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How does drafting John Simpson impact Raiders offensive line?

The Raiders made just one draft move along the offensive line, but it was a big one. Literally and figuratively.

By drafting 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard John Simpson from Clemson, the Raiders took advantage of a draft day fall that delivered a player many analysts believe will be a long-term NFL starter by his second season in the NFL.

The Raiders traded up in the fourth round to reel in Simpson with the 109th pick, and his addition gives them flexibility in how they manage their much improved offensive line. Specifically, it gives them options on what to do with veteran right guard Gabe Jackson, who is owed $9.6 million annually through 2022.

Jackson has been hampered by injuries in recent years, and his play has reflected that. With the guaranteed portion of his contract already paid in full, the Raiders can move on from him without suffering a financial hit. Keeping him, though, could be a strain on the salary cap given his reduced level of play.

Simpson could offer a similar, if not improved level of play at a fraction of the cost. And with the recently re-signed Denzelle Good, who played well in his five spot starts at both guard positions, providing additional coverage along with free agent pickup Eric Kush and holdover Jordan Devey, it is fair to wonder if the Raiders are better off parting ways with Jackson to create cap flexibility.

Although general manager Mike Mayock didn’t seem ready to contemplate that possibility after the draft.

“He’s our starting right guard,” Mayock said about Jackson. “We signed Kush and we signed Devey, but both those guys can play all three interior positions. They’re inside guys and I think Gabe Jackson is our starting right guard.”

The offseason program restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis could also play a role in how the Raiders proceed with Jackson. It is likely NFL teams won’t gather together in any official manner until the start of training camp in late July. Even that depends on camps opening as scheduled.

The Raiders began the classroom phase of their virtual offseason program on Monday, although it is being done remotely via video conferencing and only veteran players are allowed to participate. Rookie players will begin participating over the next two weeks.

That creates some difficulty in how the Raiders assess Simpson as a year-one contributor and could impact any decision on whether to move forward with Jackson.

“Right now, I’m going to go in there and compete as much as I can,” Simpson said. “I’m not really sure what role I’m going to serve, but whatever it is I’m going to try and do it and do my best.”

Either way, the drafting of Simpson and the development of Good give the Raiders an in-house procession plan for both guard positions. Be it for cost concerns, as is the case with Jackson, or age concerns with right guard Richie Incognito turning 37 years old in July, the Raiders are wise to get ahead of the process of finding potential replacements.

The Raiders are set for the time being at tackle, with Trent Brown on the right side and the improving Kolton Miller heading into his third season on the left. David Sharpe, who played well in relief of the injured Brown, adds depth along with Brandon Parker and Andre James. Rodney Hudson has been an anchor at center and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2019.

Brown and Incognito were the catalysts for a much improved offensive line last year that reduced its sack total from 52 in 2018 to 29 in 2019 and helped running back Josh Jacobs run for a club rookie record of 1,150 yards.

A big, powerful blocker who excels in run blocking and pass protection, Simpson has some technical flaws that need to be cleaned up before he can be counted on to be a reliable starter. But they appear to be issues that can be fixed with better fundamentals, and he seems open to addressing them.

“I’m working in the sandpit using ladders and change of direction drills, things like that,” Simpson said. “I realize that has been one of my downfalls. I’m also working on trying to get my hands better. I’m trying to use my hands before I make contact instead of using my helmet. Just things like that I’m trying to do every day to get better.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitte

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