A heated three-way battle for right tackle looms
The Oakland Raiders faced many questions this offseason about several key positions, among them, right tackle. With the draft and free agency essentially over, the coming battle for right tackle will play a chief factor in the season’s course for the Raiders.
Last year, the Raiders finished #4 in Offensive Line Rankings according to PFF. Oakland could have been ranked higher on this list if it hadn’t been for the vulnerability at the right tackle position. PFF quoted this stat which I think might be interesting: “The Raiders would likely be higher on the list. Oakland has used four different players at RT for extended snaps; those players have combined to surrender seven sacks and 15 penalties.”
Surrendering seven sacks at the right tackle position raises immediate concerns as we know what happened last year to the Raiders when quarterback Derek Carr went down after left tackle Donald Penn surrendered his only sack of the year. Protecting Carr is the organization’s priority as evident by the past signings of Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson, respectively.
This offseason, the Raiders reached out to Marshall Newhouse, the former right tackle for the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and most recently, the New York Giants. Newhouse signed a 2-year, $3.5 million dollar contract according to Spotrac. Newhouse has played in a total of 86 games making 56 starts. Jack Del Rio, head coach of the Oakland Raiders, was quoted as saying that as of right now, “Marshall Newhouse is the starter at right tackle barring any injuries or setbacks.” Recently, I found some details that make this signing all the more intriguing.
- Newhouse played 524 snaps for the Giants last season at both guard and tackle and is coming off his highest-graded season in the NFL at 69.4, 46th among offensive tackles.
- Based on his 2016 performance, Newhouse shouldn’t be a major liability in pass protection at right tackle, his pass-blocking grade of 75.1 ranked 37th among eligible tackles and his pass-blocking efficiency of 96.5 ranked 13th (min. 90 snaps in pass protection).
- Newhouse struggled as a run-blocker in 2016, earning a “poor” run-block grade of 50.0, which ranked 60th out of 79 tackles.
Based on this information, it’s clear that even though Newhouse isn’t one of the most spectacular right tackles in the league, he can provide some adequate pass protection for Carr compared to last year’s starters Austin Howard and Menelik Watson (who’s now a member of the Denver Broncos).
Austin Howard, whom the Raiders signed to a 5-year, $30,000,000 contract in 2014, has left Raiders fans feeling very underwhelmed with his performance.
In 2017, Howard will earn a base salary of $4,900,000 and a workout bonus of $100,000, while carrying a cap hit of $6,400,000 and a dead cap value of $2,800,000. Critics have questioned this signing by Reggie McKenzie as Howard has so far not performed up to his contract.
Last year, Howard played in 11 games while starting in 10 and logging 721 snaps. In 2016, Howard ended up with a 56.1 grade out of 100 with his pass-blocking grade at 48.1 and his run-blocking grade at 69.3. For a right tackle that is earning an average of $6 million dollars a year, this isn’t the performance that Raider fans want to see. Howard ranks 11 in earnings in 2017 for the right tackle position and just to have an idea of where he ranks compared to the other right tackles in the league, he’s only making $750,000 less than Detroit Lions tackle Bryan Bulaga and $600,000 less than Kansas City Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz whom both are better than Howard.
Safe to say that Howard might be better suited for a backup role at this point despite the bloated contract.
Vadal Alexander was drafted in the 7th round last year out of LSU. According to NFL.com, Alexander had extensive experience playing right tackle his freshmen year while starting the final seven games in 2012. After playing a few seasons at left guard next to Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen La’el Collins, Alexander returned to the right tackle position in 2015 and earned First-Team All-SEC Honors.
This past year, Alexander played in nine games while starting in five and his final PFF grades for this past 2016 season go as follows: 50.3 overall with 65.2 in pass blocking and 49.2 in run blocking. These numbers aren’t fantastic, but considering it was his rookie season and he was thrown into the mix due to injuries to Watson and Howard, he performed to the best of his ability. With another offseason working with coach Tice under his belt, Alexander should improve enough to compete for starts this training camp.
As we head into camp and with OTA’s, we’ll start to see who’s taking the lead for that right tackle position. If I had to make a prediction, I would say Newhouse starts day one based on his experience, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alexander push him for some snaps. This is an interesting battle to watch and Raider Nation’s encouraged to keep an eye on as we head to OTA’s and into the preseason.