The Las Vegas Raiders sounded like a team that got away with something Monday night. 

From quarterback Derek Carr to head coach Jon Gruden, they acknowledged there were any number of flaws in their season-opening performance against the Baltimore Ravens. 

But all that mattered in the end was that they found a path to victory, prevailing 33-27 in overtime before a raucous home crowd. 

"All I keep saying is I just want to win, so who cares if it's ugly or pretty?" Carr told reporters after the game. "I do not care, we won the game. I'm celebrating, that's the only thing that matters."

Carr completed 34 of 56 passes for 435 yards, saving the biggest completion for the final play of the game – a looping 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones when everyone in the stadium figured the Raiders would run the ball to set up a field goal try. 

Gruden indicated that was exactly what he had planned but kicker Daniel Carlson was not immediately available on the sidelines, forcing a delay of game penalty that prompted him to send Carr and the offence back out on the field. 

"But things worked out," Gruden said with a wry smile. 

They did indeed, as the Raiders stunned a favoured Ravens team that felt in control for much of the game before falling apart late. 

"I'm glad coach trusted us and put it in our hands at the end," said Carr, "because it always feels good to win that way – especially when you almost gave it away."

After rallying to level the game in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the Raiders thought they had the game won on the opening possession of overtime as Carr hit Bryan Edwards for an apparent 33-yard touchdown. 

But video replay determined Edwards was down just before the goal line, and after a run for no gain by Carr, a critical false start penalty and an incompletion, Anthony Averett intercepted Carr in the end zone following a deflection on a pass intended for Willie Snead. 

The Raiders were granted a reprieve, though, as Carl Nassib forced a fumble on a sack of Lamar Jackson with 4:31 to play in overtime to set up Carr's game-winning pass. 

"Our defence made a signature play at the end of that game and I thought Derek Carr was awesome playing under some really tough circumstances today against a very good defence," Gruden said.

He added: "I'm really proud of the character they showed. We were down 14-0 to the Ravens and it didn't look pretty, it didn't look good. But when you can come back and find a way to win against a team like that, that's saying something. 

"That's an impressive, impressive victory and like they say here, just win baby."

The Las Vegas Raiders welcomed fans to their new home a year later than expected, but it was worth the wait. 

Derek Carr's 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones in overtime gave the Raiders a stunning season-opening 33-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday. 

It was a thrilling conclusion to the opening weekend of the NFL season after Lamar Jackson and the Ravens appeared in control for most of the game. 

Injury-wracked Baltimore took a 14-0 lead on a 35-yard touchdown run from Ty'Son Williams and a signature 10-yard Jackson TD pass to Marquise Brown.

Las Vegas ultimately would level the game at 17-17 on Josh Jacobs' second touchdown run of the game with 9:18 to play in the fourth quarter, a drive set up by Jackson fumbling after a scramble for the first turnover of the night. 

That set up a wild finish in the first regular-season game at $1.9billion Allegiant Stadium, as newly signed Ravens running back Latavius Murray gave the visitors a 24-17 lead with 6:04 to play before Carr equalised just over two minutes later with a 10-yard scoring pass to Darren Waller. 

Jackson got loose again on the ensuing possession to set up a 47-yard Justin Tucker field goal that gave the Ravens a lead with 37 seconds remaining, but the Raiders were not done. 

Carr zipped a pair of completions to get Las Vegas down the field and set Daneil Carlson up for a 55-yard field goal with two seconds remaining that sent the game to overtime. 

The Raiders thought they had the game won on the opening possession of the extra session, as Carr hit Bryan Edwards for an apparent 33-yard touchdown. 

But video replay determined Edwards was down just before the goal line, and after a run for no gain by Carr, a critical false start penalty an an incompletion, Anthony Averett ntercepted Carr in the end zone after a deflection on a pass intended for Willie Snead. 

The Las Vegas defence would bail out the home side once again, though, as Carl Nassib forced a fumble on a sack of Jackson with 4:31 to play in overtime. 

