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What went wrong and why with the Raiders’ 2020 draft class

Updated November 14, 2021 - 7:44 am

The release of wide receiver Henry Ruggs and cornerback Damon Arnette over the last two weeks underscores just how badly the Raiders whiffed on the 2020 draft.

The two first-round picks — the first two players drafted by the Raiders after moving to Las Vegas — were selected 12th and 19th and considered cornerstone pieces for the franchise.

But in the span of six days, the Raiders had to release both of them. The rapid turn of events cast a shadow over a seven-player class in which only three still remain with the team.

Of those, only two have become reliable NFL players.

Ruggs was involved in a fatal car crash on Nov. 2 that took the life of a 23-year-old Las Vegas woman. He was subsequently arrested and faces two felony counts of driving under the influence causing death or substantial harm, plus two counts of reckless driving.

In addition, he faces misdemeanor charges of possession of a gun under the influence of alcohol.

Arnette was released on Monday after a video surfaced of him making threats to kill an unidentified person while brandishing a gun.

Arnette has also been served with multiple lawsuits, including one for a hit-and-run accident outside the team facility and another for an altercation involving a valet attendant at a resort on the Strip.

Of Arnette, general manager Mike Mayock said, “the bottom line, the Raiders will not tolerate this type of behavior.”

Just like that, the Raiders’ 2020 draft was left in shambles.

“Am I sick to my stomach right now on a lot of levels?” Mayock said. “Yes.”

The question is, how did it come to this?

Here is a breakdown:

What went wrong?

Less than two years removed from that draft weekend, the Raiders no longer have Ruggs, Arnette, running back/wide receiver Lynn Bowden, who was selected 80th, or linebacker Tanner Muse, who was selected 100th.

Of the players left on the roster, wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who was selected 81st, and guard John Simpson, who was selected 109th, are in the starting lineup, while cornerback Amik Robertson, selected 129th, has not distinguished himself despite multiple opportunities to seize a role. Robertson has been inactive the last three games.

Arnette’s selection is the most egregious drafting error. He had ample red flags coming out of Ohio State. So much so that Mayock and then-coach Jon Gruden investigated him more than any other player they had ever evaluated.

In spite of all the background digging, they still came to believe Arnette was a risk worth taking. They thought that he was maturing and that the infrastructure and resources they had in place would ensure he remained on track.

“Obviously in hindsight, we weren’t able to do it,” Mayock said. “I know a lot of people, including myself, we were all concerned about this. But at the time we thought it was an acceptable risk and obviously it’s painful at all levels.”

The problem was, according to most draft experts at the time, with or without the character issues, Arnette wasn’t a first-round talent. As a result, the reach the Raiders made was doubly dubious. Arnette represented too much risk both as a player and person, and ultimately both issues backfired on the Raiders. Arnette didn’t distinguish himself on the field, and off it, he distinguished himself for all the wrong reasons.

The Ruggs situation is completely different. He was blossoming into the player the Raiders envisioned on draft night while solidifying himself as a major piece of the offensive puzzle. Nevertheless, Ruggs will forever remain the face of a 2020 draft class that went horribly wrong.

As for Bowden and Muse, two players the Raiders drafted with the idea of moving them to new positions in the NFL, Bowden was traded to the Dolphins at the end of training camp last year before ever taking a regular-season snap, and Muse missed his entire rookie year with a toe injury before being released at the end of training camp this year.

Bowden, a wide receiver and quarterback at Kentucky, was drafted to play running back for the Raiders. He never seemed comfortable with the change, and after being traded the Dolphins promptly moved him back to wide receiver. Bowden caught 28 passes for 211 yards as a rookie but has been on the injured reserve list all of 2021.

Muse was released to make room for veteran linebacker K.J. Wright, who was signed after Nicholas Morrow was put on the injured reserve list.

The plan was to add Muse to the practice squad after clearing waivers, but the Seahawks offered a straighter line to the 53-man roster and Muse signed with Seattle instead.

Muse has appeared in one game for the Seahawks, registering two tackles.

Why did it go wrong?

The breakdowns were multiple, with some resulting in fairly predictable results and others unpredictable.

Ruggs, for instance, was on his way to proving himself worthy of his draft selection. He didn’t bust because of a talent issue but rather a series of bad decisions that led to a horrible outcome.

As one general manager explained, situations like the one with Ruggs “can’t be predicted.”

Arnette, on the other hand, will be a case study as a painful reminder of the challenge teams face weighing risk against reward.

In Mayock’s defense, even the best general managers have been burned by overconfidence in the leadership, resources and infrastructure their organizations have in place to develop young prospects with checkered pasts into more mature adults.

However, it was no secret that Arnette wasn’t among the most highly regarded cornerback prospects and, at 24 years old on draft night, he was already a couple of years older than the normal draft prospect. The Raiders were rightfully panned for taking him 19th as a result.

In real time and retrospect, his talent was never worth the potential headache.

“That is 100 percent on me,” Mayock said.

The Raiders had to have known the position changes Muse and Bowden were making would take time, especially coming in a COVID-19 year in which normal offseason programs were not available. The picks were not necessarily the issue, it was the impatience the Raiders showed during the transition process.

Who’s to blame?

Mayock has accepted responsibility for the mistakes, and to his credit, he won’t use the evaluation restrictions caused by COVID-19 as an excuse.

Coming off the mostly strong draft class he helped put together in 2019, perhaps there was some overconfidence, especially as it relates to the Muse and Bowden picks. Mayock also relied too heavily on his relationships with the Ohio State staff, who may have oversold the progress Arnette was making off the field.

That said, it was Gruden who owned 51 percent of the decision-making power, and while Mayock will never point to that, it goes without saying Gruden had the final say. As a result, the blame should be spread between Gruden and Mayock for the failures of the 2020 draft.

And as one general manager pointed out, Gruden should shoulder the blame for giving up too quickly on Bowden and Muse.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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