Week 1 in the NFL is rapidly approaching. The Raiders have the last game slated for Week 1 with a Monday Night Football clash against the Baltimore Ravens.
The game is not an easy task for the Raiders despite having home-field advantage. The Raiders are facing a Baltimore team that has not missed the playoffs since 2017. Add in dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson and a stifling Raven defense, and the Raiders Week 1 game is surely not a cakewalk.
The injuries that have stacked up for the Ravens have been troubling. The team is still working to fill its roster to make up for the losses. The offense will surely suffer with injuries to starting RB J.K. Dobbins and first-round draft pick WR Rashod Bateman. The unfortunate circumstances for the Ravens may benefit the Raiders heavily.
Games are not won on paper though, and the Raiders must still perform to take down a more than competent Ravens team. With that being said, there are quite a few players on this Raiders roster who must step up to secure a victory on Monday Night Football. We will dive into three Raider players that the public should keep an eye on.
Henry Ruggs III
To call Ruggs the difference-maker here can be considered questionable to some extent. The best receiver for the Raiders is TE Darren Waller. But in terms of who is penciled in as the number one wide receiver on the depth chart, that honor goes to the second-year player in Ruggs.
Ruggs did not have a spectacular debut season in Vegas. Plenty of factors could have played into this – nagging injuries, the absence of training camp, and the unfamiliarity with a new system are just a few to name. Nevertheless, the excuses are out the window in year two. The Raiders are depending on Ruggs to repay their first-round investment in the speedy receiver out of Alabama.
The expectations are lofty this season for Ruggs. With the loss of Nelson Agholor to the New England Patriots, Ruggs will now be depended on to take over as the new number one receiver in Vegas. The Raiders are hoping the combination of Ruggs and fellow second-year player Bryan Edwards will pay dividends in a youth movement at the wide receiver position.
Ruggs will be looked upon plenty in the Week 1 clash vs. the Ravens. The Raiders are taking on a very experienced and talented Ravens secondary, and Ruggs must step up to the plate for the Raiders to have any chance at victory on Monday Night Football. Keep an eye on Ruggs as QB Derek Carr will look to connect with the young receiver on a combination of slants, and more so than less, deep passes down the sideline.
In terms of criticism, not many players on this Raider roster have faced as much adversity as Abram. After a rookie season cut short due to injury after only one game, the former first-round pick out of Mississippi State was finally able last season to show Raider Nation just what the team has in the former college All-American. However, for many, it was not very impressive.
The safety seemed to have more of a knack for connecting on big hits than providing the Raiders with much needed coverage in the secondary. Entering year three, the expectations for Abram have been completely changed. Working with recently acquired veteran cornerback Casey Hayward, Abrams has worked hard on his coverage, and more importantly – his maturity.
Abram looks to be a much more disciplined player going into his third season, and despite the fact he is only 24-years-old, he will be looked at as the “veteran” in the safety department for the Raiders. With a rookie starting at free safety next to Abram in Tre’von Moehrig, the third-year safety will have to grow up fast if the Raiders have a shot to take down the Ravens, despite the fact the Ravens are rather thin at receiver due to injuries.
This places an even larger target on Abram’s back, as the Raiders will have to combat the Ravens tight ends led by Pro Bowler Mark Andrews. Abram will have to show that he’s added coverage skills to his repertoire as Lamar Jackson will look early and often to his combination of tight ends.
In terms of who may technically be the de facto top defensive end in terms of effect for the Raiders over the course of the season, one could make the argument that would be new defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. However, starting out the season, this title should belong to Maxx Crosby.
The third-year defensive end has been supremely underrated in terms of league-wide recognition. Through two seasons, Crosby has 17 sacks, which is not only spectacular for a former fourth-round pick, but first amongst all players from the 2019 NFL Draft. The Raiders faith in Crosby goes beyond his play; he was recently named a team captain for the 2021 season.
The team invested heavily in the defensive line this season, adding Ngakoue to the mix to start opposite Crosby. The new ‘fearsome twosome’ should give the Raiders a dynamic they have not had in years in terms of consistent pass rushers.
Fellow 2019 NFL Draft choice Clelin Ferrell’s struggles are well-known. Adding Ngakoue to the line will help out Crosby in a multitude of ways, mainly by easing the pressure off of Crosby. Crosby has been the only consistent pass rusher for the Raiders over the last two years. For the Raiders to taste victory, Crosby must be in the face of quarterback Lamar Jackson at almost all times.
Jackson is a dual-threat quarterback who can outrun nearly any defender, but if Crosby and company can keep Jackson on his back foot, then the Raiders defense should provide the blueprint for a winning formula Monday night in Vegas.
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