NFL News & Analysis

Raiders' young wide receivers Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III have something to prove in 2021

Denver, Colorado, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Bryan Edwards (89) catches a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Jon Gruden clearly wants Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Bryan Edwards to be the second coming of Terrell Owens, and maybe if he tries hard enough to will it into existence, it will happen.

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You can’t blame him. What head coach, especially one who has struggled to hit on first-round draft picks, wouldn’t want a fourth-rounder to turn into a Hall of Fame-caliber wide receiver? Gruden made the comparison early in training camp when Edwards was overpowering and outclassing Raiders defensive backs with leaping highlight grabs. The Las Vegas head coach not only said Edwards “looks like T.O.,” he also said the South Carolina product “looks like one of the number one wideouts in the league.”

Perhaps Gruden’s positive vibes can make Edwards’ forecasted ascension a reality, but those close to the team are a little less sure that the second-year wideout has a one-way ticket to Canton and nearly 16,000 career receiving yards. And that’s not even a shot at Edwards — he's being compared to NFL legends. Raiders reporter Levi Edwards even noted Edwards’ resemblance to Randy Moss.

Edwards caught 11 passes on 15 targets for 193 yards and one touchdown in 12 games with three starts last season while putting up a respectable 66.4 PFF receiving grade. He finished behind tight ends Darren Waller and Jason Witten, fellow wideouts Nelson Agholor, Hunter Renfrow, Henry Ruggs III and Zay Jones, running backs Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard and Devontae Booker and even fullback Alec Ingold in targets. Witten, Agholor and Booker are gone — replaced by running back Kenyan Drake and wide receiver John Brown — and Edwards is certainly due for an uptick in playing time, targets and production.

And Edwards will play. And so will fellow wide receiver and 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III, and it will come at the expense of snaps for Brown and Jones. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will play their guys — the ones they drafted. And they need to start hitting on those players before early-round misses catch up to them even further.

But those close to the team want to see Edwards translate these practice highlights into game production. And any comparisons to Owens or Moss are premature until it actually happens.

Ruggs used his world-class speed to get behind the Los Angeles Rams’ secondary for a big play Wednesday during joint practices. Otherwise, 2020’s top drafted wide receiver hasn’t been a consistent standout in training camp. At least, not to the degree of Edwards or wide receivers drafted after him in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft: the Denver BroncosJerry Jeudy and the Dallas CowboysCeeDee Lamb.

Wide receivers Jalen Reagor (Philadelphia Eagles), Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings) and Brandon Aiyuk (San Francisco 49ers) also were selected in the first round last year. Only Reagor (396 yards) had fewer receiving yards than Ruggs (452 yards) last season. Out of 41 rookie receivers to play last year, Ruggs finished 34th in PFF receiving grade (55.6).

Slot receiver Hunter Renfrow was the Raiders’ most impressive pass-catcher in Wednesday’s practice with the Rams. He beat All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on two big catches — one deep and one a jump ball. Renfrow will also play heavy snaps in 2021.

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Drake is an interesting addition to the Raiders’ offense and should add a degree of playmaking ability out of the backfield. Jacobs will continue to be Las Vegas’ lead runner, but Drake will certainly cut into his touches. Jacobs averaged a healthy 20.6 touches per game last year, but that might be tough to attain in 2020 while sharing a backfield with Drake.

Tight end Darren Waller is due for another big season, and backup tight end Foster Moreau could carve out a significant role in the Raiders’ offense. No. 87 was on the field frequently during Wednesday’s practice.

The Raiders are widely considered to be in “win-now” mode. That likely means playing veterans Yannick Ngakoue, Casey Hayward Jr., Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen over recent highly drafted defenders Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette. But Las Vegas' top brass wants to see what it has on offense in Edwards and Ruggs. And if the two wideouts can live up to the lofty expectations Gruden has set for them with quarterback Derek Carr, who looked mostly in command against a tough Rams secondary Wednesday, then the Raiders might “just win, baby.”

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