As in, stop trying to figure it out. Because it all depends upon your definition of “reach,” and who, exactly, is defining it.
Look, the Raiders, like 31 other NFL teams, have their own draft boards and rankings and really don’t care about your mocks or what Mel Kiper Jr., Daniel Jeremiah or anyone else thinks heading into the draft.
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“I ignore it 100 percent, except for the fact that I think it’s part of my job to understand league value,” said Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who, before being hired by the Raiders in 2019, used to make a living placing values on college players and producing his own mock drafts for NFL Network.
“So if you’re going to move up or down the board, you have to know what league value on players are.”
This is not to defend, or decry, the Raiders’ thinking as much as it is to explain how they could select Leatherwood, nowhere near a consensus Top 5 offensive tackle, at No. 17 overall.
To paraphrase Sally Field, the Raiders loved him. They really, really loved him. And at the end of the day, that’s all that mattered. Or did you miss Mayock, who used to make a living alongside the likes of Kiper and Jeremiah, saying that, ratings be damned, Leatherwood was their guy at No. 17?
“In all honesty,” Mayock said, “he was the highest-rated player on our board at that time — offense or defense.”
And there it is. As in, per the Raiders’ draft board, the notions of specific need and best player available intersected when Las Vegas came on the clock. And from Las Vegas’ perspective, the pick was a no-brainer.
Meanwhile, much of Raider Nation was ready to leap from the Stratosphere Tower after the Leatherwood pick, what with both Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins still available. Surely, the Raiders could have traded back and still got their man, no?
Eh, no. Not according to Mayock.
“Just when we got on the clock a team did call us and inquired about moving up but they gave us a very poor trade offer and it was a team that needed a tackle,” he said. “So the combination of the poor offer and their need kind of pushed us away from that.
“There’s a risk/reward scenario and, in this case, we didn’t feel that it was worth it.”
Looking back, the only team after Las Vegas to select an offensive tackle in the first round was Minnesota, who took Darrisaw at No. 23 (Jenkins went 39th to Chicago).
The Raiders trading up in the second round to get the consensus top-ranked safety in Trevon Moehrig at No. 43 seemed to quell Raider Nation. Because, really, had you flipped those two picks — Moehrig in the first round and Leatherwood in the second — many would have celebrated on the Strip.
In reality, the Raiders addressed two real and specific needs at right tackle and free safety and both Leatherwood and Moehrig should start this fall.
Same as in 2019, when the Raiders needed a defensive end and they took the highest-guy on their board at the time in Ferrell, and last season with Ruggs.
“He was the only person I wanted in this draft,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com of Ruggs during training camp.
Hate the player, not the game … or somesuch.
“I mean, it definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Leatherwood said of his pre-draft rankings, despite being the reigning Outland Trophy winner and a captain for the national champs. “It bothered me a little bit, but at the same time I’m not a media guy. I’m not the type of dude to get caught up in all that garbage, because I know what my film said about me. And the GM and the coach, they know that as well. I’m just grateful that they watched that film and they saw me as good enough to be the 17th overall pick.
“I’m more than excited to get to the program and prove them right. Not necessarily prove the haters, the people who made all the mock drafts and all this stuff wrong, but to prove to myself and the Raiders organization right.”
And so it went for the Raiders the remainder of their draft — taking an edge rusher who was deemed a late-round prospect at No. 79 in Malcolm Koonce, selecting a receiver-turned safety who will be converted into a weakside linebacker in Divine Deablo one pick later, trading up to draft another safety in Tyree Gillespie at No. 143 before addressing the secondary again it with cornerback Nate Hobbs at No. 167 and then bookending their draft with another offensive lineman in center Jimmy Morrissey.
Yeah, offensive line coach Tom Cable has some juice within the walls of Silver and Blackdom.
Really, the biggest surprise was that five of Las Vegas’ seven picks were on the defensive side of the ball, as it was the first time in franchise history the Raiders did not draft an offensive skill position player.
Or have you forgotten Jon Gruden coaches the Raiders and has final say on personnel decisions?
“I love Jon,” Mayock said at the conclusion of the draft. “He was so good. I mean, we went into Day 2 and we attacked the defensive side of the ball and he was more excited than I was …
“And at the end of the day, you’re right, Jon Gruden is an offensive guy, but what did we do all weekend, we tried to help our defense get better and I give him a ton of credit for that. He was all in.”
Still trying to figure it out?
The 2021-22 NFL schedule is here, and teams are pumped
Strength of schedule matters quite a bit in the NFL, but so too do things like prime-time appearances, rivalry matchups, and whether or not your franchise-defining quarterback who won a Super Bowl in his first season away from your team is going to be playing them in, say, Week 4 at Gillette Stadium. That’s why the night of the NFL schedule release is such an exciting time — fans and players get to find out the road they’ll have to travel in order to make the playoffs (and, hopefully, win a title) in the upcoming season. The schedule dropping is just one of those miniholidays the league has seeded so expertly throughout the offseason — and the teams who’ll be participating in those games had some creative ways of expressing their glee.
The Chargers put together quite the PowerPoint presentation via Zoom to announce their season schedule.
The Pittsburgh Steelers get creative with Legos in their schedule-release video.
“Eric DeCosta…quite the prankster! He wanted me and my friends to surprise you by revealing the schedule…” 🤣🤣
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 12, 2021
OUR 2021 SCHEDULE IS HERE!
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) May 12, 2021
Schedule release got ’em sayin’ WOW!
Thanks, @postmalone. 😉
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) May 13, 2021
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) May 13, 2021
2021 NFL schedule winners, best matchups, win total predictions
The 2021 NFL schedule is out, and the regular season will begin with the Dallas Cowboys facing the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Sept. 9. Week 1 also features a meeting of AFC powerhouses in the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, the New Orleans Saints beginning their post-Drew Brees era at the Green Bay Packers and new Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold facing his old New York Jets team. And the opening Monday Night Football game will see the Baltimore Ravens visit the Las Vegas Raiders.
The NFL also expanded the regular-season schedule to 17 games, which begins this year. The NFL had played a 16-game schedule since 1978. And the league will return to international play with the Atlanta Falcons set to host the Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars matching up with the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
But what should we make of the 2021 slate? Who’s the biggest winner from the schedule release? Which games should you circle on your calendar? And which rookie debut will be the most interesting? Our panel of NFL experts weighs in.
Skip to a question:
Which matchup do you have circled on your calendar?
Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Bills at Patriots, Week 16. I really like the roster upgrades New England made this offseason through free agency and the draft. There are scheme-specific players there. And this matchup in Week 16 against Buffalo could have major implications in both playoff seeding and the AFC East race.
Mike Clay, fantasy writer: Browns at Chiefs, Week 1. Two of the league’s best teams facing off in the first week? I’m here for it. The Browns are absolutely loaded on paper, and this is their opportunity to establish themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Cleveland will be eyeing a hot start after getting crushed 38-6 by the Ravens in Week 1 last season. The Browns will also be looking for revenge after being eliminated by the Chiefs in the playoffs last season.
Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Bills at Chiefs, Week 5. Buffalo’s dream 2020 season fizzled quickly with a shaky performance against Kansas City in the AFC title game. This rematch should be tighter, with the Bills eager to make the proverbial next step. And by Week 5, Kansas City’s reimagined offensive line should be in full swing.
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4. There weren’t any Patriots fans in the stands last year in Foxborough, so it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if Tom Brady‘s return had been last season. Good on the scheduling gods for waiting a year for the juiciest revenge game of the season — whichever way you think the revenge should be directed.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Buccaneers at Patriots, Week 4. I guess I’m a sucker for storylines, but will there be a better one in 2021 than Brady’s return to Foxborough in prime time? And if the numbers work out right, Brady could pass Drew Brees as the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing yards. He’ll need to average about 289 yards per game over the first four games to do it that night.
Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: Chiefs at Ravens, Week 2. I think there’s a decent chance Lamar Jackson and the Ravens recapture the magic of their 2019 season and become one of the best teams in the league again. What better way to find out if they are for real this year than taking on Patrick Mahomes? Plus, I love watching two effective offenses that are this stylistically different.
Who or what is the biggest winner of the schedule release?
Bowen: The Week 1 prime-time slate. I see three really good prime-time games here. Dallas at Tampa Bay starts it off in the Thursday night opener with Dak Prescott and Brady. On Sunday night, we get to watch Matthew Stafford in his first game with the Rams’ offense, and maybe we also see rookie quarterback Justin Fields taking snaps for Chicago. And on Monday night, it’s Jackson against the Raiders in Vegas. That’s good football.
Clay: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has the league’s easiest projected schedule based on my evaluation of each 2021 roster. The Bucs face the NFC and AFC East divisions, which aren’t particularly intimidating, and they’ll also benefit from a relatively light slate of six divisional games against the Falcons, Panthers and Drew Brees-less Saints. Tampa Bay is set up nicely for another Super Bowl run.
Chris Canty explains why he’s more interested in seeing how Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will bounce back for the upcoming season.
Fowler: Dallas Cowboys. Nine of Dallas’ opponents had a losing record last season (including the entire NFC East, of course). There are the Saints, Bucs and Chiefs, but not much else to scare you. Prescott should rebound nicely from his ankle surgery against a few defenses that don’t mind giving up big passing yardage.
