Season Rewind: Derek Carr And Raiders Offense Patched Together A Solid Season
Derek Carr, Raiders
Dec 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) on the sidelines before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If you read the opening piece in our season rewind series, you know that the 2021-22 season teetered on the edge of success and failure depending on what criteria you wanted to use for evaluation — and perhaps the Raiders offense (and Derek Carr in particular) embodied this fogginess more than anything else.

Statistically, the Raiders regressed — finishing 18th in points per game, down from 10th a year ago. They also finished 11th in total yards per game, 6th in passing and 28th in rushing.

But here’s where context matters in evaluating things…

They did all this despite losing their offensive mastermind in Week 5 — because whatever you thought of Jon Gruden as a talent evaluator (or person), the guy could absolutely coach offense. They did it despite losing Henry Ruggs after seven games, who, while not their best player on offense, was clearly their most important when it came to his ability to stretch defenses. There were also injuries: their projected starters at both guard spots missed the entire season, while their top weapon (Darren Waller) left Week 12 early, going on to miss the next five weeks before coming back as a diminished version of himself for Week 18.

When the Raiders entered must-win mode in Week 15 against the Browns, their offense looked like this:

  • Offensive line: Kolton Miller, John Simpson, Andre James, Alex Leatherwood, Brandon Parker
  • Running back: Josh Jacobs
  • Tight end: Foster Moreau
  • Wide Receiver: Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Bryan Edwards

Safe to say it’s not going to get confused for a Pro Bowl roster anytime soon. In fact, aside from Miller, Jacobs and Renfrow you could argue many of the other guys listed wouldn’t start for a number of teams around the league.

And yet this is the crew that won 10 games and made the playoffs.

Pretty remarkable.

Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

I get that he’s polarizing, but I don’t get why. Look at the list of receivers above, and realize that Carr finished fifth in passing yards this season — where is the debate here?

The reality is that his value goes well beyond statistics — his role as a team leader in keeping this locker room together cannot be measured, and his confidence in late-game situations is actually astonishing. You don’t win six games on the final play of the game without a quarterback who thrives under pressure and who can convince the guys around him they’ve got a chance.

In the playoffs, the Raiders got the ball back down 7 points with 1:51 to go from their own 35. Be honest: how many quarterbacks in the league give you the same level of confidence that Carr does in that spot? There’s no chance that list is longer than 8-10.

And despite the weapons around him, Carr marched the team down inside the 10 — with the biggest play being a 3rd and 17 conversion to Darren Waller that is one of the best passes I’ve ever seen. Yes, they came up short — and his decision to spike the ball on first down deserves part of the blame — but even getting there was a testament to his ability as far as I’m concerned.

Honorable mention: Hunter Renfrow, Kolton Miller

Renfrow will get some pub below, but Miller deserves a shoutout. He has developed into one of the better left tackles in the league — something that gets overlooked because of who he plays alongside.

Biggest Breakout: Hunter Renfrow

I’ve always been a fan of “Third and Renfrow”, or, my new favorite nickname: The Slot Machine, but I was skeptical about whether he would ever be able to put together a season like this. Coming into the year, he had 105 catches for 1,301 yards and 6 touchdowns across 29 games played.

This season, he posted 103 catches (a franchise record) for 1,038 yards and 9 touchdowns — despite becoming the team’s primary pass-catcher for the second half of the season. No longer just a weapon on third down, Renfrow is now among the best receivers in the league.

Honorable Mention: Zay Jones

Jones isn’t an elite receiver, but he has proven he has a place in this league and he stepped up in some huge moments for the team.

Biggest Disappointment: Offensive Line

We all knew that 2021 would be a step back for the offensive line with Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown all headed out of town — but this big of a step back? Yes, Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good — the team’s first choice at left and right guard — missing the entire season was a blow, but even that doesn’t explain what happened.

I feel bad lumping Kolton Miller in with this group, but aside from him you could make a case for each individual guy to be labeled as a disappointment. Andre James got paid like a dependable starter, but looked more like a developmental rookie. Alex Leatherwood was a reach in the first round, and whether it was at right tackle or right guard he did nothing to quiet the skeptics. At the other guard spot was John Simpson, the team’s fourth-round pick from 2022, who has done little to prove he’s a long-term answer at guard. And then there’s Brandon Parker, who was honestly the least disappointing of the bunch considering the level of expectations he had before the season.

This unit finished 28th in PFF’s unit rankings to end the season, and the final sentence in their write-up sums it up perfectly: “It’s remarkable that the Raiders made the postseason with this offensive line.”

Honorable mention: Bryan Edwards

We keep waiting for Edwards to break out, but he just can’t seem to separate at this level. I think he has one more year to prove himself before the Raiders have to look elsewhere for production.

Bottom Line

On paper this group underperformed, but in context I think that’s an unfair characterization. Derek Carr took C- ingredients and made a B- meal out of it, and for that I think he deserves credit. Add in the drop from Jon Gruden calling plays to Greg Olson, and even a C- might be generous — but at least I think the Raiders do have some reason for optimism:

They’ve got a top-12 quarterback and three legitimate offensive weapons in Waller, Renfrow and Josh Jacobs. Add in a franchise left tackle in Kolton Miller and all of a sudden we’re starting to cook. I think Andre James is a building block, as are Foster Moreau and Kenyan Drake — plus there’s still hope for Alex Leatherwood to at least become league-average somewhere. With $40 million in reported cap space and all their picks, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for the Raiders to aim for adding a No. 1 receiver and a couple quality pieces along the offensive line — in which case I think this group moves back into the top-10 offensive units next season.