The Las Vegas Raiders offensive line struggled for most of the year in 2021.
The embarrassing start to the season led to quarterback Derek Carr suffering an ankle injury and a horrid rushing attack with linemen constantly ending the play on the ground.
According to PFF, the Raiders finished as the 28th-ranked offensive line in football. ESPN’s pass block win rate ranked the group at 21st, and in run blocking, the unit finished 31st.
There was an expectation surrounding the young group of an overhaul with these numbers. Raider Nation anticipated fresh faces and old New England Patriots players to fill in the holes at the offensive line. The offseason displays that the new regime has different plans as they continue not to look outside for help.
The re-signing of Brandon Parker was a shock for most fans, and then it was followed by the signing of Jermaine Eluemunor. The Raiders filling out their room with the previous players is surprising.
What is the reasoning for this?
As the season went along, there was improvement across the board. The run game became a crucial part of the playoff run, with Las Vegas lead running back Josh Jacobs averaging 4.7 yards per carry during the last four games. The 174 yards rushing against the Los Angeles Chargers was an excellent showing by the offensive line.
It continued into the game vs. the Bengals. Jacobs had 83 yards on 13 carries, and the offensive line was bullying the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line upfront. The growth from the young offensive line was promising.
John Simpson and Andre James saw the most significant leaps during the season. Simpson ranked 24th in PFF grade among starting guards after the bye week. He did not give up a sack or a QB hit during their four-game winning streak. The same can be said for James, who became steady in pass protection while learning how to be a center in the NFL.
Brandon Thorn studied offensive line play and had this to say about James.
Raiders C Andre James is in this group in his third career season and first as a starter. James incrementally improved as the year went on and performed admirably after replacing one of the best centers in the NFL in Rodney Hudson. Letting Hudson walk in free agency and rolling with the unproven James proved to be a pretty smart decision by the team.
Leatherwood and Parker struggled, with their ugly performances against the Chiefs standing out the most. Parker and Leatherwood did well in the run game, but this appeared to be a pass-first team with the weapons outside.
The group improving as a cohesive unit might be a reason behind this. During the combine, the technique was a topic, especially with second-year player Leatherwood. This quote from new Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels on Leatherwood was interesting:
“I see him as a guy that played a lot of football. There is a lot to evaluate. Playing as many games as you did as a rookie, there’s good, and there’s bad, but when you’re that young, you look at it as what can we work with, what can we fix? There’s a lot to do in that process. I’ve already spoken to him. That process is underway. I think what we’ll end up doing is whatever’s best for the Raiders — he’s shown the ability to play in both spots, and more guard last year than tackle, but we see him being a contributor. We see him being a guy that we’re really excited to work with. We’re going to try to get the most out of him.”
Former Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable didn’t develop talent with technical issues with hands and other elements to create great blockers. Kolton Miller was the only player to hit his potential under the last coaching staff.
It could be a mistake made by overconfident coaches, which has plagued many NFL teams. However, if they can fix the technical issues and help players reach the next level, it can become an excellent line for the next few seasons.