Graziano: Philadelphia Eagles. All of the NFC East teams got nice-looking draws (which, based on last year, they all could use), but the Eagles don’t have to get on a plane after Week 10. Late-season travel is a big part of what players look at when they assess the schedule. I haven’t dug in enough to know whether Philly is the biggest winner, but I did see that late-season travel note and thought it was worth pointing out here.
Seifert: Capacity for hype. The NFL added a new level to this ridiculous and beautiful day by teasing out the Week 1 schedule on its partners’ morning shows. Instead of consuming one evening of the offseason, the NFL stole a full day’s worth of attention. Impressive.
Walder: Carolina Panthers. The most important part of the order of a team’s games is how much rest they have relative to their opponents. Carolina doesn’t play any teams coming off a bye and overall has a plus-13-day rest differential relative to its opponents over the course of the year. That’s tied for the highest rest differential among all team schedules since 2002 (though there is an extra game this year).
Which rookie debut are you most interested in, and why?
Bowen: Kyle Pitts, Eagles vs. Falcons. Pitts has a tight end frame but the traits of a wide receiver. There’s matchup ability at all three levels of the field with scoring upside in the red zone. And I’m eager to see how new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith schemes him up in the pass game.
Clay: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars vs. Texans. Granted it’s a road game, but Lawrence is otherwise set up about as well as you can be in your NFL debut. The first overall pick will face what is arguably the league’s shakiest defense on paper. Houston’s defense was one of the league’s worst last season and will be without offseason departures J.J. Watt and Benardrick McKinney, as well as suspended cornerback Bradley Roby. Lawrence is positioned for a hot start to his career.
Fowler: Najee Harris, Steelers at Bills. Pittsburgh’s schedule is brutal, the offensive line is patchy and Ben Roethlisberger is pushing 40 years old, so counting out the Steelers is a convenient thing to do. But Harris is the franchise’s best every-down back since Le’Veon Bell and will set a tone Week 1.
Graziano: Zach Wilson, Jets at Panthers. I think this is a brutal break for Wilson, to have to beat Sam Darnold in Week 1. I’m not saying he can’t do it, or that he won’t turn out to be better than Darnold. But I’ve lived almost my whole life in New Jersey or Connecticut, and I know Jets fans. If Wilson struggles in Week 1 and Darnold lights it up in the same game, it is not going to be a fun week for the rookie.
Seifert: Travis Etienne, Jaguars vs. Texans. New coach Urban Meyer justified his decision to draft a running back in the first round, despite the presence of James Robinson and Carlos Hyde, by suggesting a Percy Harvin-like “hybrid” role for Etienne. I’m dubious. Harvin was a once-in-a-generation playmaker. But Week 1 will be our first opportunity to see what Meyer has in mind, assuming he doesn’t give much of it away in the preseason.
Walder: Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals vs. Vikings. It’s the Joe Burrow-Chase reunion. And it will be extra sweet after we missed Chase in 2020 (he opted out of the college season) and Burrow in the latter half of his rookie year (due to injury). They were a special pairing in college, and they’d jolt Cincinnati to life if they can keep it up at the next level.
Which win total over or under do you feel best about picking right now?
Bowen: Washington over 8 wins. Ron Rivera’s team has one the best defenses in the league, and I see an upgraded offense that will have more explosive-play ability in the pass game. Give me Washington to top the eight-win mark — and challenge for the NFC East title.
Fowler: Raiders over 7.5. If Vegas had shored up its defense last year, it might have been a 10-win team. If the Raiders can get a semblance of a pass rush and a pass defense, I like their chances to surpass last year’s 8-8 clip. They’ve made moves to address those spots through the draft and free agency. The wild card is a rebuilt offensive line that lost some high-caliber talent, but they had to get younger, and that might rejuvenate the running game.
Graziano: Vikings over 8.5 wins. Aaron Rodgers might not be in the division anymore. The Bears have questions at QB, and their defense isn’t what it used to be. The Lions are … a ways off. Minnesota has stability at key positions and should be the best team in the NFC North if Rodgers isn’t in Green Bay. And even if he is, I still think they can get to 9-8. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Welcome to the 17-game season.
Seifert: 49ers under 10 wins. What’s more likely? The 49ers go through a full 17-game season with Jimmy Garoppolo as their quarterback? Or, for one reason or another, Garoppolo gives way to rookie Trey Lance at some point during the season? Assuming you agree with the latter, 10 wins is a big number for a team that transitions to a rookie quarterback.
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Walder: Steelers under 9 wins. With an aging Roethlisberger and a very questionable offensive line, this offense could get ugly fast. The defense was elite last season, but we know that side of the ball is less stable from year to year, particularly with a few players — Cam Heyward and Joe Haden, among others — reaching the twilight of their careers.
