What Is The Raiders’ Plan For Their Offensive Line?

Heading into the offseason, the offensive line was one of the biggest areas of concern for the Las Vegas Raiders. So far, they have done nothing of note to improve this group. With the free agency pool dwindling and their first two picks now belonging to the Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas is running out of options. Running it back with the same five up front can’t be the plan, right? What do Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels know that we don’t?

What are the Raiders thinking?

Natural Improvement?

The Raiders have a young offensive line. Of the group that played together the most last year, Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker were the elder statesmen at just 26 years old. Keep in mind, that we’re talking about a position group where it’s normal for guys to not hit their prime until their late 20s.

Miller is just beginning to blossom into one of the top left tackles in the league. Left guard John Simpson just completed his second season in the league and his first as a full-time starter. At center, Andre James just completed his third year in the league, his first as a full-time starter. Last year, James made substantial improvements as the season went on. On the right side, Alex Leatherwood just completed a rookie campaign that included a move from tackle to guard midseason (more on that later). Who knows what he could look like next year?

At tackle, Leatherwood was replaced by Brandon Parker. The North Carolina A & T product has started over 30 games in his first four years in the league, and he is still one of the worst offensive linemen I have ever seen at the NFL level. He is what he is at this point. Shockingly, he was recently re-signed by the Raiders.

There is some reason to believe that this is more or less the plan. The other day, McDaniels was asked about the offensive line at the NFL’s owners’ meeting. The coach said, “I think we have a lot of players there that are not at their ceiling yet.” He followed that up by saying, “I feel pretty good about the group that we have, and now our job in the short term here is to try to coach them, get them to play better, each group, each man to play better, and that’s what I’ll focus on.”

Basically, McDaniels believes that he and his staff can get more out of this current group. There is reason to believe in this plan. Again, the offensive line is young, and there is also the fact that new offensive line coach Mick Lombardi should be an upgrade over Tom Cable. However, this offensive line has a long way to go just to become a middle of the pack group.

Possible Changes

Chances are that the offensive line will not feature the exact same five guys that started in Vegas’ playoff loss to Cincinnati. There are a few players that could be in the mix next season that are already on the roster. This offseason, the Raiders brought in Alex Bars, who spent the first three years of his career with the Bears. They re-signed Jermaine Eluemunor, who started a few games in place of the injured Denzelle Good. The former Patriot is familiar with McDaniels, so he could have a leg up there. Also, the aforementioned Good will be back after missing last season with a torn ACL. The nice thing about all three of these guys is that they can all play multiple spots on the offensive line. This gives the coaching staff a lot of options if they wish to make some tweaks.

The first domino that has to fall is Alex Leatherwood. Will he stay at guard, or will he move back to tackle?

McDaniels recently commented on this situation, saying, “We know what he was drafted for and we’re going to give him an opportunity to do so, but ultimately, what we want to do at the end of the day is let the best five guys out there. The best five guys we can put out there to protect the quarterback and run the football and be physical, that’s what we’re going to try to do. We get that he was drafted as a tackle and that he probably wants to play there because they make more money, but he’s a guard and that’s where he’ll play unless he blows us away in camp. I think this is the right way to handle this on McDaniels’ part. I have been adamant since before Leatherwood was drafted that he was a guard.

The next step is to figure out Denzelle Good. He is arguably the second-best offensive lineman on the roster. The seven-year veteran has played his best football at guard, but he is also a solid tackle, especially when compared to the Raiders’ other options there. This decision likely comes down to how the coaching staff feels about the other four guys competing for these two spots. 

More than likely, the guard would (setting aside Good) come down to John Simpson and Alex Bars. I think that Simpson would likely hold the position. The Clemson product seems to be gradually progressing, but he has been underwhelming so far. Given that he got the bulk of the starts last season, it would seem as though Parker has the inside track at right tackle. Then the question becomes whether Good is a bigger upgrade over Simpson or Parker. It would likely be Simpson, since guard is Good’s natural position. However, that road leads to Parker starting again (yuck).

Possible Additions That The Raiders Should Make?

That last question could become moot if the Raiders just add a right tackle. There is plenty of time to do so as well. There are still plenty of available free agents, the draft is still an option, and we’ve already seen that Ziegler is willing to trade.

In free agency, there are no elite guys left, but there are solid players out there. On the higher end, you have former star left tackles like Reily Reiff and Eric Fisher. On the lower end, you have guys like David Quessenberry and Nate Solder. While none of these names sound super appealing, they would all be an upgrade over Parker.

The draft is also an option. While the Raiders may not pick until round three, that’s not a huge problem. Remember who they’re replacing. They do not need a star. Also, this is a relatively deep tackle class. With that third rounder, they could grab someone like Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele. He is a bit raw, but at worst, he would immediately be a bigger version of Parker.

Don’t count out a trade. That could mean moving up in the draft to get one of the top tackle prospects. Or it could mean going out and landing another big name. If the Jets wind up drafting a right tackle, the Raiders could pursue either Mekhi Becton or George Fant.

The Bottom Line

Just because Las Vegas hasn’t made a big move in this position group yet doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. There is plenty of reason to have faith in the growth of this young group. Also, they have plenty of time to find an upgrade over Parker. Let’s at least wait until July to hit the panic button.

*Top Photo: Associated Press/Rick Scuteri

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