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Raiders need second-year players to break through

Updated May 19, 2021 - 10:21 am

For multiple reasons, the Raiders’ 2020 draft class never quite took off last year. Injuries were an issue, as the three rookies the Raiders were counting on most — Henry Ruggs, Damon Arnette and Bryan Edwards — missed a combined 14 games.

But their lack of development was another issue, as COVID-19 disrupted the 2020 offseason program.

The bottom line is, the entire class needs a bounce-back season. Of the seven players, all but third-round pick Lynn Bowden, who was traded to the Dolphins in the preseason, remain on the roster.

Here is where the returning players stand.

WR Henry Ruggs

First round (12th)

Ruggs finished with 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns. His impact as a speed threat notwithstanding, along with the Raiders’ insistence that he was exactly what they thought he would be — it is imperative that Ruggs make a much bigger impact this season.

The word from coaches at Alabama is that his work ethic is second to none. That diligence bodes well for a player who faced a specific to-do list this offseason: Get stronger, improve his explosiveness and refine his route running and finishing ability.

If Ruggs heeded the Raiders’ instructions and went to work on those areas, there is reason to believe he will be in a much better position to take off as a big-time weapon. Jon Gruden and Derek Carr are eager to tap into everything Ruggs brings to the table. If he earns their trust, his touches will significantly expand.

CB Damon Arnette

First round (19th)

Arnette stood out in training camp while playing with a swagger and tenacity that fit the part of an NFL cornerback. But a wrist injury completely sabotaged his rookie season. His performances suffered as he tried to play through the injury, and the resulting surgery cost him eight weeks of valuable development time and prevented him from getting the necessary work done in the weight room.

The former Ohio State standout has the full backing of the Raiders. But they also understand the need for a veteran presence in the secondary, so they signed both Casey Hayward and Rasul Douglas.

Hayward, in particular, could push Arnette out of a starting job or result in the Raiders moving Arnette to slot cornerback, a position he played in college at various times. Either way, the pressure has been ramped up on Arnette.

Like Ruggs, Arnette needed to add power and strength this offseason, and as his late-season bouts with concussions showed, his tackling fundamentals need to improve.

WR Bryan Edwards

Third round (81st)

The 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound Edwards was a big hit in training camp while displaying surprising speed for a player his size. He also showed an ability to go up and get the ball and the potential to be the sort of big-bodied weapon in the red zone the Raiders have lacked.

But just as Edwards was beginning to find his footing, he injured his ankle in Week 3 against the New England Patriots and was sidelined the next five games. While getting back in the groove proved difficult upon returning, Edwards finished on a high note with two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the season finale.

Among Raiders wide receivers, none of the projected contributors has the size and talent combination of Edwards. The Raiders are eager to begin tapping into that potential.

LB Tanner Muse

Third round (100th)

A training camp toe injury that required season-ending surgery cost Muse his rookie season and stunted his development as he was trying to move from college safety to NFL linebacker. Muse, now fully recovered, figures to have a role on special teams.

The question is, can he develop enough as a linebacker to serve as a backup to starters Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski and Nicholas Morrow? Or, at the least, can he prove worthy of getting on the field in specific packages?

G John Simpson

Fourth round (109th)

Don’t rule out Simpson making a big push for one of the starting guard spots. The Raiders would welcome that development since it would allow them to move Denzelle Good back to a swing role between guard and tackle. The most likely scenario has Simpson spending one more year as a developmental player and putting himself in line for a full-time role in 2022.

CB Amik Robertson

Fourth round (129th)

Robertson played with an obvious fearlessness in college, jumping off the screen with his physicality and ball skills. But coming in at 5-8, his NFL future relied on making the transition to slot cornerback after playing almost exclusively on the outside at Louisiana Tech.

The switch is much easier in theory than in practice, as the game unfolds differently from that vantage point both in pass coverage and run support. Robertson never seemed to get a complete handle on things as a result.

As he heads into his second season, he should have a much better feel in the slot. By releasing Lamarcus Joyner, the Raiders have opened that position for an audition. Robertson will get a long look.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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