After a Raiders penalty moved the ball back five yards, the Ravens assumed the next play would be a run to set up a winning field-goal try, but Carr saw Jones get free in the secondary and looped a pass over everyone's head for an uncontested touchdown to win the game.

Carr completed 34 of 56 passes for 435 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Jackson was 19 of 30 for 235 yards and a TD. The Ravens quarterback also rushed for a game-high 86 yards. 

As the passing offense has developed to become the dominant and most critical aspect of NFL attacks, the need for a secondary with the talent to regularly withstand aerial assaults led by a deep crop of quarterbacks has become an increasingly pressing one.

In a league where the deck is stacked heavily in favour of offenses, there is only so much even the best cornerbacks and safeties can do to keep the burgeoning ranks of exceptional athletes at quarterback in check.

Going into the 2021 season, several teams stand out as being best prepared to do that with the talent they possess in the defensive backfield.

Using advanced data, Stats Perform has ranked every secondary in the NFL by their performance in pass coverage. The rankings were produced by multiplying each player's coverage baseline by a projected target share for 2021, which is dependent on their position on the depth chart, with the results then aggregated at team level to produce that defense's coverage grade.

To look exclusively at the secondary, the results for defenders who spend their playing time almost exclusively in the box have been filtered out.

The results are very favourable for one NFC West team, though two franchises from that division are at the wrong end of the rankings, while a couple of surprise names feature among those secondaries who look ready to take a leap in 2021.

THE ELITE

1. Los Angeles Rams

Graded DBs: Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long Jr, Taylor Rapp, Jordan Fuller

The Rams may have lost key pieces in the secondary in the form of safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill but, even with the departure of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, moving the ball on Los Angeles through the air will be an imposing challenge in 2021.

Their defensive backs' aggregate coverage grade tops the league and is 17 percentage points above average, with two-time first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey (20.45 per cent) and the underrated Darious Williams (21.60 per cent) each in the top 15 among cornerbacks in adjusted open percentage allowed, which looks at how often a defender allows an opponent to get open when in coverage against them, adjusted for the position they play.

Jordan Fuller – 22nd among safeties in adjusted open percentage – provided cause for optimism as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2020 while Taylor Rapp conceded a big play on only two of his 15 targets.

More progress from that duo could lessen the impact of Johnson's exit but, following highly rated defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant's switch to Detroit, maintaining their status as the gold standard is far from a given for Ramsey and Co. in 2021.

2. Buffalo Bills

Graded DBs: Tre'Davious White, Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer

Buffalo's offense carried the load last season as the Bills progressed to the AFC Championship Game, though the talent in the secondary is such that they can afford to have confidence in putting more of the burden on their pass coverage in 2021.

The Bills' defensive backs rank 15 per cent above the average in aggregate coverage grading. Tre'Davious White's continuing success is a reason for that, the two-time Pro Bowler first among all cornerbacks in adjusted open percentage allowed (16.20 per cent) in 2020.

A cause for concern may come across from White after a mediocre year for Levi Wallace, whose adjusted open percentage (30.85) was close to double that of White, but the Bills have to be impressed by the progress of nickel Taron Johnson, who allowed a big play on only 14 of his 74 targets at inside corner last year.

The safety pairing of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer may also be hoping for a bounce-back year, the latter having allowed a burn on 13 of his 28 targets at free safety in 2020. However, in White, the Bills have a shutdown corner who can lift the play of those around him. As long as that remains the case, Buffalo's secondary should stay among the best in the league even with only marginal improvements made by his team-mates.

3. Denver Broncos

Graded DBs: Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson

The Broncos head into 2021 with questions still abounding over their quarterbacks, but there is no doubt they have a championship-caliber defense, of which the secondary looks to be the strength, their defensive backs possessing an aggregate coverage grade 14 percentage points above average.

Justin Simmons was the best defender in the NFL in terms of adjusted open percentage in 2020, leading the way by allowing pass-catchers to get open against his coverage just 14.99 per cent of the time.

