Going into Week 3, the Raiders are looking great- but can we trust them? We have a limited data set about how the 2021 NFL season is going to go. But we also need to start basing our strategy off the evidence in front of us. We can’t lean too heavily into performances from three games. But it’s important to be early to hit on something which is going to continue season-long.
This is as true for real life as it is for fantasy. At the time of writing, we have five 3-0 teams. I think it’s safe to say that only the Rams could have been predicted. The Cardinals, Panthers, and Broncos were not expected to be this good. However, at what point do we begin to trust the evidence we’re seeing in front of us?
The final 3-0 team is the one I’m going to be looking at today. I’ll go piece by piece within the Raiders offense to tell you if I think they’re something you can trust for fantasy football.
As a note – I’m not touching the running back position in this article, as I believe there’s a chance the offense changes with the return of Josh Jacobs.
Carr is a bit of an enigma in both fantasy football and actual football. For me, I believe Carr is established as a new version of 2010s Andy Dalton. A quarterback who won’t lose you games, but won’t necessarily win them single-handedly. You can certainly win with Derek Carr, but he might not be able to do it by himself.
For this reason, Carr is historically undervalued in fantasy. Currently, Carr is sitting as the QB10 on the season. He’s one of only three quarterbacks to finish as a QB1 each week so far, finishing as QB9, QB10, and QB11. I think those positions are evidence for my point above being the same in fantasy. If you started Derek Carr, he probably didn’t win you the week, but he certainly didn’t lose it for you.
So far this year, Carr is playing at an MVP caliber level. Carr won the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, which seems thoroughly deserved. He’s the league leader in yardage at 1203, although this isn’t the best way to judge a QB on its own. What it does mean is that Carr is averaging better than 400 yards per outing, as well as having completed 88 of 136 passes (64.7%). Jon Gruden is letting Carr air the ball out so far this season and he is performing. One thing to note is Derek Carr’s clutch factor thus far, performing in the fourth quarter to lead his team to wins.
One thing to keep in mind is the return of Josh Jacobs from turf toe, whenever that will be. The Raiders and Jon Gruden have shown affection for an old-fashioned ground and pound offense. When their star RB returns, it will be interesting to see what happens to their play-calling.
At this rate, Carr is definitely startable for fantasy and has vaulted up a tier from where he was being drafted. His passing volume offers an incredibly stable floor. It’s just necessary to consider that a 30 point game might not be in his range of outcomes.
I’m going to keep this one brief. You know you can trust Darren Waller.
After a stellar opening to the season where he saw 19 targets in week one, Darren Waller has dropped off a little bit. A huge part of this is due to the Raiders wide receiver core performing better than expected, as well as defenses knowing to key in on Waller. He’s the TE4 on the season so far, having caught 20 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. More is to come from this elite tight end and he’s definitely the most stable player in this offense.
This is where things get interesting. I’m going to talk about the Raiders wide receiving core as a group, as I think it’s a more effective way of understanding where they stand in fantasy football. The three Raiders WRs we need to look at are Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs, and Bryan Edwards. These three have clear roles in the offense. Renfrow is a slot receiver and a reliable third down weapon. Ruggs is a field stretcher with elite speed, although his role is certainly expanding this year. Edwards is a prototypical X receiver who excels in contested catch situations.
This stands out as a strong receiving core. The lines for all three look relatively similar at this point in the year. Renfrow has 16 receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown; Ruggs has 11 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown; and Edwards has 10 receptions for 210 yards. This translates similarly for fantasy with Ruggs at WR27, Renfrow at WR31, and Edwards at WR49. It’s worth flagging how deep the wide receiver position is here – if Edwards TD against the Ravens in week two hadn’t been called back, he’d be sitting similar around the WR 25-30 mark.
Looking at the tape, we can see a clear development in all three players. Hunter Renfrow is being lauded across the league for his route running. His ability to stick his foot in the ground and turn on a dime is helping the Raiders move the chains, whilst also producing highlight-reel plays like below.
Renfrow is on pace to easily surpass his 656 yards and four touchdowns from a year ago. He’s becoming a favorite target of Derek Carr and his reliability from Clemson seems to be translating to the NFL. I think Renfrow will be a better NFL receiver than he ever will be for fantasy, but he has a stable floor and is worth starting at your WR3 spot.
Henry Ruggs is worth throwing into your lineup in a similar way to Desean Jackson. He’s always a threat for a 75-yard touchdown, whenever he’s on the field. However, Ruggs is being used in a slightly different way this year. Jon Gruden seems to have recognized that Ruggs’ elite speed can be used in underneath routes too. Ruggs has already gained 74 yards after the catch. That’s nearly half of what he achieved last year, in a third as many games.
This season, Ruggs can often be seen working horizontally to manufacture space. Jon Gruden seems to recognize that motioning Ruggs across the formation is a great way to give him a one-on-one he can easily win. He’s never going to beat a receiver with power and route running, but if he gets the ball in space, he’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball. For this reason, Ruggs is the opposite of Renfrow. He’s someone who can potentially win you a week.
Bryan Edwards was an off-season darling in fantasy football communities. He drew comparisons to Terrell Owens and Randy Moss in training camp. That’s going way too far, but Edwards has performed well so far this season. According to PFF, Edwards has the highest receiving grade on contested catches across all wide receivers.
Individually, these three players might not be winning any awards. But as a group, they’re showing out as one of the most complete wide receiver rooms in the NFL. They have complimentary skill sets and are each performing their jobs brilliantly.
I’m not sure if the volume for the Raiders offense will continue. When Jacobs returns, there’s a chance everything changes. But looking at their performances so far, I want a piece of the Raiders offense in my fantasy lineup. Waller is obviously the star and will continue to be, but the Raiders skill positions provide a stable floor across the board. It’s going to be tough to know which receiver is going to be the one you can trust each week. For me, I’m interested to see the development of Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards in year two, although Renfrow is the easiest weapon to start currently due to a stable floor.
Image Credit: Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports