NFL rushing champ Josh Jacobs and new QB Jimmy Garoppolo ready to lead Raiders
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (6-11)
EXPECTATIONS: Josh Jacobs’ return two weeks before the season brought an end to the preseason drama created by his contract dispute and also gave the Las Vegas Raiders’ backfield a boost as the team welcomed back the NFL’s reigning rushing champion. How quickly Jacobs is able to get up to game-day speed is a big question but coach Josh McDaniels has indicated the team will rely heavily on him again. Jacobs had nearly 400 touches last season between rushing and receiving. The Raiders also got a new starting quarterback after signing Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason but health is always a concern with him. If he can stay upright, Garoppolo has top-flight weapons in Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers, but plays in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert — and maybe a revitalized Russell Wilson. Las Vegas’ offense must hope its long-struggling defense improves enough so it doesn’t have to win a lot of shootouts. There is hope that can happen with pass rusher Maxx Crosby back along with an infusion of new talent. In the end, the Raiders must have a lot of things go right to even put themselves in position to grab a wild-card spot. Three of their first four games are on the road so the Raiders may find out quickly which direction the season is headed.
NEW FACES: Garoppolo, Meyers, DE Tyree Wilson, CB Marcus Peters, S Marcus Epps, TE Michael Mayer, WR Tre Tucker, QB Aidan O’Connell.
KEY LOSSES: QB Derek Carr, TE Darren Waller, TE Foster Moreau, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Clelin Ferrell, CB Rock Ya-Sin, QB Jarrett Stidham.
STRENGTHS: Wide receiver. Led by Adams — one of the league’s top receivers — the Raiders are talented and deep. The addition of Meyers gives Las Vegas a tremendous 1-2 punch, Hunter Renfrow is as good of a route runner as any receiver in the NFL and Tucker is capable of stretching the field. Michael Mayer was drafted to replace Waller, a tough task, but like his predecessor he possesses strong receiving skills.
WEAKNESSES: Pass rush. Crosby is one of the NFL’s best, but he can’t do it by himself. The Raiders return essentially the same front that finished 30th in sacks. They hope Wilson, the seventh pick of this year’s draft, will help greatly improve that ranking. But a foot injury last year at Texas Tech prevented him from practicing until mid-August, so there are plenty of questions around Wilson.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Most starting positions were already spoken for, but there have been two notable battles on the right side of the offensive line. Jermaine Eluemunor is the incumbent starter at right tackle but 2022 seventh-round draft pick Thayer Munford has pushed him hard. At right guard, returning starter Alex Bars has been in a fierce battle with nine-year veteran Greg Van Roten.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: K Daniel Carlson. The easy answer is Adams or Jacobs but Carlson would be a valuable player to pick up for crucial points that could make the difference in a close matchup. He made 34 of 37 field goals last season, including 11 of 13 from 50-plus yards. Carlson was in midseason form in the preseason, making all seven field goals, including a 62-yarder against Dallas.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 75-1. Over/under wins: 6 1/2.
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