The Pro Bowl free safety will have an exciting mix of experience and youth alongside him. Strong safety Kareem Jackson was ninth among all players at the position in burn yards per target allowed with 7.76. Nickel Ronald Darby (37.8) and free agent signing Kyle Fuller (40.3), inexplicably released by the Chicago Bears, each ranked in the top seven in burn percentage allowed for corners with at least 200 coverage snaps.

That pairing will be joined by arguably the premier corner from this year's draft class, Patrick Surtain II, who makes the step up to the league after a stellar college career with Alabama, which he ended by helping the Crimson Tide to a National Championship and allowing 0.93 burn yards per snap. Only three Power 5 defenders gave up fewer.

Having added Fuller and the most pro-ready corner in the draft, the Broncos' secondary could soon mount a challenge to take the crown from the Rams.

THE BOTTOM

30. Seattle Seahawks

Graded DBs: Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Flowers, Ugo Amadi, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs

NFC West teams gained even more firepower at the quarterback position in a dramatic offseason, magnifying the issues for a Seattle secondary that is a long way from the Legion of Boom.

Having let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency, the Seahawks are somewhat short on proven players in the defensive backfield, with that scarcity reflected by an aggregate coverage grade 16 percentage points below average.

The Seahawks appear to be banking on Ahkello Witherspoon making a leap he never managed with the San Francisco 49ers. Witherspoon allowed a burn on half of his 28 targets last season.

Tre Flowers' open percentage of 85.7 was the fifth-worst of all corners in the NFL, though the play of another former Niner, D.J. Reed, provided some grounds for optimism as his burn yards per target average of 8.21 put him 15th among corners with at least 200 coverage snaps.

Only three inside corners gave up fewer burn yards per snap than Ugo Amadi (1.14) in 2020 while safety Jamal Adams was not the coverage liability many cast him as, the Seahawks sack leader last season giving up a big play on 10 of his 41 targets.

Yet with Quandre Diggs coming off a year in which he conceded a disappointing 13.82 burn yards per target, this is a group with more questions than answers.

31. Arizona Cardinals

Graded DBs: Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Byron Murphy, Isaiah Simmons, Budda Baker

The Cardinals are under pressure to produce a playoff campaign in the third year of Kliff Kingsbury as head coach and Kyler Murray as quarterback - a look at their depth chart in the secondary indicates the offense may have to carry this team to a first postseason appearance since the 2015 campaign.

Should Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford earn starting roles, they will provide veteran presences at outside corner, yet theirs is experience that should not inspire much confidence.

Butler allowed the 10th-most burn yards per snap among corners with at least 200 coverage snaps (2.42) while Alford has not played since the 2018 season.

The strength of this group comes from two former Washington Huskies. Nickel Byron Murphy's burn yards per target average of 7.50 was the fifth-best among inside corners in 2020 and Budda Baker has established himself as one of the premier safeties in the NFL, his adjusted open percentage of 16.38 trailing only three defenders in the previous campaign.

After an offseason in which Arizona did little to address the cornerback position, the onus may again be on that pair to elevate those around them, unless Butler and Alford unexpectedly recapture their form of old.

32. Detroit Lions

Graded DBs: Quinton Dunbar, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Tracy Walker, Will Harris

The Lions' rebuild under Dan Campbell is likely to be slow and painful, with his first season at the helm set to be one in which Detroit give up a lot of points if the secondary cannot improve.

Detroit's defensive backs' aggregate coverage grade is 27 percentage points below average. Key to the Lions improving in that regard will be Jeff Okudah's ability to shake off a difficult rookie season and justify his status as the third overall pick in 2020.

Only two cornerbacks gave up a big play in coverage more regularly than Okudah, who did so on 43.9 per cent of his targets. Unfortunately for Detroit, one of those corners is now on their roster, Quinton Dunbar (44.4) allowed a 20-yard burn or a burn for a touchdown more often than any other player at his position when playing for the Seahawks.

Projected starter Amani Oruwariye (36.9) did not fare much better, and it would be no surprise to see rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu thrust into a prominent role early on. Melifonwu was tied-ninth for the fewest burn yards per snap (1.23) allowed among Power 5 corners in his final season with Syracuse.

