including two in the first round and three in the third round The team's biggest needs were wide receiver, safety and cornerback, positions Las Vegas targeted last week.
Las Vegas added former Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor in free agency to pair with Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams. The team needed to add a dynamic centerpiece to round out the position.
In the 12th overall pick, they took the first and fastest wide receiver in the draft Henry Ruggs III. The Alabama alum clocked a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Ruggs III might have the fastest legs in this draft, but Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb seemed like more versatile options still on the table, both of which would be gone by the end of the first round.
Current starting QB Darrick Carr doesn’t like to throw deep, so it will be interesting to see how Ruggs III blends into this offense. Las Vegas would pick two more wide receivers in the draft: Lynn Bowden out of Kentucky and Bryan Edwards out of South Carolina.
Bowden was listed as one of the best slot receivers in the class after setting school records in multiple positions at Kentucky over his three-year tenure. Those records included the most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback in school history, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and more than 1,000 yards in receiving, rushing and kick return categories. Bowden is a utility tool I expect Gruden will use as a Swiss Army knife.
As for Edwards, he finished with the third-most receptions (324) and fourth-most receiving yards (3,045) in SEC History. A former teammate of current 49er Deebo Samuel in college, Edwards took a larger role with the Gamecocks after Samuel left for the league. Edwards has great speed, but a broken foot in February prevented Edwards from a big combine showing. Edwards' injury history is alarming but as the 11th-youngest wide receiver in this class, father time may still be on his side.
The Raiders finished 25th out of 32 teams in passing yards allowed in 2019. After failed attempts to sign Byron Jones, Chris Harris Jr. and Eli Apple, this was a huge position of need. With the 19th overall pick, Las Vegas selected Ohio State's Damon Arnette.
Arnette earned second-team all-Big Ten honors as a redshirt senior, allowing 5.5 yards per target and a 45 percent catch rate in coverage. He's a good press-man corner near the line of scrimmage but struggles in one-on-one coverage down the field. Arnette also is coming into the league as a 24-year-old rookie with concerns raised about his maturity and character. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has said on the record that Arnette has matured leaps and bounds and has the chance of starting if his personal growth continues.
Las Vegas also added Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson in the fourth round. Robertson ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash that made him the ninth fastest in the combine out of the 28 cornerbacks. At Louisiana Tech, Robertson finished a three-year career with 14 interceptions and 48 passes defended.
The Raiders lost former first-round pick, Karl Joseph, to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. Joseph had an incredible 2017 campaign where he was the only safety to have at least 75 tackles, a sack, interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery. After missing nearly half the 2019 season due to injury, the Raiders were ready to move on.
The team filled this void with the 100th overall pick by selecting Tanner Muse out of Clemson. A captain, three-year starter, and national champion with the Tigers. Muse earned first-team all-ACC honors as a redshirt senior and had 74 tackles and four interceptions.
Muse has quick feet, the ability to deliver big hits and energize his defense. Much like Arnette, Muse is also an older rookie entering the league at 24. The biggest criticism are his instincts in pass coverage, as he often bites at double moves, and his ability at changing directions despite clocking a 4.41-second 40 time at the combine.
Muse could tiptoe positions as a hybrid linebacker, but it will be interesting to see if he will get a chance of playing opposite of Johnathan Abram.
Carr was sacked 24 times in 2019, not the worst in the NFL but not a stat many experts talk a lot about. The real stat that stood out was the amount of times Carr was hurried under pressure (67), which was tied for the second most in the NFL.
Beefing up the offensive line will be key for whoever will be playing quarterback in Las Vegas in 2020.
The Raiders traded up to land Clemson guard John Simpson with the 109th pick. A two-year starter with the Tigers, Simpson earned first-team All-American honors in his final season. A thick frame with long arms and a strong run blocker gives him a ton of upside as a pass protector. He has the size, strength and straight-line athleticism to be a starter in the coming years.