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Hello everyone and welcome to the 2021 Raiders season awards. Where we dole out the best (and worst) in various categories. Let’s get right to it, shall we.
Rookie of the Year: CB Nate Hobbs
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (39) celebrates a interception against the Denver Broncos in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)
The fifth-round pick came on like gangbusters. Before camp was over he had a stranglehold on the starting nickel corner job. His rare mixture of aggressiveness and instincts make him sticky in coverage and punishing as a tackler.
Basically, he’s like a box safety who can cover, which is exactly what you want in a nickel but is not easy to find. The unquestionable best rookie on this team despite five other rookies selected before him.
Top Newcomer: LB Denzel Perryman
Nov 21, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) celebrates against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
After six seasons with the Chargers, Perryman was cut. He would end up signing on with the Panthers last offseason. But that wasn’t working out for whatever reason and the Panthers looked to dump him. They found a trade partner in the Raiders whose DC coached Perryman all those years with the Chargers.
Perryman went on to have the best season of his career and make his first Pro Bowl. He led the NFL in tackles most of the season until he missed two games. And even then, he still finished with a league-leading 94 solo tackles. If his value wasn’t already apparent, the Raiders felt it in those couple games he was out.
Breakout Player: P AJ Cole
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 14: Punter A.J. Cole #6 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrates after forcing a Kansas City Chiefs fumble on a punt return during their game at Allegiant Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 41-14. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
It wasn’t so long ago Cole was a guy few had even heard of. The undrafted free agent entered the Raiders training camp in 2019 attempting to unseat former fifth-round pick Johnny Townsend to become the team’s punter. He would win the job, but mainly because Townsend was so bad.
Cole was decent his first two years, but this year exploded. For much of the season, he was flirting with the best yards-per-punt average in the modern era. He would finish with an average of 50 yards per punt. There’s only one man in franchise history to finish with a higher average yards per punt in a season – Shane Lechler, who just twice in his 18-year career was able to break the 50-yards-per-punt plateau.
Cole also was also perfection as a holder, helping Daniel Carlson to have a career year as well.
Comeback Player: CB Casey Hayward
Dec 5, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward (29) intercepts a pass against the Washington Football Team in the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
He too has a strong case for best newcomer. But best to spread out the awards to those deserving. Like Chargers teammate Denzel Perryman, Hayward re-joined Gus Bradley with the Raiders. Unlike Perryman, Hayward has played at a Pro Bowl level in his career.
Hayward has at times been considered one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and went to the Pro Bowl with the Chargers in 2016 and 2017. And yet at 31, he wasn’t in high demand as a free agent, coming off his worst season since early in his career.
While he didn’t put up the kind of astronomical numbers he did in his Pro Bowl seasons, it was absolutely a bounceback season. Quarterback mostly didn’t test him, opting instead to go after the other side that was depleted by injuries. At times it was reminiscent of some of the years with Nnamdi Asomugha locking down his side of the field.
Most disappointing addition: OL Alex Leatherwood
Oct 4, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (99) and defensive end Joey Bosa (97) battle against Las Vegas Raiders offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood (70) as Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) drops back to pass during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
With a first round pick, much is expected. Greatness isn’t always expected right away, but something resembling solid play is. They got nothing approaching that from Leatherwood.
The team traded away right tackle Trent Brown and they were expected to go after a new right tackle with their top pick. They shocked a lot of people when they selected Leatherwood at pick 17. And all Leatherwood did was re-affirm every criticism of his selection and a few that weren’t leveed.
He was given a high second round grade by most…as a guard. And the Raiders drafted him in the middle of the first round to play tackle.
They realized after just four games that they made a mistake and moved him inside. And he struggled there too. He would lead the league in penalties much of the season. Only in rare occasions would he flash the athletic abilities as a blocker that had him viewed even as a solid guard prospect. And he often was beaten as a pass blocker.
The Raiders were in dire need of a right tackle when they drafted him. That’s still the case. With much uncertainty he can be serviceable at guard either.
Best Position Group: Defensive line
Oct 24, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) is brought down by Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) and defensive end Clelin Ferrell (99) as defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (77) moves in during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
From end to end the Raiders Defensive line was the best they’ve had in years. The starters were strong with some decent depth as well. Maxx Crosby was a force on one side while Yannick Ngakoue led the team with ten sacks from the other side. Carl Nassib and Clelin Ferrell came off the bench with rookie Malcolm Koonce coming on strong late.
Inside, the rotation kept opposing offenses on their toes. Jonathan Hankins and Quinton Jefferson led the charge with Darius Philon and Solomon Thomas providing energy.
Each of the first three years under Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther the Raiders were bottom ten in sacks. That changed this year and, unlike some teams that blitz a great deal, all but one of the Raiders’ 35 sacks came from the defensive line. They also added 41 tackles for loss.