Will Harris at least had an admirable 2020 at strong safety, finishing third among all safeties in burn yards per target (7.0) but free safety Tracy Walker (12.85) offered little to suggest he can help Detroit turn the ship around quickly on defense. The Lions have done a disappointing job of drafting and developing talent under previous regimes. Changing that and successfully developing Okudah and Melifonwu will be crucial to this secondary climbing out of the cellar.

ON THE RISE

Minnesota Vikings

Graded DBs: Cameron Dantzler, Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Woods, Harrison Smith

The Vikings invested heavily in the secondary in recent times and the numbers suggest that decision could pay dividends in the coming season.

Minnesota's defensive backs rank 10th in aggregate coverage rating, performing five points better than average. They will be looking for a step forward from last year's third-round pick Cameron Dantzler, who was above average in burn yards per target (9.4) and open percentage allowed (62.3) as a rookie.

But two underrated additions could see them catapult into the top five. Patrick Peterson was considered to have endured a down year last season but his open percentage of 51.9 when playing outside corner was seventh among players to have taken snaps at that spot. Meanwhile, Bashaud Breeland, another free agency signing, was tied fifth in open percentage (52.7) among corners to have played at least 200 coverage snaps.

The presence of Breeland, who is expected to compete with Dantzler for a starting job, and Peterson gives the Vikings strong depth at corner and should mitigate the potential loss of 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladney, whose future is in doubt amid off-field troubles.

Mackenzie Alexander's return after a year with the Cincinnati Bengals may see him start at nickel, and he will need to improve after allowing 11.16 burn yards per target from the slot last season. Safeties Harrison Smith (13.13) and Xavier Woods (16.33 at free safety) also struggled in that metric in 2020, but the pressure will be taken off that pair should their top three corners live up to expectations.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Graded DBs: Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield Jr.

Tampa's secondary arguably already took a step forward as the Buccaneers claimed their second Super Bowl title last season. However, their defensive backfield is only 15th in aggregate coverage rating, Tampa coming in three per cent better than average.

Yet there were signs this group is primed to make further progress in 2021, most of which came from starting corner Jamel Dean.

Dean allowed a burn on 30 of his 64 targets, his percentage of 46.9 comfortably better than the average of 52.8 for corners with at least 200 coverage snaps, while he was 10th in the NFL at his position in adjusted open percentage (21.58).

Carlton Davis III was less impressive, giving up a burn on exactly half of his 92 targets, though the fact he conceded a big play on 25 per cent of his targets (the average was 26 among all corners) leaves room for encouragement.

Nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting also did a decent job at preventing big plays, conceding eight on 44 targets on the inside. Yet, despite praise for Antoine Winfield Jr's rookie year, both he and fellow starting safety Jordan Whitehead will hope to make improvements in coverage having given up 11.33 and 12.32 burn yards per target respectively.

However, with a full offseason under their belt to coalesce further, the arrow is pointing up for a young and clearly talented secondary that will again be playing behind one of the best front sevens in football after the Bucs kept the band together for another run in 2021.

Las Vegas Raiders

Graded DBs: Casey Hayward, Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Johnathan Abram, Trevon Moehrig

The Raiders secondary has received its fair share of criticism in the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock years, with doubts cast over the merits of selecting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in 2019 and Damon Arnette in the first last year.

But Las Vegas can afford to have confidence in the secondary going into 2021. The Raiders' defensive backs ranking seventh for aggregate coverage, rating 10 per cent better than the average.

Much of the Raiders' presence in the top 10 is tied to the astute acquisition of veteran corner Casey Hayward, whose adjusted open percentage of 17.3 was the fifth-best in the NFL among players at all defensive positions, though a less impressive burn yards per target average of 11.20 reflects how often he was left on an island for the Los Angeles Chargers last year.

Las Vegas will hope Hayward can accelerate the development of Mullen, who was an encouraging 15th in burn yards per target (8.67) among outside corners with at least 200 snaps. Arnette's average of 11.69 suggests he has further to go, and he may face a competition with Hayward for the starting role across from Mullen.

