Mike Mayock’s first rookie class as general manager of the Raiders was an extremely productive one.
Whether this year’s class can perform in similar fashion could help determine whether the Raiders can be a playoff contender in the AFC in their first season in Las Vegas.
“I think a lot of people are kind of tapping them on the butt,” Mayock said Tuesday. “It’s not time to anoint anybody yet. ... You have to earn it in this league, OK? We don’t have any preseason games to do it, which kind of exaggerates the evaluation process for us. So, the snapshot of the rookies has been good, but that doesn’t mean anything yet. They got to compete on special teams. They have to get off press coverage in games. There’s an awful long way to go before we anoint anyone in this rookie class.”
The early returns from the practice field have been positive for a group led by speedy first-round receiver Henry Ruggs III and physical first-round cornerback Damon Arnette.
They follow up last year's class led by Josh Jacobs and Maxx Crosby that had more TDs, yards from scrimmage and sacks than any other first-year class.
Ruggs and Arnette will need to contribute right away for the Raiders to have success this season. Las Vegas also might need immediate help from third-round receiver Bryan Edwards, who has made a good early impression.
That has become more important with an injury to projected starter Tyrell Williams, who tore the labrum in his shoulder in practice last week.
Williams will try to rehabilitate the injury and play through it, though he will miss an undetermined amount of time, putting more pressure on the two rookies.
The Raiders also have several veterans in the mix led by free agent Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones. Agholor, a first-round pick in 2015, had 126 catches for 1,504 yards and 12 TDs in 2017-18 for Philadelphia before injuries limited him to 39 catches for 363 yards last season.
Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, was acquired from Buffalo midway through last season and had 20 catches for 147 yards in 10 games for the Raiders.
Marcell Ateman and Rico Gafford are also among the returning players in the mix.
The Raiders have dealt with a few other injuries during camp. Second-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen got hurt last week but it wasn’t as serious as originally feared and Mayock expects him back soon.
Right tackle Trent Brown hasn’t practiced with the team yet in camp but Mayock said he expects him back shortly as well.
Having Brown healthy will be a boost for quarterback Derek Carr, whose production waned late last season when Brown and running back Josh Jacobs were hurt.
Carr is more comfortable than ever in his third year in head coach Jon Gruden’s system and has the talent around him to end a three-year span in which the Raiders failed to average 20 points a game in any season.
“I’m just really pleased with the way Derek Carr has taken over this football team,” Mayock said. “It goes back to the off-season , it goes back to all the workouts he had with the players and the players just confirming their buy-in. And that’s been awesome. I think Derek is just a natural. I think he gets better every day with Jon in year three. That’s been awesome.”
The Raiders will need a much more productive offence if they want to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
But Mayock knows there’s plenty of work that needs to be done before the Raiders can worry about how they stack up against the Chiefs.
“There are no conversations in this building about divisional foes, or where we fit in the hierarchy of the game, it’s all about the Carolina Panthers,” Mayock said, referring to the opponent in the opener. “You’ll get a pretty good idea if we can compete or not compete by what we put out on the field. ... We expect to get better, we’ve worked our tails off, but it’s got to show up on the field and there are no excuses, COVID or not.”
NOTES: The Raiders signed former Tennessee DE Sharif Finch. Finch had 3 1/2 sacks in 23 games with the Titans. ... DE Ade Aruna was waived to make room on the roster.
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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press