Sat, 27 Feb 2021

The Best of the Rest: Looking back on the Raiders' 2020 season

Las Vegas Raiders
16 Jan 2021, 21:05 GMT+10

Raiders.com Staff

As the Las Vegas Raiders 2020 season has come to a close, several players in the Silver and Black made leaps and bounds throughout the season to showcase their skills.

Raiders.com writers Levi Edwards and Kyle Martin breakdown their picks for end-of-the-season awards for a Raiders team in their inaugural year in Las Vegas during a global pandemic.

Most Valuable Player

LE: Darren Waller, and it's not even close.

No. 83 showed that his 2019 breakout season was no fluke and became an elite tight end and walking nightmare for the defenses he came across. His franchise record-breaking 108 catches was nearly double, yes I said double, the amount of the second leading receiver on the team.

Waller also led the team in receiving yards (1,196), targets (145), and touchdowns (9) finishing among the league's top ten in each category.

The stocks on Wall Street have definitely reached an unbelievable high this season for the Silver and Black, and it's honestly so hard to imagine what the Raiders offense would've looked like without Darren Waller that I'm not even going to hypothetical think about it.

Darren Waller is my unequivocal MVP of the Raiders.

KM: As Levi pointed out, you could easily make the case that Darren Waller was the MVP, but I'm rolling with Rodney Hudson.

In a season marred by injuries and COVID-19, the Raiders' offensive line struggled with consistency, and all five starters hardly spent any time together in the trenches. Without Richie Incognito and Trent Brown for much of the year, the offensive line could've fallen apart, but in part because of Hudson's wisdom and leadership, the unit was able to rally together and keep Derek Carr protected. Carr has long said that Hudson is the smartest football player he's ever suited up with, and at 31 years of age, he's still the best center in the league, even though he was snubbed of yet another Pro Bowl selection. Hudson played in all 16 games this year and helped lead a relatively young unit that featured rookie John Simpson and third-year tackle Brandon Parker.

Offensive Player of the Year

KM: In the spirit of full transparency, one of my biggest questions in 2020 was whether Darren Waller could build on his breakout campaign in 2019, especially because defenses would be geared toward stopping him. Not only did Waller return to form, but he got even better, despite defensive coordinators doing everything they could to eliminate him from the equation.

Waller played in all 16 games, racking up a franchise-record 107 receptions, eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards in back-to-back years, and improved his touchdown total from three to nine. Waller is the clear-cut OPOY because his presence alone opens up the offense for Derek Carr & Co., allowing his fellow receivers to get open and make plays. He's reliable, has a great work ethic, and I'm thrilled he's a member of the Silver and Black.

LE: In a year where some doubters and naysayers questioned whether Derek Carr could still be a franchise quarterback for the Raiders, he put all of the speculation to rest.

Carr seemed as if he was able to get fully comfortable within Jon Gruden and Greg Olson's offense this season. No. 4 produced his best overall season under Gruden, throwing for career highs in passing yards (4,103) and QB rating (101.4). He also completed 67 percent of his passes and threw 27 touchdowns.

He also showed out against some of the league's best quarterbacks, outdueling the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees and Baker Mayfield in some key showdowns.

Derek Carr arguably had the most to prove of anyone on the roster the season, and he exceeded those expectations along the way.

Defensive Player of the Year

LE: For a defense that lacked consistency throughout the season, I tip my hat to one of the Silver and Black's most dependable players in second-year defensive end Maxx Crosby.

Crosby became a leader for this defense through his play and setting the bar for the Raiders each and every week. After having a monstrous 10-sack rookie season, the FCS Eastern Michigan product became the focus of offensive game plans set out against him. Yet he still started and played in all 16 games this season and led the team in sacks (seven) for a second straight season.

No. 98's season could've possibly been even better if the other half of Salt-N-Pepa Clelin Ferrell wouldn't have missed time on the COVID-19 reserve list, in addition to a shoulder injury. The defensive line was always trying to find interchangeable pieces to make things work throughout the season, however Crosby remained the consistent piece that made the wheels on the machine turn. For that, he's my defensive player of the year for the Raiders.

KM: At last, I agree with Levi.

Maxx Crosby is the Raiders' DPOY for his consistency, among other things.

Following that superb rookie season, Crosby garnered more attention from offensive lines who knew what he's capable of. And while he suffered a slight dip in forced fumbles, tackles, and sacks, finishing the season with seven, one can attribute that to the minimal help he received. Crosby brought effort and impacted every snap all 16 games, which is why he's earned the title of DPOY for 2020.

Under the supervision of recently hired defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, I expect Crosby to continue his maturation and build on a solid first two years in the league.

Rookie of the Year

LE: Even though he didn't have the season some may have predicted him to have, Henry Ruggs III is my pick for Rookie of the Year.

The Crimson Tide player was the first wide receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft and the first pick in the history of the Las Vegas Raiders. He may not have seen a large number of targets, but he was able to do big things whenever it was thrown his way. Ruggs had a whopping 17.4 yards per catch with nearly 500 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Ultimately, he did enough to show that he's a player with great promise that can be plugged into a lot of places in the Raiders offense. With a full offseason ahead of him, he's poised for a big-time sophomore campaign.

KM: I think Henry Ruggs III is the obvious choice, but allow me to throw out someone under the radar: John Simpson.

With the No. 109 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected John Simpson out of Clemson with the intention of him honing his talent before throwing him into the fray, but things didn't happen that way.

Just two weeks into the season, Richie Incognito suffered a season-ending injury, and Simpson was forced to step in for the player after which he models his game. In Week 3, the coaching staff started Simpson and the rookie played every snap against the New England Patriots. Simpson went on to play in seven games this season and started in two of them. While the starting guard position was eventually entrusted to Denzelle Good, Simpson performed admirably with limited reps and little-to-no offseason.

Comeback Player of the Year

KM: Nelson Agholor was a man on a mission in 2020.

Even though it was his first year as a Raider, Agholor had something to prove to the NFL and its spectators. After being labeled as someone with butterfingers in Philadelphia, Agholor could be seen on the JUGS machine at 4:30 a.m. this year, clearly determined to make a point. The former USC Trojan became a reliable target for Carr and went on to set a career-high in receiving yards with 896 and tied his career-high in touchdowns with eight. And he only needed 48 catches to do it.

Signed to a one-year deal during the offseason, it remains to be seen whether the Raiders will bring back Agholor, but I'm hopeful they do. With Waller, Agholor, Ruggs, and potentially a healthy Tyrell Williams, this receiving corps could do some serious damage in 2021.

LE: This player could've also won Rookie of the Year, but technically this is his second season so he'll have to settle for this award from me.

Johnathan Abram tore his labrum in his very first NFL regular-season game, forcing him to miss the remainder of his rookie season. Once he returned for his second season, he brought a much needed intensity and grit that the Raiders were missing without him.

Abram's impact to the Raiders defense was much needed this season, as the safety trash-talked, taunted, and outworked a lot of his adversaries this season. Abram led the team in tackles with 86 and had five pass deflections with two interceptions.

If he can stay healthy, be on the lookout for the improvement of Abram this offseason with the hire of new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

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