Yet between Mullen's progress, the arrival of Hayward and the selection of free safety Trevon Moehrig in the second round of this year's draft, the Raiders secondary is one that looks primed to establish itself as one of the better groups in the NFL.

Moehrig allowed a big play on 20.3 per cent of his targets in 2020, giving them up at the sixth-fewest rate of all Power 5 safeties with at least 25 targets. His burn yards per target average of 6.71 was the best among Power 5 players at his position. If he can replicate that impact as a rookie, the Raiders should be in extremely good shape in the defensive backfield.

Davante Adams has conceded it would be "a dream" for him to reunite with Derek Carr at the NFL level.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Adams and Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Carr were college team-mates at Fresno State from 2012 to 2013.

Adams caught 233 passes for 3,031 yards and 38 touchdowns across his two seasons with Carr, who set the school record for passing yards with 5,083 in his final season in 2013.

The Packers star has gone on to establish himself as arguably the top receiver in the NFL, making 115 receptions in 2020 for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns, putting him tied for the third-most receiving scores in a single season, behind Randy Moss (23 in 2007) and Jerry Rice (22 in 1987).

However, he is a free agent at the end of the 2021 season and, with no end to the stand-off between league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Adams' future cannot be considered certain.

Asked about potentially recruiting Adams to play for the Raiders earlier this week, Carr told ABC30 in Fresno: "It would unlock some things in both of us that people haven't seen yet."

In a follow-up interview with the same channel, Adams made it clear he is not focusing on free agency but left no doubt he would be open to a reunion with Carr.

Speaking about his free agency, he said: "I'll just continue to be me and just let this thing work itself out and see what happens.

"Obviously I love Derek to death, we've got a great friendship, we still communicate really, really consistently, he's one of my best friends.

"It'd be a dream to be able to play with him but I'm a Packer now, until that where we make that decision, I guess we've just got to... we'll see what happens."

The Packers are coming off a year in which they lost in the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By contrast, the Raiders have not reached the playoffs since the 2016 season.

Carr, however, had the best campaign of his career in 2020, throwing for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His tally of 36 passing plays of 25 yards or more was just one fewer than Rodgers.

Carl Nassib becoming the first active NFL player to come out as gay is a "historical, monumental moment ", according to Ryan Russell. 

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Nassib made the announcement via social media in an Instagram post on Monday.

Prior to Nassib making NFL history, Russell had come out as bisexual in 2019 when he was a free agent, while Michael Sam became the first gay player to be drafted in 2014, though he never went on to play a regular season game.

Russell was delighted to see the video from Nassib and has been heartened by the positive reception it has received.

"My initial reaction to Carl's video was just one of celebration and elation," he told Stats Perform.

"[Celebration] not just for him in his own journey and self-love and wellbeing but also for the NFL, and for male professional sports at large because right now actively on a team in the four major sports here in the US, there's no one like him. 

"So a very historical, monumental moment for him and for male professional sports, and also for all the young LGBTQ+ youth and athletes looking up to him now.

"They will be seeing him as representation and seeing themselves having success in the highest field of American football through Carl."
 
Asked how big a step this was, Russell added: "Huge. Like I said, it's a historical landmark, really.

"As our small little LGBTQ+, male professional athlete family grows, we've really been chipping away at this for some time. 

"Ryan O'Callaghan coming out when he was retired, Michael Sam coming out, and being the first openly gay male athlete to be drafted into the NFL, myself coming out as a free agent in the midst of an active career, now Carl coming out while on a roster.

"And I am 100 per cent confident that he will be playing in that first game this season – that will be another huge landmark for him. 

"So this is monumental really for all of us, and especially for him, and for the NFL as well to be on the right side of history, and to show that it is an encouraging and inclusive place for all athletes to succeed and be themselves."

 

Nassib joined the Raiders on a three-year, $25million free-agent deal in 2020, with the 28-year-old having 2.5 sacks and an interception in 14 games – five starts – last season.

He was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and was a popular figure on the documentary 'Hard Knocks' before moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.

Russell, who also played for the Bucs as well as the Dallas Cowboys, believes the days where athletes opt to stay quiet about their sexuality are coming to an end.

