NFL Team Preview: Outside of Darren Waller, Raiders fantasy football prospects are risky

·7-min read

We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 28th-ranked Las Vegas Raiders.

Josh Jacobs was RB8 last season. Where does he finish in 2021 taking into account the Kenyan Drake addition?

Andy: What an absolutely miserable situation for anyone who thought Jacobs would be a rock-solid dynasty cornerstone. The addition of Drake means there's really no patch for Jacobs' receiving usage to increase, plus he's a clear threat to take a share of the goal-line touches — and touchdowns were all that kept Jacobs relevant in fantasy last year. Jacobs averaged 4.8 YPC and led the world in missed tackles as a rookie; he slipped to 3.9 YPC and a dreadful 4.3 yards per touch last season. 

It seems unlikely to me that either of these backs is going to top 300 touches in the season ahead, as Jacobs did last year. Without that volume, and with only a minimal receiving role, we can't reasonably expect Jacobs to finish as anything more than a mid-pack or low-end RB2. I won't fight anyone for his fantasy services in 2021.

Matt: Unless the Raiders are going to become one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the NFL, Josh Jacobs’ ceiling rests somewhere around RB14-15. Again, that’s the ceiling.

Jacobs has never been featured as a receiver through two years with the Raiders. All the hot air about his bump in pass-catching work turned into a measly 45 targets over 15 games. That’s just not good enough to maintain a fantasy floor. Now the Raiders have Kenyan Drake in the fold and are adamant about his role as a receiving weapon. Jacobs will need to score 11-13 touchdowns to reach his ceiling and I’m just not willing to make that bet. I’ll have him ranked as a low-end RB2.

Liz: Last offseason Mike Mayock talked up Jacobs’ ability as a receiver, explaining that the next stage of the RB’s “development” would manifest via an increased role in the passing game. At the start of the season, the GM appeared to be making good on his promise. In fact, before Jacobs hurt his hip in Week 9, he averaged nearly 3 catches per contest, which was double his per game average from 2019. But as the season progressed (along with Jacobs’ number of nagging injuries), his targets waned (1.8 r/gm from Wks 9 -17).

And, apparently, so did the coaching staff’s belief in Jacobs’ workhorse potential.

The biggest gripe about Jacobs throughout the valuation process was his inability to lead a backfield. While there’s no denying his toughness — he's played through numerous injuries — the data also bears out recurrent durability issues and (likely linked) struggles with inefficiency. So the squad added Kenyan Drake to help lighten the load, which will inevitably eat into Jacobs’ volume, particularly as a pass-catcher.

Expecting double-digit touches for Drake, Jacobs figures to land in the RB20 range. Think somewhere between Chris Carson and Kareem Hunt.

Darren Waller is coming off one of the best fantasy tight end campaigns ever. Are we drafting off last year's production or does he make the TE group a Big 3, joining Kelce and Kittle?

Matt: Not only should Waller be comfortably ranked among a “Big Three” at tight end, but you can also easily argue he’s the TE2 overall this year, ahead of George Kittle. Neither offense will push to lead the NFL in pass attempts, however, just look at the skill position groups. The 49ers have an emerging star in Brandon Aiyuk and a strong weapon in Deebo Samuel. Those guys will command targets. The Raiders wideout crop is filled with wildcards.

Waller could even eclipse his volume totals from last year. You should have no hesitations clicking his name this year.

Liz: None of the pre-existing or recently added pass-catching options are a threat to Waller’s dominance. Not only was he the TE1 in numerous volume-based metrics (total targets, deep targets, and red-zone targets) but, more importantly, he delivered on those opportunities. Top-three in a vast number of efficiency stats (completed air yards, yards per route run, and YAC), Waller proved — for the second consecutive year — to be the team’s most reliable and electric receiving weapon. Another 100+ catches appear entirely likely.

Andy: Considering Kelce's dominance over the entire tight end field last year (including Waller) and his consistent level of production during the Patrick Mahomes era, I'd actually argue that tight end has a top-tier of one. After Kelce, Kittle and Waller obviously belong to the next group (and I can make an argument for T.J. Hockenson to join them, but that's not our mission here). Waller was targeted a whopping 145 times last season and the team's former No. 2 receiver (Nelson Agholor) relocated to New England, so there's no reason to think volume won't continue to flow his way in 2021. We can expect another 1,100-plus yards, assuming good health. 

The Raiders lack an obvious WR to target in drafts, but which player from this group could offer late-round value?

Liz: Behind only Darren Waller, Nelson Agholor was second in team targets last year, averaging over 5 looks per contest and 15.5 YPT (WR5). Curiously, the Raiders spent a first-round draft pick on Henry Ruggs, seemingly with the intention to make him the team’s WR1 ... and certainly the corps’ most prominent deep threat.

For his part, Ruggs drew 43 looks over 13 games (3.3/gm, WR97) and averaged 17.4 YPT (but a total of only 14 deep targets — WR43 — on the season). Agholor’s exit would suggest a deepening in the franchise’s belief in/commitment to the second-year speedster. However, with the addition of John Brown, everything seems muddy.

In fact, the skill sets of this cadre of pass-catchers include a heck of a lot of head-scratching overlap. That’s why — from a “Which of these things is not like the other and/or named Darren Waller” POV — I’m most interested in Bryan Edwards. A physical outside receiver, Edwards has the hustle to set himself apart. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the former Gamecock earn more outside snaps than Ruggs or Brown.

Andy: In early best-ball drafts, I've found myself taking late fliers on new addition John Brown, a veteran with big-play potential who appears to be the most likely candidate to claim Agholor's workload. It also wouldn't surprise me if Henry Ruggs III produced a small number of binge weeks that can't be predicted in advance. Neither of these guys should be drafted as every-week fantasy starters, however. Ideally, you'll only have 'em in best-ball. 

Matt: I will back John Brown until the day he retires from the NFL. The long-time underrated veteran is on his fourth NFL team but has produced and played above expectation every step of the way. I see no reason why, if he’s healthy, he can’t shine in Las Vegas. Derek Carr finally looked comfortable throwing the deep ball last year and Brown is an obvious fit there. Beyond that, Brown has played the part of a pseudo, full-field No. 1 wideout for the Ravens and Bills (pre-Diggs) and is a natural fit to play that role again while Ruggs finds himself as a player.

Las Vegas Raiders projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Derek Carr

RB: Josh Jacobs / Kenyan Drake

WR: Henry Ruggs / John Brown / Bryan Edwards

TE: Darren Waller

Las Vegas Raiders O/U on 7 win total from BetMGM

Dalton: UNDER. The Raiders are going to be a fun scene in Las Vegas this season with their tickets the hottest in the league, but it’s a gift to also get plus juice (+105) on the under here. They have struggled both in the draft as well with free-agent moves during Jon Gruden’s second era, and their defense figures to remain a big problem. Las Vegas also projects to have the most difficult schedule in the NFL this season — and that’s before Aaron Rodgers possibly joins its division.  

Follow Andy: @andybehrens

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

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