Today is one of the biggest days of the year. It’s not Christmas, or one of the other national holidays - though really it should be! - no, today is the first game of the NFL season. Sure, it’s only preseason, but tonight’s kickoff between the Raiders and the Jaguars marks the beginning of 28 weeks straight of NFL and college football. We’ve waited months for this day to come and I am here to share what I am most looking forward to from these two teams this season, using StatsBomb data.
Davante Adams fit in Las Vegas
One of the biggest moves this offseason was Davante Adams moving from the Packers and “Hall of Fame” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the Raiders and “Hall of Fame” Quarterback Derek Carr. Regardless of how you feel about that statement, the move of one of the top receivers in the NFL is intriguing.
Last season the top two targets of the Las Vegas Raiders were Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Two very good options that predominantly line up in the slot. Here are the snap distributions for those two from a subset of games last season. From bottom to top, the bars show all the snaps, snaps when the ball is on the left hash, is in the left center, right center, and right hash.
Compare that to Davante Adams from last season, where his alignment was more evenly spread between the slot and out wide. Not only will this be a new dynamic for the Raiders offense, but it will also mean less focus on Renfrow and Waller coming out of the slot, potentially opening up some more looks for them over the middle of the field.
Return of Travis Etienne from injury
I’m not here to debate the efficacy of drafting a running back in the first round, or what the proper run/pass ratio might be, but come on, I grew up on old-school BYU, and the answer is always "throw the ball". That said, Travis Etienne is a very explosive player that was a force when he played at Clemson. He missed last season recovering from a foot injury and is back this season healthy and ready for a full workload.
I was interested to see what was going to happen to him in his first season when he was playing exclusively wide receiver during rookie minicamp. After sitting out with his injury, and a coaching change in Jacksonville, it appears he will be utilized in a multipurpose role. He has the skills to take advantage of mismatches in the run game and pass game.
I wanted to look at some of the run concepts which might benefit him and how the Jags blocked them last season. Using our line battles data can give us a clue to how Jacksonville might try to deploy Etienne this season.
The first example is from a successful run play. These three visualizations are from the snap when a few of the engagements have started between the lines, and then at the point of handoff. It’s very interesting to see Marvin Jones (#11) get involved in the blocking scheme with the tight ends at the point of attack. This play was well blocked and resulted in a 13-yard gain.
The next example is from an unsuccessful run play. These three visualizations are from a similar timeframe as above.
In this play, the two guards work up to the next level quickly, and the tackles and center are left one on one with the defensive lineman. At the time of handoff, Cam Robinson (#74) was not in a position to block Whitney Mercilus (#59) anymore. This also was a long block for both the center and right tackle to hold. Both of those defenders were in on the tackle on this play that gained less than a yard.
Although the schemes this year will be different with the new coaching staff, the data from our engagements can give us some helpful information on what to look for. Also, hopefully, Etienne will be able to play tonight, and we’ll get more of an idea of the plans Coach Pederson has for him this season.
Trevor Lawrence's development in year two
Trevor Lawrence was one of the most hyped QB prospects of all time. He was a surefire number 1 pick as soon as he was draft eligible. After an up and down rookie year, I’m excited to see him take a second-year leap this season.
Lawrence will go his whole career being compared not just to other sure-fire QB prospects (Andrew Luck for example), but also to the other four quarterbacks taken in the first round of the same draft: Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. Only once in history has more QBs been drafted in the first round (the 1983 draft and just look at some of those names: John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino!). Because of the oddity, these QBs will all be talked about as a group and compared their whole careers. Trey Lance didn’t play enough for us to get a good gauge on his skillset, but we can look at the accuracy of the other four using our pass placement data. Of the current group, Mac Jones is the most accurate quarterback through one season.
This offseason the Jaguars did a lot to try and help Lawrence succeed: signing Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram. Not to mention hiring Doug Pederson who has had lots of success coaching quarterbacks. If he wants to take the next step, increasing his accuracy would help out a lot.
Derek Carr Passing Chart
We talked earlier about Davante Adams and what he can bring to the table for the Raiders. Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller were the top two targets for Raiders QB Derek Carr, and it shows in his passing chart. As you can see from the heatmap below, Carr really did not stretch the field very often last season. Most of his targets were 5 yards or fewer downfield. This will most likely change dramatically based on the signing of Davante Adams, and I am very excited to see how it will play out.
Tonight at 8 PM ET football season is here, the waiting is over. So fire up your grills, check your YouTubeTv subscription, and get your seating arrangement set. This isn’t just preseason for the players, it’s preseason for all of us as well.