Best game: Week 18 vs Chargers
Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) gestures as he runs off the field after defeating the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
One of the best games of the entire NFL season. Win and you’re in the playoffs. Lose and you’re out. The Raiders took an early 10-0 lead with the help of a forced fumble on a punt return. Then the Chargers came raging back with two long drives to take a 14-10 lead.
A long drive by the Raiders just before the half, put the Raiders back ahead 17-14. Then a big stop on fourth and one on the Chargers 16-yard-line made it a 20-14 lead. That was followed by another long drive by the Raiders and an interception on defense to make it a 29-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
With the game on the line, the Chargers needed two long drives for touchdowns, one with a two-point conversion, and a quick stop in between to have a shot. That’s exactly what they did. The final touchdown was scored on the last possible play as time ran out to send the game to overtime.
The Raiders got the ball first and drove for a field goal. Then the Chargers responded, with the defense holding them to a field goal as well. That meant the next score won.
And the Raiders drove into field goal range once again, with Daniel Carlson kicking the game-winner as time expired. Euphoria as it punched their ticket to the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years. And they sent their division rival Chargers home in the process.
Worst game: Week 14 vs Chiefs
Dec 12, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Rashad Fenton (27) and defensive end Chris Jones (95)during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
As is often the case, the Raiders had their biggest collapse at Arrowhead. It was the worst loss the Raiders had ever suffered to the Chiefs. They fell 48-9.
This wasn’t one that was close for a while and got away from them either. It was 7-0 on the FIRST PLAY. And it was 35-0 before halftime. That first play saw Josh Jacobs try to get the left end and get stacked up and the ball popped out. It was recovered by the Chiefs and run back for a touchdown.
The Chiefs added a couple of touchdown drives after that. Meanwhile, the Raiders had yet to even move into Kansas City territory. Then Carr was picked off by Tyrann Mathieu who returned it to the Vegas 39 and the Chiefs would score another touchdown to take a 28-0 lead.
Three plays into their next possession, Hunter Renfrow fumbled it and the Chiefs recovered. Once again the Chiefs would score off the turnover to give them a 35-0 lead with 1:40 left in the second quarter.
The Raiders would go on their first long drive, setting foot in KC territory for the first time. But instead of making any attempt to get in the end zone to make it a four-score game, Rich Bisaccia conceded defeat and opted to put a meaningless three points on the board instead to avoid the possibility of a shutout.
The Chiefs would score on every one of their possessions in the second half, including a 51-yard touchdown run off a Derek Carr fumble.
Special Teams Player of the Year: K Daniel Carlson
Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson (2) celebrates with punter A.J. Cole (6) and tight end Foster Moreau (87) after kicking a game-winning field goal in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Cole made a strong case for this award. He earned the Breakout Player Award, but Carlson gets the nod here because he was such a phenomenal clutch scorer for the Raiders this season. He attempted 43 field goals on the season, missing just three, including going six for seven from outside 50 yards.
In the team’s four-game win streak to finish the season, he was a perfect 12 for 12, scoring 43 points. The Raiders’ average margin of victory in those games was three points and their largest margin was four points, which means if he misses even one of his field goals, the Raiders don’t make the playoffs.
He was then four for four in their playoff game against the Bengals, a game in which it came down to the wire. Again, he misses any of those and the Raiders aren’t even in that position at the end.
Defensive MVP: DE Maxx Crosby
Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) celebrates after a play against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
This team’s success can be attributed to the improvement on the defensive line. And no one had a bigger impact than Crosby, who was the only player in the NFL with over 100 pressures (101) and putting up eight sacks. His 30 QB hits was more than he had in his first two years combined and tied for fourth most in the NFL this season.
No player was more crucial to their late season run for the playoffs. He had two sacks and made crucial stop after crucial stop in the huge playoff clinching win over the Chargers in the season finale. Two weeks earlier, he was the best player on the field in a big 17-13 win over the rival Broncos. It was the only time this season the Raiders held an opponent under 14 points.
Offensive MVP: WR Hunter Renfrow
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 26: Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Las Vegas Raiders catches a touchdown pass in the end zone against Kareem Jackson #22 of the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Allegiant Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Mr Dependable. Third-and-Renfrow. Slot machine. Whatever you want to call him, he’s that. Renfrow took up the slack with Henry Ruggs III gone and later when Darren Waller was injured and put up historic franchise numbers.
First he joined Jerry Rice and Tim Brown as the only ever Raiders receivers to put up 90 catches in a season. Then he flew past Jerry Rice’s franchise best 92 catches and had his sights set on Tim Brown.
He would fall one catch shy of tying Brown’s 104 catch franchise mark for wide receivers and four short of Darren Waller’s franchise mark at any position, set last year. Renfrow would also become the team’s first 1000-yard wide receiver since Amari Cooper.
Renfrow accomplished this with sure hands (80.5% completions), a lethal array of route running moves, and an innate feel for breaking off his route and making himself available when his quarterback needed him. He led the team in every receiving category including receiving touchdowns. His nine TDs was six more than any other player on the team.