No, it’s not a bad dream. The NFL season is about to start, and the Las Vegas Raiders still haven’t upgraded their offensive line.
Sure, you could argue they made an addition by subtraction when they waived Alex Leatherwood. After an abysmal preseason confirmed doubts raised about Leatherwood in his rookie year, Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler cut ties with the former first-round pick. Needless to say, it was much to the delight of Raiders fans everywhere.
But that’s not an actual upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I won’t have to suffer through another Leatherwood start for the Raiders. At the same time, having confidence in the offensive line just isn’t happening.
We all assumed the Raiders would make a move to upgrade the right tackle spot after the first preseason game. I and everyone else were wrong. I thought the same after the second, third, and fourth preseason matchups. Guess what? Still wrong. Then roster cuts came. Surely the Raiders would add some linemen who were cut by another team, right?
*Narrator Voice* The Raiders did not. They actually have eight offensive linemen on their depth chart.
So here we are, less than a week before the Raiders take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at SoFi stadium, and it looks like Jermaine Eluemunor will be the starting right tackle. Yes, he’s a better option than Leatherwood, but in reality, he’s a swing tackle backup, not a starter. The Raiders may feel he can hold down the position as a stop-gap this season, but everyone knows he isn’t the long-term answer.
And while right tackle is the biggest area of concern, the only position on the offensive line with no concern is left tackle thanks to Kolton Miller.
The current state of the Las Vegas Raiders’ offensive line is dubious at best
Andre James struggled as a starter for the Raiders last season, but he also showed a lot of improvement throughout the year. If he can continue on the same trajectory, he could be a solid starter by the end of the year.
But the rest of the guys? A whole lot of uncertainty and justifiable concern. Dylan Parham had a strong offseason and appears to be in line to take over at left guard at some point. That’s a good sign for a third-round pick, but it’s also not necessarily ideal. Sure, rookies can come in and have great seasons. By the same token, more often than not, it’s a year full of growing pains as they adjust to the NFL.
Opposite Parham is Lester Cotton Sr. While it’s hard not to love his story of being cut multiple times only to eventually earn a starting role, you have to wonder if he’s actually a starting caliber guard or if the Raiders are just desperate. We heard a lot of positive reports about Cotton during the offseason and training camp. Once preseason got underway though, he left a lot to be desired.
Of course, all of these guys might play better than expected off the bat and might develop far more quickly than expected during the season. But if they fall more in line with expectations, well, things aren’t great.
Dave Ziegler has a plan, right?
So, then what’s the plan? If the Raiders aren’t going to make a move to upgrade the personnel, how do McDaniels and Ziegler think this is going to work? Throughout the offseason, the duo I have come to call “McZieg” has impressed at every turn.
Beginning with the trade for Davante Adams but also acquiring Chandler Jones and Rock Ya-Sin. On top of that, they made sure to extend Maxx Crosby, Hunter Renfrow, and Derek Carr. It was clear they had a game plan to ensure they would field a competitive team in year one of their tenure. Only exception is when you get to the offensive line, that is.
The Raiders did a great job of addressing pretty much every position group other than the offensive line. Yes, they added Parham, but given how bad the line was last year, one would think far more tweaking was necessary. Taking into account what we’ve seen from McZieg this offseason, it’s fair to assume they have a plan for the offensive line as well. It just happens to be a different one than what Raiders fans would have expected or wanted.
So, about that Raiders plan…
So, what’s the plan? It’s to rely heavily on McDaniels as a play caller and scheme designer.
One of the things McDaniels did in New England with great success was build offenses that allowed his quarterback to get the ball out quickly. It’s something Tom Brady has been known for throughout his career. It’s also something that helped Mac Jones exceed expectations in his rookie season.
Carr is no slouch about getting the ball out quickly. Nevertheless, under McDaniels, we can expect that to become even quicker. Last season, Derek Carr had an average of 3.82 seconds between the time the ball was snapped and when he made his pass. In comparison, Mac Jones averaged 2.71 seconds in his time to throw.
While that may not seem like a huge difference, in a game where inches and fractions of a second can be the difference between wins and losses, it’s huge. Don’t believe me? Though Jones was only 1/10th of a second quicker than Carr, that time difference was enough for Carr to fall 11 spots below Jones in the time to throw rankings.
The only question that remains is whether McDaniels can shave enough time off of Carr’s average time to overcome what’s easily the biggest weakness on the Las Vegas Raiders.
*Top Photo: Sports Illustrated Images