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Breaking down the key players behind the Raiders’ encouraging 2020 season

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs dives over the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive line to score a touchdown.
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs dives over the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line to score a touchdown Sunday night.
(David Becker / Associated Press)
1

Anthony Herrera moved nearly 300 miles from Inglewood to Las Vegas this past summer just to be closer to the Raiders, his favorite team.

Herrera, nicknamed “Raider Jester” because of the costume he has worn to games since 2018, didn’t know what to expect from the franchise as it relocated for a third time. Before the season, he had hoped the team could end its postseason drought and reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.

Through 10 games, that hope is turning into an expectation.

The Raiders, who had beaten the Kansas City Chiefs earlier in the season, lost 35-31 on Sunday night in Las Vegas, but only when quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw a late go-head touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce.

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“Those are my boys, and they’re keeping up with the world champions,” Herrera said. “I was kind of shocked and proud.”

The Raiders currently hold a playoff spot at 6-4, and coach Jon Gruden said he admires his team’s grit as the Raiders have suffered through injuries and COVID-19 scares.

He’s optimistic for the stretch run.

“All I know is we’re getting a lot of contributions from a lot of people,” Gruden said. “Our quarterback is playing at a supreme level, and we just have to keep getting better.”

Fans also have been appreciative, and here are the players they’re thankful for this season:

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2

Derek Carr

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr throws against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

Quarterback Derek Carr has been operating Las Vegas’ offense in an efficient way. The three-time Pro Bowl choice is completing 69.7% of his attempts and has only had three passes intercepted. He has thrown for three touchdowns in three different games, including both games against the Chiefs, and is tied for 11th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns.

Carr has led the Raiders to only one winning season in the previous six years of his career. Ray Allala, president of the Inland Empire Raiders Booster Club, didn’t expect the quarterback to play so well. Now he hopes Carr will get more national attention.

“Carr’s not getting the respect that he deserves, and that’s OK,” Allala said. “I think that just adds more wood to his fire. That desire to continue, the will to win, that’s the Raider motto. For him continue to put on an outstanding performance every game day speaks volumes.”

3

Nelson Agholor

Raiders wide receiver Nelson Agholor runs against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a former USC Trojan, played with the Philadelphia Eagles for five years and was a pivotal piece during the Super Bowl title run in the 2017 season. But drops hampered Agholor last year, so much so that an Eagles fan turned him into a viral meme on a local newscast.

But after signing with the Raiders in the offseason, Agholor ranks second on the team in yards receiving (443) and first in touchdown catches (six). Against the Chiefs on Sunday, Agholor caught six passes for 88 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 29-yard completion that set up a touchdown run. Herrera said the change of scenery might have helped, comparing his scenario to Amari Cooper, a former Raiders wide receiver who underperformed before excelling after a trade to the Dallas Cowboys.

“I really feel that he’s one of our stars,” Herrera said. “I wasn’t really sold on him in the beginning. He had his little spurts of stardom in Philly, but he came to the Raiders and is showing out.”

4

Darren Waller

Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller runs with the ball.
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller runs with the ball against Kansas City Chiefs cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (35) and L’Jarius Sneed (38) on Sunday.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

Darren Waller ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards among tight ends (519) and leads his team in targets (83). But aside from Waller’s on-the-field statistics, he has received praise for his honesty concerning addiction.

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Waller was suspended for the 2017 season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and has shared his difficulties with the Las Vegas community. Both Herrera and his fiancee are drug and alcohol counselors, and he said Waller has been inspiring.

“Seeing that has just been awesome,” Herrera said. “I just have a new respect for him.”

5

Maxx Crosby

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby celebrates a sack against the Chargers on Nov. 8.
(Peter Joneleit / Associated Press)

The Raiders have struggled to show consistency on defense. Las Vegas ranks second-to-last in the NFL in sacks (11) and has taken the ball away only 11 times.

A bright spot, though, has been second-year defensive end Maxx Crosby, who has a team-high six sacks. Allala and Herrera both said the defensive play-calling can be more aggressive but they’re especially happy with Crosby.

“The dude is a beast right now,” Allala said. “He’s come through time and time again. The defense needs to tighten up, but hopefully Crosby can just keep being him and hold it down.”

6

Johnathan Abram

Las Vegas Raiders safety Johnathan Abram tracks a play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

In only his second season, safety Johnathan Abram is leading the Raiders in combined tackles (57). He posted that production even after missing a game while on the COVID-19/reserve list. Herrera said he loves Abrams’ speed, agility and effort.

“To me, I believe that he really wants to be a Raider,” Herrera said. “He really wants to get out there and prove himself.”

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr used some interesting phrases while calling signals against the Kansas City Chiefs on ‘Sunday Night Football.’

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