Offensive line is the least glamorous position in the NFL, but its importance is heavily understood within NFL circles. This was proven by a record draft for offensive linemen, as eight linemen were taken in the first 20 picks of the NFL draft. What’s more interesting, the spread of players taken was pretty even across the line: three left-tackles/future left-tackles, three guards, and two right tackles. Each of these players is expected to be a mainstay on their lines for years to come. Even the Cowboys’ selection of Frederick with the 32nd pick is starting to look like a solid selection. With the premium on the passing game, offensive line is being emphasized more and more. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the Raiders’ offensive line and see its potential.
Despite its current woes, the Raiders’ offensive line has a lot of promise and could be a bright spot on the team in the near future. It has actually been a bright spot on the team for a few years now, but it hasn’t been publicized much. THe offensive line paved the way for McFadden to rush for 1100 yards in 2010 and continue that pace into 2011 before he was injured for the season. The line didn’t open as much last season due to an ill-fitting zone-blocking scheme, but it pass protected well enough to allow Carson Palmer to throw for over 4000 yards. While pieces of this line have left, the Raiders have the core of these lines intact, having drafted left and right tackles and a center to grow together. When healthy, these young players could develop into one of the best offensive lines in the league, but various injuries have stunted this plan a bit. Star left tackle Jared Veldheer tore his tricep after the first week of the preseason and will be out until at least week 8 of the regular season, and his backup and future right tackle, Menelik Watson, is out for at least a month with a knee inury sustained after the last week of the preseason. Watson’s injury is particularly frustrating since he is an extremely raw player that needs as much game and practice time as possible. He flashed the ability to competently protect in the fourth preseason game before injuring his knee in the next week, but it looks like Raiders fans will have to wait at least a couple more weeks to see him in action.
The line that has been forced to start is not the one that the Raiders intended, but it has seemed serviceable in the meantime. Khalif “False Start” Barnes is currently the starter at left tackle and is doing an average to below-average job, but he’s doing better than expected as a third-string left tackle. The Raiders signed, and immediately started, Tony Pashos at right tackle to surprisingly excellent results. ProFootballFocus rated Pashos as one of its top players last week after not allowing a single sack or pressure. Pashos and Barnes fortunately also had a history of starting together at the tackle positions, having started at right and left tackle for the Jaguars a few years ago, and played well enough together for most of the game. Matt McCants, a sixth-round pick from a year ago, was signed off of the Raider’s practice squad and is backing up the tackles, but I honestly don’t know anything about him. The main issue with the line at this point seems to be the guard positions. Last year’s third-round pick, Tony Bergstrom, was expected to take one of the spots, but was lost early in the offseason to injury as well.
Seeing at least two key parts (three if you believe in Bergstrom) of the O-line on the sidelines is unfortunate, but it’s very possible that this unit could grow into something special once they are all healthy and playing together. Veldheer is one of the league’s best young left tackles, and Watson is very raw but FILLED with potential. If we could have our current line as depth for an even more talented line, this could be an incredibly big strength for the Raiders for years to come.