There’s an NFL axiom that states you must take at least three years to make any fair judgement on a team’s draft class.
There are always exceptions.
The latest one: The Las Vegas Raiders’ 2020 class.
We can already tell you without hesitation that it’s primed for some serious reproach. Following the releases of the team’s two first-round picks that year, Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette, we know this isn’t a stretch. In fact, it could go down as one of the worst draft fumbles of the past decade or more.
Ruggs, the 12th overall pick in the 2020 draft, was charged with four felony counts of driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in death and reckless driving, along with a weapons misdemeanor charge. He was released last week following the death of a 23-year-old woman and her dog.
Arnette, who was a surprise pick at No. 19 overall, joined Ruggs among the unemployed when the Raiders cut him following some disturbing videos surfaced on social media of the cornerback allegedly threatening another man while in possession of firearms.
It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario for general manager Mike Mayock’s future. It’s possible that neither player ever plays again in the NFL, although Arnette’s case could warrant a second chance elsewhere. Even so, he’ll never be a Raider again, so they’ve already taken a huge L on that pick.
Three years ago, we compiled a list of the worst team draft classes since the year 2000. The Raiders’ 2007 crop, led by JaMarcus Russell, was our pick for the worst of the worst.
Is it possible that the same franchise boasts a case for a new pick for the worst class? That’s how rough the Raiders’ 2020 picks appear.
The immediate reaction to Raiders’ 2020 draft was telling
It feels like piling on Mayock and the Raiders’ scouts now, where hindsight can read the bottom line of the eye chart with absolute clarity. But it’s worth noting that both first-rounders — as well as other selections they made that year — were roundly questioned in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 draft, especially the Arnette pick.
Some of the fears we had then with the Raiders’ picks ended up being pretty darned on point.
Those concerns were couched a bit on Arnette in our 2020 NFL draft grades, but in the pre-draft scouting report of Arnette we pointed out some of the questions NFL scouts had about his character. In speaking to Ohio State sources, we heard stories of bouts of immaturity and questions about his focus off the field.
Arnette was well-liked by some OSU folks. He had his share of defenders there. They spoke of how much he grew up through his five years, especially in his final season after nearly bolting for the 2019 draft. Staying, they said, was huge for his growth as a person, especially as it allowed him to complete his undergraduate degree.
Six months before the draft, OSU head coach Ryan Day said of Arnette, “I think it’s so cool when you see somebody walk down a hallway saying, ‘The best decision I made was coming back.’ He tells people around the facility that he loves them. I think that goes to show you how much he put into this program. …
“The strides he’s taken the last year have been unbelievable. It’s all well-deserved because he put a lot into it.”
Not all scouts were convinced. So combining that with some uneven play — often chalked up to mental mistakes — and health concerns, Arnette in no way read like a tailor-made first-round pick. Many scouts believed he’d land on Day 2, somewhere in the range of the 40th to 80th pick.
Ruggs locked up his first-round landing spot once he ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. The tape also was good, too, despite being perhaps the least-refined of the four first-round wide receivers Alabama had on the roster in 2018 and 2019. He scored 24 touchdowns on 98 career catches, which wasn’t too shabby either.
Moreover, scouts raved about Ruggs’ football temperament, such as when he chased down a Tennessee DB 60 yards downfield after an interception or the way Ruggs attacked his special-teams duties with enthusiasm. His speed seemed to impact games in so many different ways. It felt like a Raiders pick of yore, the kind that would make Al Davis smile from above — this generation’s Cliff Branch, perhaps.
If there were character concerns about Ruggs, we hadn’t heard them. He was our third-ranked receiver in that class, behind CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy, Ruggs’ Bama teammate. We were OK with the pick but preferred others.
It also doesn’t help the optics of this now-failed duo that others picked behind them — at the same positions, even — have outshined them on the field and have stayed out of trouble off it.
Our fourth-ranked receiver, Justin Jefferson, was drafted 22nd overall. He has become a star with the Vikings, along with Lamb with the Cowboys. Likewise, at least two other corners drafted after Arnette, the Bears’ Jaylon Johnson and the Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs, have been far more consistent on the field.
And in the backdrop of those two picks are the reminder that they’re big parts of the Khalil Mack trade that Jon Gruden forced.
In the deal, the Raiders sent Mack, a 2020 second-rounder (that became tight end Cole Kmet) and a 2020 seventh-rounder (Arlington Hambright) to Chicago. The Raiders received the 24th pick in 2019 (running back Josh Jacobs); the No. 19 overall pick in 2020 (Arnette); a 2019 sixth-rounder (cornerback Bless Austin, whom they sent to the Jets in a trade); and 2020 third-rounder Bryan Edwards.
If the Raiders’ goal of the Mack trade was to earn back improved talent or depth, it appears they failed at that, even as Jacobs has become a standout and Edwards remains on the roster.
The Raiders’ other picks that year were bad, too
Following Ruggs and Arnette, the Raiders ended up with five more selections — three third-rounders and two in Round 4. It’s fair to say that the success rate of those picks didn’t boost the team’s overall draft grade.
They picked Lynn Bowden Jr. and Edwards back to back in Round 3, Nos. 80 and 81 overall. Even with the plan to move Bowden — a college QB who switched to receiver, then back again — to running back, if felt like an orgy of overlapping talents.
Would they be able to get Ruggs, Bowden and Edwards on the field much early on? That was answered way sooner than anyone could have expected.
Bowden was deemed a rare draft bust when he was traded prior to even playing a game for the Raiders. They sent him to Miami, along with a 2021 sixth-round pick, for a fourth-rounder in 2021. It was stunning to see the Bowden experiment fail as quickly as it did and for a Day 2 selection traded for quarters on the dollar a little more than five months after making the pick.
Edwards was earning a reputation for being a big-play threat late in games earlier this season. But he has been quiet of late and has a grand total of 29 catches in his 20 NFL games. He started Sunday, played 64 of the offense’s 69 snaps and didn’t catch a pass. Edwards has only 18 catches on his 35 targets this season.
The Raiders’ third third-rounder (No.100 overall) was safety Tanner Muse. Like Bowden, he ended up not playing a single regular-season snap for the Raiders. After spending his rookie year as an inactive, Muse was released this summer and now is on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad after seeing special teams duty in one game this year.
The one real success story of the Raiders’ 2020 draft class has been offensive guard John Simpson. He has started every game this season, has played all but two offensive snaps and has recovered two of his team’s fumbles. Even so, Pro Football Focus rates Simpson as its 60th-best guard this season out of 76 qualifiers.
The other fourth-round pick, cornerback Amik Robertson, is a reserve who has played about one quarter of the team’s defensive snaps this year. Robertson may have intercepted 14 passes and defended 48 more over three seasons at Louisiana Tech, but he has yet to register one of either in his 14 NFL games.
One draft, seven selections and only three of them remain on the roster 18 months later. In no uncertain terms, the 2020 Raiders draft class — partly through bad luck, partly by their own doing — can indeed be labeled a disaster. It falls right in line with a team that has seen its 2021 season’s trajectory go sharply downward in a short amount of time.