The Raiders offensive line saw its fair share of struggles in 2018. In order for the team to be more successful this season, this unit will need to play better. There will be a few new faces on the line, so let’s take a look at how this year’s group compares to last year’s and what needs to improve.
Left Tackle: Kolton Miller
Miller had struggles last season and a large part of that was due to injuries. In the first three games of his career, he showed promise and allowed zero sacks and only five pressures according to Pro Football Focus.
However, the rest of the season was a different story, as he averaged 4.6 pressures and at least one sack per game. No one could use time off more than Miller because when healthy, he has shown he can be an effective pass blocker.
With a small sample size of healthy games in the NFL, we have to take a look at Miller’s last college season to really get a sense of his potential. At UCLA in 2017, he gave up two sacks and allowed 16 total pressures, so he has proven to be effective when healthy. Bulking up to 330 pounds should also assist his development but it remains to be seen whether offensive line coach Tom Cable will supplement or hinder the tackle’s development. Both the player’s and coach’s success will be tied together for at least one more year.
Left Guard: Richie Incognito
After three seasons in Oakland, the team decided to trade Kelchi Osemele to New York and save $10 million in cap space. While the now Jets guard had a down year in 2018, replacing a former All-Pro and Pro Bowler will be difficult. Heading into training camp, there is an open competition at left guard between recently signed Richie Incognito, fifth year veteran Denzelle Good and rookie Lester Cotton.
Since Incognito did not play last season, we have to go back to 2017 to gauge how effective he will be this upcoming season. That year, he only allowed two quarterback hits and 15 pressures in 2017. While he only took 187 snaps for the Raiders last season, Trying to compete for playing time, Good didn’t allow a single quarterback hit and only allowed nine pressures. You would like to see the number of pressures per snap decrease, but ultimately, if he is able to keep quarterback Derek Carr from getting hit, he will be doing his job. He will also see competition from undrafted free agent Cotton, who only allowed one sack and seven total quarterback hits in four years at Alabama.
The last two seasons, Good posted PFF run blocking grades of 53.5 and 52.6; while Cotton had grades of 60.5 and 65.5 for the Crimson Tide. There is no doubt about it, out of the three options, Incognito is the most established player. However, the issue with him (on the field) is if the 36 year-old can maintain this level of success. Left guard will be one of the more intriguing positions to watch during training camp and one in which we could see an undrafted player start.
Center: Rodney Hudson
The best returning player on the Raiders offense and overall for that matter is Rodney Hudson. For the third year in a row, he led centers in pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. Baring injury, he will be Oakland’s starting center and there is no reason to believe that he won’t be one of the leagues best again.
One small but potential area for improvement with Hudson is his run blocking. Last season his PFF run-blocking grade was 66.2 and that ranked ninth among all centers. Since he still ranks in the top ten as a run blocker, this is a bit nit-picky, but that just speaks to how great he’s been. We are left to micro analize his game and that should be taken as a compliment.
Right Guard: Gabe Jackson
After signing an extension before the 2017 season, Jackson hasn’t lived up to expectations. In his five-year career, he has given up eight sacks and six of them came in the last two seasons. His run blocking hasn’t been much better as he posted a career low 60.6 run blocking grade in 2017 and last year, he ended with a 63.5 grade. All is not lost on the soon to be 28-year old as he has put together a few good seasons in the past.
The two best seasons of Jackson’s tenure with the Raiders came in 2016 and 2017, when he posted an overall grade of 82.2 and 74.5 respectively. With grades like that, it’s easy to see how he earned a five-year $55 million dollar contract. On the other hand and according to Overthecap.com, there is no dead money left on his contract after this year, so 2019 could be a “prove it” season for Jackson. Hopefully, that motivation will help him bounce back to his 2016 and 2017 form.
Right Tackle: Trent Brown
The last few years, the Raiders have had a revolving door at right tackle. In what looks like an attempt to bring some stability to the position, Oakland made free agent Trent Brown the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Last season, the Raiders had the following players take snaps at right tackle: Donald Penn, Brandon Parker, T.J. Clemmings and Ian Silberman. Those four combined for 14 sacks and 54 total pressures, hence the need to break the bank for the former Patriots tackle.
While he was on the left side, last season was a productive one for Brown as he only allowed three sacks and 39 pressures. Going back to his last full season at right tackle (2017), he allowed one sack and only 16 pressures (10 games). Needless to say, he should be a welcomed sight on the offensive line. When you have $125 million invested in your quarterback, it makes sense to spend $66 million to help keep him upright.
As with most teams, the Raiders will need to dominate the trenches in order to find success. Each position has it’s own storyline heading into the season:
Left Tackle: Can Kolton Miller improve from a tough rookie campaign or will someone else have to step in?
Left Guard: Who will fill the large shoes Kelchi Osemele leaves behind?
Center: Can Rodney Hudson continue to build upon his great career?
Right Guard: Will Gabe Jackson return to his 2016/2017 form?
Right Tackle: Does Trent Brown live up to his large contract?