He continued: "I think a lot of those things are being taken away in terms of worrying about job security or in terms of being viewed as a distraction in sports. 

"Also the world is changing a lot of ways, the world at large, and people at large, are becoming more accepting - our communities are becoming more diverse.

"So I think it's a mixture of kind of like debunking myths, that we really had no evidence to base it off of, as well as just changing and progressing as a society. Those two things come together to make players feel comfortable. 

"And also, I mean, a credible thing to note, as Carl seemed very relaxed, very nonchalant in his message.

"It didn't seem like it was this big, massive sort of thing that he was fearing would rock his whole world, it was him wanting to come out.

"He wanted to be just his full self, and to also be an visible representation for those who a lot of times have not seen themselves in this league at this level."

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay.

Nassib made the historic announcement via social media in an Instagram post on Monday.

While making NFL history, Nassib also donated $100,000 to the Trevor Project – a leading national organisation providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.

"What's up people?" Nassib posted. "I'm at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay.

"I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I've got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for.

"I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary.

"But until then, I'm going to do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate and I'm going to start by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project."

Nassib joined the Raiders on a three-year, $25million free-agent deal in 2020.

The 28-year-old had 2.5 sacks and an interception in 14 games – five starts – with the Raiders last season.

Nassib was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: "The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters.

"We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season."

Manager Bob Melvin is hopeful the Oakland Athletics can make progress on a new ballpark to ensure they do not become the latest team to move out of the city.

MLB on Tuesday instructed the A's "to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland".

The league said it was "concerned with the rate of progress on the A's new ballpark effort", with a $12billion proposal yet to be approved by the city.

A's president Dave Kaval released a statement saying the team were "committed to succeeding in Oakland" but would follow MLB's directive.

A negative outcome would represent another big blow to the sports scene in Oakland, which has already lost the NFL's Raiders to Las Vegas while the Golden State Warriors of the NBA moved to a new arena in San Francisco.

"With two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, [the team's] commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever," MLB's statement added.

Palo Alto native Melvin took the same tone as he addressed the media ahead of Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

"My job is to go out and play where we are right now," said Melvin, whose A's lead the AL West. "It is unfortunate that a couple of teams have left and certainly we don't want that to happen.

"And I don't think anything that was said today would suggest it's going to. It's just giving MLB and the organisation a few more options to maybe look elsewhere."

The A's moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968 but have played at the multi-purpose Coliseum ever since, despite talk of a new ballpark in Oakland for the best part of 20 years.

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

A permanent residency in Las Vegas. It's what so many performers around the world dream of getting, but in 2020 the Raiders were left delivering a mediocre performance to a non-existent audience in their first year in the desert. 

Their mammoth new Allegiant Stadium home was left empty due to restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Raiders again flattered to deceive, an exciting opening act giving way to an underwhelming finale that ended hopes of a postseason encore. 

Under normal circumstances, a third successive season in which the Raiders missed the playoffs would lead to pressure on Jon Gruden. 

But because the Raiders rolled the dice by giving Gruden a 10-year contract, the head coach is a long way from the hot seat during his second spell with the franchise. 

Playing in a division alongside Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, plus Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders face a tough challenge to contend in the AFC West. 

The pressure on Gruden may finally come should they miss the postseason again in 2021, but what can the Raiders do to ensure their first season with fans in Vegas results in a playoff berth? 

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we reflect on the Raiders' 2020 season and assess what they can learn from an 8-8 year.

Offense

The Raiders failed in their pursuit of a Wild Card spot despite an impressive year from much-maligned quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for a career-high 4,103 passing yards and finished the season in a three-way tie for fifth in yards per attempt with an average of 7.94. 

Where Carr made clear and significant strides was as a deep-ball thrower. 

On passes of 21 air yards or more, Carr had a passer rating of 124.2, throwing for 10 touchdowns and one interception. Among quarterbacks to have attempted at least 25 such passes, his rating put him fourth in the league, behind only Daniel Jones, Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray. 

The exciting thing for the Raiders is there is clear room for him to grow in that area. 

