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January 18, 2021

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Five players who could determine the Raiders’ success this season

Las Vegas Raiders Hold First Practice

Michael Clemens/Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell (96) on the field for practice at 2020 Training Camp at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center, Wednesday, August 12, 2020, in Henderson, Nev.

Clelin Ferrell, Defensive end

Getting 4.5 sacks out of the No. 4 overall pick isn’t exactly what the Raiders were hoping for when they reached for Ferrell early in the 2019 draft. The Clemson product was never touted as a pass-rushing monster, but he’s got to apply more pressure on the quarterback this season, or the team will turn to other options—like free-agent addition Carl Nassib, who signed a 3-year, $25.2 million deal in the offseason.

To his credit, Ferrell reshaped his body after his disappointing debut season and came into training camp looking like a new player. If that increased strength and quickness produces results on the field, the Raiders won’t mind having spent such a high pick on Ferrell.

Lamarcus Joyner, Cornerback

Joyner was a big liability last year. It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth.

The Raiders brought him in with the hope he’d shore up their slot coverage, but Joyner wasn’t up to the task. He allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.4 percent of their passes when targeting him, including four touchdowns. Joyner didn’t intercept a single ball in 14 games, resulting in opponents racking up a passer rating of 109.8 against him. That’s why Las Vegas used a fourth-round draft pick on promising slot corner Amik Robertson in May.

Robertson looks like he still needs some development time, so Joyner will probably get first crack at defending slot receivers this season. That’s a critical role in today’s wide-open NFL; if Joyner doesn’t improve on his 2019 performance, opponents will pick apart the Raiders’ defense.

Maliek Collins, Defensive tackle

Las Vegas made splashier free-agent signings (linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski grabbed most of the headlines), but Collins was the defensive star of training camp. Among the newcomers, no one drew more praise from the coaching staff than Collins, a fifth-year defensive tackle who broke out as a big-time pass rusher in Dallas last season.

Pro Football Focus ranked Collins eighth among defensive tackles last year in pass-rushing grade, as he recorded 48 quarterback pressures. For a Las Vegas team counting on its D-line to get to the quarterback, that kind of production would be a godsend. The Raiders think they scored big by signing Collins to a one-year prove-it contract worth $6 million.

Johnathan Abram, Safety

Is Abram an elite talent capable of making game-changing plays from the safety position? Is he an injury-prone bust destined to give the Raiders very little over the course of his rookie contract? Or is he somewhere in between?

There’s no way to tell yet, as Abram didn’t even make it through the season-opening game last year before a shoulder injury shelved him for the rest of his rookie campaign.

Abram still possesses all the potential that spurred Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden to draft him No. 27 overall in 2019. With so many new pieces on defense this season, Abram’s development will go a long way toward determining the strength of the secondary.

Derek Carr, Quarterback

Carr is the only offensive player on this list, because the Raiders’ front office has done an impressive job of surrounding him with talent. He’s got an elite offensive line in front of him, an elite running back behind him, a trio of young, talented receivers flanking him and perhaps the league’s best pass-catching tight end serving as his security blanket.

With no more excuses available, this has to be the year Carr proves he’s capable of elevating his play and leading a serious playoff push.