66°F
weather icon Clear

Raiders offensive line improved, but still a work in progress

Despite lineup tinkering that lingered one month into the season, the Raiders’ offensive line transformed from a perceived weakness to somewhat of a strength by the end of last season.

The Raiders began the season with what Pro Football Focus graded as one of the NFL’s worst offensive line groups. But after Jermaine Eluemunor took hold of the right tackle position and Alex Bars solidified right guard, the unit settled in and played a significant role in Josh Jacobs rushing for a league-leading 1,653 yards and Raiders quarterbacks being sacked the 10th fewest times in the league.

That development lessened the urgency to pursue improvements through free agency. The Raiders opted to retain Eluemunor, Bars and reserve tackle Brandon Parker rather than reach outside their building for reinforcements.

That doesn’t mean they won’t look to add offensive line help through the draft, or that they don’t recognize the need for improvement. But the development of last season’s group reduced the necessity.

While it seems unlikely the Raiders will roll out the same starting five they finished the season with — Kolton Miller at left tackle, Dylan Parham at left guard, Andre James at center, Bars at right guard and Eluemunor at right tackle — it’s a scenario they are comfortable with if it breaks that way.

Parham is a candidate to move to center, the position some in the organization believe is his best spot, and Eluemunor’s versatility could land him at guard or tackle.

Eluemunor’s 2023 role could be dependent on what the Raiders do in the draft, as well as the development of second-year tackle Thayer Munford and reserve tackle Justin Herron, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury

A look at where things stand with the line:

Tackle

The emergence of Eluemunor was a bright spot in the season. After struggling to solidify a role on three teams in the previous five seasons, Eluemunor committed himself to improve everything from his body to his craft. The results were obvious in training camp, as he nudged ahead of Alex Leatherwood and Munford to earn the bulk of the first-team reps at right tackle, then survived an early-season rotational competition to secure the job.

After giving up two sacks and seven pressures in the first two games, Eluemunor surrendered just one sack and 19 pressures in the remaining 15 games.

The next step for Eluemunor is to cut down on his penalties — he had 10 last season — and prove he can follow up last year’s performance with an equally productive 2023.

If so, he forms a nice pairing with left tackle Kolton Miller.

The Raiders won’t hand Eluemunor the starting job, though. As was the case last season, he will have a battle on his hands with Munford. A seventh-round pick in 2022, Munford made four starts and appeared in 17 games. Herron, added in September in a trade with the Patriots, will also compete for the starting role, with Parker supplying depth as a swing tackle.

If someone other than Eluemunor claims the right tackle job, he’s a candidate to move to guard. That includes the possibility of a rookie addition emerging as a starter, with Ohio State’s Paris Johnson, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Tennessee’s Darnell Wright, Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison, Georgia’s Broderick Jones, Ohio State’s Dawand Jones and Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron players to watch.

Guard

The Raiders began training camp with John Simpson and Lester Cotton getting the bulk of the first-team reps at guard. But neither could keep his job, and by December the Raiders had released them.

Parham, a third-round pick from Memphis, played at left and right guard and center in the first three games, but settled in at left guard and delivered a commendable rookie season. Moving him to center will require a right guard replacement emerging in training camp.

Bars played commendably in his first season as a full-time NFL starter, but right guard is a position the Raiders will likely target for improvement through the draft or if Eluemunor gets moved to guard. The Raiders also have hope for Netane Muti, a late-season addition from the Broncos.

Some draft prospects to watch are Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence, North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch, Louisiana State’s Anthony Bradford and Southern California’s Andrew Vorhees.

Center

The Raiders have a decision to make on James, who played reasonably well in his second season as the starter, but will see his salary jump from $1.5 million in 2022 to a nonguaranteed $6.4 million this season.

It leaves him vulnerable to anything from a pay reduction to outright release. That will depend on what the Raiders do in the draft, how comfortable they are moving Parham to center and their ability to fill his spot at left guard.

Veteran Hroniss Grasu is the backup to James.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

Like and follow Vegas Nation
THE LATEST