While Carr was much improved pushing the ball downfield, his rapport with Raiders speedster Henry Ruggs III still needs work. 

Carr had 54 completions of at least 20 yards but first-round pick Ruggs registered only eight receptions of 20 yards or more. 

The average distance on those Ruggs receptions was 40.4 yards, putting him fifth among receivers to have had at least five catches of 20-plus yards. 

If Carr and Ruggs can develop their downfield chemistry, opposing defenses will have more reason to fear the passing game, potentially opening things up further for Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller underneath and a running game that underwhelmed in 2020. 

Though Josh Jacobs scored 12 touchdowns, the Raiders averaged 4.19 yards per rush, the 19th-best mark in the NFL.

There will be onus on Jacobs and the offensive line to improve drastically in that regard but, should Carr make further progress going deep and force defenses to focus on the pass, everyone else's jobs will become a little bit easier.

Defense

Save for occasional flashes - the shackling of Mahomes and the Chiefs in the second half of their Week 5 win at Arrowhead Stadium being the most prominent example - the Raiders defense failed to live up to the significant investment in that side of the ball.

Indeed, the Raiders continued to struggle to contain opposing offenses in 2020, allowing 5.99 yards per play, the seventh-worst mark in the NFL.

They were one of just six teams to give up over seven yards per pass play, with the Raiders' issues on defense leading to the firing of coordinator Paul Guenther.

Las Vegas will hope that Gus Bradley - Guenther's replacement - will be the man to oversee a turnaround.

To do that, Bradley will need to help deliver a significant upturn in production from the Raiders' pass rush. They finished the season with 21 sacks - just three teams had fewer - with edge rusher Maxx Crosby seeing his numbers drop from 10 sacks as a rookie to seven in 2020.

A first-round pick in 2019, Clelin Ferrell had just 2.5 sacks, with the Raiders' inability to get consistent pressure a factor in them allowing a passer rating of 108.9 on opponent throws of 21 air yards or more.

That number also raises questions about a young and exploitable secondary that has found it difficult to produce turnovers.

Las Vegas ranked 30th in takeaways with a meagre 15, with their 10 interceptions tied for 23rd.

Having consistently failed to pressure quarterbacks and to take the ball away, there is significant room for improvement on defense, but the Raiders do not have the financial flexibility with which to add players who can aid their cause.

Offseason

Even after one of the best seasons of his career, there has again been talk about the Raiders trading Carr in the hope of finding an upgrade at quarterback. 

The more likely scenario is that the Raiders parlay Marcus Mariota's one appearance last season, in which he excelled in relief of the injured Carr, into a trade that can net them more draft capital. 

With the Raiders poised to be over $9million above an assumed salary cap of $185m, potentially limiting their options in free agency, those extra draft picks would be welcomed. 

Regardless of how many picks the Raiders end up with, the areas of need are obvious. 

Pass-rush help both on the edge and on the interior of the defensive line is a must, as is an infusion of athleticism at linebacker, last year's free-agent signings Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski proving ill-equipped to help the Raiders stop the threats posed by modern passing attacks. 

Making those additions to the front seven will be crucial to the progress Gruden and the Raiders hope they can make in the fourth year of his tenure. 

Should the Raiders fail to identify the correct players at those spots, the ceiling of this team may again be limited in 2021 irrespective of any further strides from Carr.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has reportedly not demanded a trade, according to his agent Mark Rodgers.

It was claimed by The Athletic that Wilson's relationship with the Seahawks coaching staff had reached breaking point.

Rodgers told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Thursday that the 32-year-old wants to play for the Seahawks, but if a trade were to be given consideration then only four teams would be in the running.

Wilson's agent named the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears as the only viable destinations for Wilson.

At the end of last season the quarterback voiced his frustration over the number of hits he had received and spoke of wanting a greater say in team affairs.

Wilson signed a four-year, $140million extension in April 2019 which includes a no-trade clause which needs to be waive for a deal to take place.

The Seahawks finished as division champions but were stunned by Los Angeles Rams in the NFL play-offs.

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