What’s your early Super Bowl pick?
Bowen: Chiefs over Rams. Stafford elevates a pass game in L.A. that will be more vertical and more explosive. And we know the Rams’ defense can play. But I still like the Chiefs to win it. Patrick Mahomes is the difference-maker here, with the playmaking ability to take over games.
Clay: Buccaneers over Browns. Tampa Bay will return its entire starting lineup from last season’s Super Bowl run, and its young defense should only be better in 2021. Cleveland’s offense was already very good last season, and the front office did an A+ job overhauling and improving its defense during the offseason. As long as Baker Mayfield doesn’t stumble, the Browns should be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Fowler: Packers over Bills. Let’s set aside Green Bay’s acrimony with Rodgers and remember the Packers have been on the brink for two years. A team with back-to-back 13-win seasons and NFC title game appearances returns its core, and it might be a contract extension away from another spite season from Rodgers. Buffalo has made a jump in each year with quarterback Josh Allen, coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane together. Here’s to another.
Graziano: Bills over Rams. I have no idea who to pick in the NFC, but I don’t want to pick the Bucs because I don’t believe in repeats in this league. The Rams look good, and we’ll go with them — until the next time I’m asked for a pick. But the headline here is the first Super Bowl title in Bills history and a statue for Sean McDermott in Buffalo.
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Seifert: Chiefs over Buccaneers. It’s a boring repeat, but it’s an early pick. The Chiefs have crushed the offseason by overhauling their offensive line, and the Buccaneers have their entire starting lineup and all of their key coaches back from the team that caught fire in the 2020 playoffs.
Walder: Browns over Rams. Cleveland’s roster is just overflowing with talent. From Myles Garrett to Odell Beckham Jr. to Denzel Ward to a strong offensive line, the Browns are just stacked to the point where they should be able to win — even without an elite-tier QB. The Rams have incredible upside with stars on defense and potential improvement on offense with Stafford now under center.
Maximum prime-time exposure for Green Bay Packers, who snare five night games amid uncertain status of Aaron Rodgers
The NFL has assigned five prime-time games to the Green Bay Packers for the 2021 season, one of the most notable revelations in its frenzied leaguewide schedule reveal Wednesday night.
The Packers were one of 10 teams to receive maximum prime-time exposure, a list that also included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, who will play in the NFL’s Sept. 9 kickoff game at Raymond James Stadium. But the Packers’ inclusion was significant, considering the uncertain status of reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. While NFL schedule makers don’t have special insight into team operations, it’s unlikely that the Packers would be featured as prominently in the league’s initial schedule if second-year player Jordan Love had already been named their starter.
🚨 THE 2021 MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL SCHEDULE IS HERE 🚨 pic.twitter.com/eHjN27ttc4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 13, 2021
Speaking to the Packers’ website about the prime-time games, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said: “That’s a good thing for us. That means we’re doing some good things. We just have to make sure we’re doing everything in our power from all offseason into training camp, making sure we’re ready to play come Week 1.”
The NFL does have an out, however. The final two night games – against the Bears in Week 13 and Vikings in Week 16 on Sunday nights — come after flex scheduling kicks in. So if Rodgers doesn’t play for the Packers or if they’re out of a contention with Love or some other quarterback, they could get flexed out.
In addition to the Packers, Buccaneers and Cowboys, other teams to have the full five prime-time games include the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints.
The Buccaneers will play one of the most anticipated games of the year at the New England Patriots on a Sunday night in Week 4, with quarterback Tom Brady making his return to Foxboro. Based on his performance in Weeks 1-3, it’s possible that Brady could overtake Drew Brees as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards in that game.
The NFL for the first time released its Week 1 schedule during national morning news shows, revealing, among other games, the Monday Night Football opener: Sept. 13 between the Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Field. It will be the first regular season game with fans in attendance following the Raiders’ 2020 debut in Las Vegas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NFL teams have known their 2021 opponents since the end of last season, but the league’s annual schedule day makes a spectacle of announcing the order, kickoff times and broadcast network for each of its 272 games. NFL owners have approved the addition of a 17th regular season week, beginning in 2021. The season will extend until January 9, 2022. Super Bowl LVI will be played Feb. 13, 2022, the latest day in a calendar year that the NFL has ever concluded its season.
The day’s reveals also included confirmation that the league will resume its international schedule, albeit at a slower pace, after canceling it altogether in 2020. Both games will be at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: The New York Jets will play the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, and the Miami Dolphins will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6. The Falcons and Jaguars will give home games as part of the league’s international scheduling system.
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