It seems as though most of the optimism surrounding the Raiders heading into the 2020 season is built upon the additions the team made in the offseason, and that makes sense. Las Vegas acquired some high-priced free agents (Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski) and brought in some intriguing draft picks (Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Amik Robertson), so an instant impact is anticipated.
But in order for the Raiders to exceed expectations this season and perhaps contend for a playoff spot, it will require strong performances from the team’s returning players as well.
With training camp set to open this week, let’s look at five Raiders veterans who need to step up in 2020:
Darren Waller, tight end
There’s been a lot of talk about how Ruggs might be able to add a big-play element to the Las Vegas offense, but until he proves it on the field it’s just talk. Waller, however, has proven his ability to rack up chunk yardage in the passing game, as he caught 90 balls for 1,145 yards last year.
It was a breakout campaign for the fourth-year veteran, and the Raiders need Waller to maintain that level of play in 2020 as the team tries to incorporate its crop of rookie skill players into the attack.
Trent Brown, right tackle
The Raiders signed Brown to a mammoth contract last offseason and he mostly lived up to it, providing strong (and occasionally dominant) blocking at right tackle. But he didn’t sign a one-year deal — he inked for four years and $66 million, with more than $36 million guaranteed, so Las Vegas needs more than one year of production.
The Raiders are expected to field one of the league’s best offensive lines in 2020, and Brown has to continue be a big part of that.
Lamarcus Joyner, defensive back
Joyner was a disappointment in 2019. After giving the Rams five serviceable seasons, mostly at safety, the Raiders gave him a nice contract and moved him to slot cornerback full-time, and it didn’t go well. Opposing quarterbacks completed 69.4 percent of passes in Joyner’s direction last year and posted a passer rating of 109.8.
Now Joyner’s role is a question mark. Las Vegas drafted Amik Robertson in the third round, and he’s got a good chance of winning the slot corner job in camp. That would leave Joyner in a backup role, or possibly facing a move back to safety, which the Raiders have resisted to this point. Either way, Joyner is too expensive to cut, so the team needs to put him in the best position to succeed in 2020.
Hunter Renfrow, wide receiver
Renfrow broke out toward the end of last season, with 490 of his 605 receiving yards and all four of his touchdowns coming over his final seven games. While it would be unfair to expect a slot receiver to maintain that kind of pace for a full season, the Raiders are going to need Renfrow to continue to be a reliable target in important situations.
Much of the receiving corps is going to be made up of rookies, and their performances will no doubt fluctuate from week to week as they acclimate to the NFL. Like Waller, it’s up to Renfrow — now a veteran pass catcher — to give Derek Carr a steady presence on short routes.
Josh Jacobs, running back
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock took some criticism for drafting a running back in the first round, but Jacobs made them look smart by playing like a superstar for most of his first season (1,150 yards, seven touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry).
Still, there were warning signs. A shoulder injury ended his campaign after 13 games, leaving some questions as to whether Jacobs can handle a full-time workload for an entire season. And if he can’t, was it worth spending a first-round pick on a running back who needs to be spelled in order to make it through 16 games? Jacobs can answer those questions this season.