A lot has changed since the last time the New England Patriots squared off against the Raiders. While New England saw some of its franchise cornerstones leave since the 2017 season — including, of course, quarterback Tom Brady — their upcoming opponent has seen changes on an even greater scale: the franchise moved from Oakland to Las Vegas and also brought head coach Jon Gruden on board to rebuild.
That process has left well-known players such as linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper on the out, but helped Gruden create a competitive team in his third year at the job: the Raiders are 2-0 heading into their Week 3 matchup against the Patriots, in large parts because of the roster that Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock were able to build around veteran quarterback Derek Carr.
Who are the essential but not necessarily big names on that roster? We spoke with Cam Mellor of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Silver and Black Pride to find out, and he gave us five names that Patriots fans should have on their radar this week, beginning with a highly talented first-round rookie.
WR Henry Ruggs III
Silver and Black Pride: “The first one is easy, it’s Henry Ruggs. If you don’t know about him yet, don’t blink. The fastest guy at the combine has clearly been an integral part in the Raiders passing attack that’s been implemented early and he’ll see a few targets downfield early.”
Ruggs’ stat-line two games into his NFL career may not look overwhelming — he has caught four passes on eight targets for 59 yards and also carried the ball twice for 11 more — but make no mistake: the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft has the explosiveness and straight-line speed to challenge New England’s secondary deep. He may not be the focal point of the Raiders’ offense just yet, but he is certainly capable of winning one-on-ones.
TE Darren Waller
Silver and Black Pride: “Darren Waller is the next, but that’s almost cheating and easy because of his performance on Monday Night. You need to know about Waller because you’ll hear his name a ton. He’s the majority leader in target share to start the year as the next three players on Las Vegas’ most-targeted receiver list haven’t seen as many combined targets as Waller has through two games.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has attempted 68 passes so far this season, and more than one third of them went to his number one tight end: Darren Waller was targeted 24 times in Weeks 1 and 2, and caught 18 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown — leading the team in each category. Waller will has to be a focal point for New England’s defense given that he has been its most consistent pass catcher and Carr’s favorite weapon. With that said, Waller missing two practices this week because of a knee issue is a situation to watch.
DT Maurice Hurst
Silver and Black Pride: “The next person is absolutely Maurice Hurst. The big man and fifth-round pick has finally started to look like the guy from Michigan who was largely seen as a first-round talent but slipped due to pre-combine health concerns.”
A rotational defensive tackle in the Raiders’ 4-3-based scheme, Hurst has looked good as both a pass rusher and a run stopper whenever on the field. Needless to say that the Patriots’ interior offensive line will have its hands full with the third-year man, especially if center David Andrews is unable to go due to a hand injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
LB Nicholas Morrow
Silver and Black Pride: “Linebacker Nicholas Morrow is another name to know as the former undrafted free agent from Greenville has stepped up his coverage ability in 2020 and is limiting a ton of short-area throws and is the lone player on the team with an interception through two weeks.”
With free agency acquisition Nick Kwiatkoski still out because of a pectoral injury, Las Vegas has turned to fourth-year man Nicholas Morrow to take on a more prominent role as an off-the-ball linebacker alongside Cory Littleton. Morrow, who already was with the team the last time it faced off against the Patriots, was used primarily as a run stopper and in coverage the last two weeks and showed an ability to keep his zones clean: only two of six passes thrown his way were completed for a combined 37 yards and the interception mentioned above.
OT Denzelle Good
Silver and Black Pride: “And last but not least, Denzelle Good, the Raiders right tackle who’s had to step in for ole Trent Brown after Brown was injured on Play Three of the year. If Brown can’t go, Good has lived up to his name and been very strong on the right side in relief.”
With former Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown remaining out because of a calf injury, chances are that Denzelle Good will again fill the right tackle spot — that is if he can get back to full strength again: like Brown, he missed Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice because of a thumb injury and illness. Even if he is good to go, it remains to be seen how effective he will be after missing considerable time during what is already a short week.