If the Las Vegas Raiders are going to threaten the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021, these five breakout candidates will have a big hand in it.
The Las Vegas Raiders have upped their win total in each of Jon Gruden’s three seasons back as head coach, from four to seven to eight. The comfort of a 10-year contract allows Gruden to build it slowly, but last year’s fade from 7-5 to 8-8 and out of the playoff contention by Week 17 creates some urgency for 2021.
The Raiders were the only team to beat the Kansas City Chiefs when they were playing all their key players last year, and they nearly did it twice. So that’s a huge confidence builder, as long as they take care of business elsewhere.
Las Vegas’ weakness last year was the defense, and new coordinator Gus Bradley will be charged with fixing it. Even a middle of the road unit that forces some turnovers could bring 10 wins in 2021.
As the Raiders look to make some headway in their own division, and in the AFC as a whole, here are five breakout candidates to watch in 2021.
5 breakout stars to watch for the Las Vegas Raiders in 20215. Maurice Hurst, DT
If not for a heart issue discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine, Hurst would have probably been a first-round pick in 2018. Instead, the Raiders took a flier on him in the fifth round. Time on the COVID-19 list was a factor for him last year, as he ultimately missed five games. A third-year breakout, as predicted by Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports and others, didn’t get to the finish line.
Maurice Hurst has been added to the Reserve/Covid-19 List.
Hurst is the 4th highest graded DI in the NFL this season (89.4 overall grade) pic.twitter.com/9MuD85LHMc
— PFF Las Vegas Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) October 6, 2020
The Raiders have added to their defensive line this offseason, as they needed to. But Hurst should not be dismissed as a big factor, particularly as an interior pass rusher (38 pressures in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus). A fourth-year breakout would not be surprising.