Offensive tackle was a need on this team. Coming into the draft, it was the Raiders top need in fact. But two of the Raiders top four picks? That was a bit of a shock, even with the rumors that’s what they wanted to do. Understandably, with all the needs the Raiders have -- especially on the defensive side of the ball, that’s a primary criticism of the Raiders draft so far.
“Well, I don’t really hear all the skeptics,” said Gruden following day two. “I have a cell phone too that works. I got a lot of coaches and friends in the NFL that are ecstatic about the picks that we made. And I apologize to people that don’t like our picks and that are skeptical and I also realize we have to prove that we did the right thing. But I’m not going to apologize or be sad about taking two young offensive tackles with the people we’ve got to block in this division.”
Those picks were UCLA’s Kolton Miller at 15 overall and Brandon Parker out of North Carolina A&T at pick 65. Miller they traded down from pick 10 to select and Parker they traded up to the top of the third round to get. Both played left tackle last season, Parker has only played on the left side. Both are also big — Miller is 6-9, Parker is 6-7 who are considered projects.
As Raiders fans know, there are some elite pass rushers in the AFC West. And every team seems to have a couple of them. The Chargers have Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Chiefs Justin Houston and Chris Jones and the Broncos with Von Miller and new addition Bradley Chubb. That fact gets Gruden all fired up.
“We’re not playing seven-on-seven here, you know?” He continued. “We don’t get to count steamboats or three Mississippi’s before they rush. We need guys that can block, and we addressed that today. And we have a quarterback I think that’s one hell of a football player and it’s a priority to protect him. He’s been hurt the last two years and it bothers me.”
The only proven commodity the Raiders have at tackle in Donald Penn and he’s 35 and has had leg injuries each of the past two seasons. Gruden witnessed the Raiders first game last season without Penn at left tackle covering Monday Night Football in Philadelphia. The night before the game was when he agreed to become the Raiders head coach, so you know he covered the game with that one his mind.
“I’ve gone around this league as a broadcaster, you cannot call plays without offensive tackles. You can’t do it,” said Gruden. “You need depth and we gotta be better on the edge. Without Donald Penn last year and with issues at right tackle, we struggled to score in the last four games. We just had a two-day minicamp. We felt it was a priority and we’re happy with how we addressed it.”
Replacing Penn at left tackle was fourth round rookie David Sharpe. He looked decent in his first game, but was terrible in the season finale against the Chargers. Any chance the team would go on faith that Sharpe could be the guy went out the window.
That’s not to say Sharpe won’t be good. Or seventh rounder Jylan Ware, but this isn’t a faith business. It’s a results business. And Gruden isn’t pinning this team’s hopes on them.
“It doesn’t matter what round and what players are here,” Gruden added. “We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to be better on the edge. We have competition, we have some depth, and you need versatility. You need guys that can swing and play left and right because men get hurt in this league. It’s a 16-week grind. So, I’m not gonna sit here and put out a depth chart today. In the coming weeks we will, but we certainly needed these two big offensive tackles. When you see them they are big guys. Great guys too.”
Suddenly a position that was highly questionable is now pretty crowded. Gruden likes the idea of veterans Donald Penn and Breno Giacomini mentoring their two young newcomers, which suggests they are in the mix. Then, of course, there’s Sharpe and Ware along with Vadal Alexander and Denver Kirkland. Though after today, I wouldn’t be shocked if that group is thinned out some.
There’s no question the offensive tackle position is in a lot better shape from the first two days. At least in terms of depth, competition, and long term hopes. Even if they passed up on some potentially more talented players at other positions to get them.