Raiders Set At Center? Why Andre James Is The Answer

The Las Vegas Raiders have had a rough year in 2021, and that may be an understatement of the century. One sour spot is the play of their offensive line. At one point, the starting five were the backbone of the offense, predating the Jon Gruden years. They are now a trainwreck.

The Kansas City defensive line treated rookie Alex Leatherwood like he was a high school player. Kolton Miller, Mr. Reliable and easily the best the Raiders have to offer in pass protection, was beat several times by the slippery Frank Clark. Don’t even get me started on John Simpson and Brandon Parker. Neither of whom will likely be starters for this club next year (Parker won’t even be on the team). But while this Raiders season has gone down the toilet, just waiting for that final flush on Saturday in Cleveland, one young player has flipped his own narrative: the single undrafted man of the group, Andre James.

After a horrendous start to his year, with calls for him to be replaced or cut, James has kept grinding, working on his fundamentals and his snapping (very unnatural for a man who played left tackle at UCLA). His hard work has paid off, and his play has been firmly on the upswing since the bye.

The Best?

In Week 9 against the New York Giants, he was graded as the best center across the NFL. That catapulted his confidence. Since then, the Utah kid has been either solid or exceptional in each contest. In the “Kansas City Killing” on Sunday, James was the only Raiders offensive lineman that didn’t get smacked around. His pass-blocking grade was, again, the highest amongst all centers in Week 14. He didn’t allow a single sack or pressure. By comparison, the other four men on the line gave up 22 pressures between the four of them, including four sacks on Derek Carr.

Whatever you want to say about Carr, he had no chance of throwing the ball well against the Chiefs. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia alluded to this in his Monday presser. He said the team’s insistence on running the ball was born from necessity; if they can’t set up play-action plays, their offensive line won’t give them time to pass. That sad reality isn’t going away this season, but it’s no longer James’ fault.

A Look Ahead

Looking ahead to next year, as most fans are doing now, this Raiders’ offensive line will likely undergo another makeover. A new offensive scheme will be implemented, a new offensive line coach will be hired, and the new general manager will add much-needed talent (Brandon Scherff, anybody?)

However, amidst that turnover, two men will be chilling, knowing their jobs are safe and secure: Kolton Miller and Andre James. How many of us saw that coming? On top of that, both are under contract through 2023 and are good pals dating back to their college days (totally irrelevant but a nice story).

James went from being an undrafted tackle to becoming one of the most underrated centers in the NFL. He’s been overlooked at every step of his football journey. Surely he’s accepting apologies from those that doubted him, including myself.

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*Top Photo: Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

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