Andy Kallistros said:
"Defense as a whole impressed me with their turnaround in just one year."
Watching the Raiders defense in 2020 to the Raiders defense in 2021 - it wasn't even like I was watching the same team.
Gus Bradley came in as the team's defensive coordinator and turned them around nearly overnight. His more simple, effective scheme for players, along with free agent signings of Yannick Ngakoue, Casey Hayward Jr., Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas, changed the culture for the Raiders defense that had reached historic lows before his arrival. The Raiders defense was ranked in the top 15 of many categories including fewest yards allowed, pass deflections and quarterback hits. They also sacked the quarterback 14 more times in 2021 than they did in 2020.
The turnaround was pleasant to experience and many players and coaches should be considered responsible for it - as the Raiders wouldn't have made the playoffs without it.
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Peter Boome said:
"The rookies showed up this year. Hobbs, Moehrig and Deablo were awesome."
The Raiders' 2021 draft class has already placed its footprint on the team, and could be the cornerstone of the franchise moving forward.
For starters, the 2021 rookie class was available - with health and injuries not getting in their way of stepping foot on the field. Alex Leatherwood and Tre'von Moehrig started every game for the Raiders, while Divine Deablo and Nate Hobbs started a combined 15 games - including the wild card game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Secondly, when they did play, they produced. Moehrig and Hobbs combined for nearly 130 total tackles, nine pass deflections and two interceptions. The two also had PFF grades above 70 for the season, both in the top 10 for rookie defensive backs. The late boomers in the rookie class with Deablo, Tyree Gillespie and Malcolm Koonce came in hot as well. Deablo finished the season with 45 total tackles, Koonce had two sacks in his 48 defensive snaps played and Gillespie saw lots of time on special teams.
With what I saw from the talented rookies on defense, along with the improvement first-round pick Leatherwood made throughout the season, the future looks very promising for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Lori Louder Cabral said:
"My top player is Hunter Renfrow, he plays smart, hard and fast!"
While many people were surprised by Hunter Renfrow's stellar season, I can't claim to be one of them.
Renfrow has established himself as a threat at wide receiver since his days at Clemson. Going from a walk-on to National Champion, he had already proven that he can get it done on the big stage. Despite that, he was a fifth-round pick to the Raiders. And boy, aren't they glad he fell in their laps.
In Renfrow's first two seasons has a Raider, he had 1,261 receiving yards, 105 catches and six receiving touchdowns. He nearly matched or exceeded all three of those totals in his third season. Even as the slot receiver in the Raiders offense, he was the team leader in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns - and the best part is he did it all this season with great humility and consistency.
The season Renfrow had should now solidify himself as a top receiver in the NFL. And not one of the "more under the radar" receivers in the NFL either. I mean top 10 receiver in the league.
Marco Manzo said:
"How the whole team did with their resiliency and ability to keep going and not let one thing after another derail them."
An early-season head coaching change, two first-round picks released, torn ACLs, broken ankles and a pandemic still running rampant.
And the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders still won 10 games and made the playoffs.
Raider Nation should be proud of this resilient bunch for the way they played and responded to adversity. At 6-7, coming off a 39-point road loss to a division rival, they didn't quit. The rolled off four straight wins under a touchdown margin to clinch a playoff berth. When one player went down, another player stepped up - whether it was rookie like Nate Hobbs, a trade acquisition like Denzel Perryman or a practice squad signee like Brandon Facyson. The Raiders got the absolute most out of this unit this season, and it ultimately paid off until the very end.
"We went through some stuff, some refining, some hard times, but we locked the doors every day on Monday, and the people that were inside that building didn't stop believing in this," Derek Carr said after the Raiders victory over the Chargers. "It showed today. We made it to the playoffs. It's awesome, it's probably the coolest accomplishment I think I've ever had in my life, football-wise. To see where we were at, everything we went through, and to still make it, no record, nothing. This was the coolest thing to see. This team come together and be able to still decide that this is what we wanted to do, it's a cool feeling, that's for sure."
I do believe history will be kind to this team.