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2021 Rewind: Alex Leatherwood vs Denver Broncos

Top pick’s top performance from 2021

Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders
Alex Leatherwood
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last season was undoubtedly a tough one for Alex Leatherwood. Between struggling in pass protection and getting moved inside to guard, the Las Vegas Raiders’ first-round pick had a bumpy transition to the NFL.

However, he did have a few performances to build off of for year two, most notably in Week 16 against the Denver Broncos.

The second matchup against the Broncos was where Leatherwood earned his highest single-game overall grade (71.0) from Pro Football Focus. That was primarily due to his 79.9 mark as a run blocker, which ranked fifth among all guards for the week and was a personal best. The Raiders also averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry — 10 attempts for 56 yards — when pounding the rock to either gap beside him.

So, let’s take a look at a few reps that can help build Leatherwood’s confidence — and the fanbase’s confidence in him — heading into the 2022 campaign.

Our first clip is a zone run from the Raiders where Leatherwood is reach blocking the three-tech defensive tackle — No. 90 — but is out-leveraged pre-snap. He has good footwork to lose a little ground vertically but gain ground horizontally with his first step, which helps him get to square on the defensive tackle.

While he doesn’t quite get all the way around the defensive lineman, that’s okay because he can turn this into a drive block to create a cutback lane for Josh Jacobs. Because Leatherwood’s hands are inside and pad level underneath the defender’s, he's able to win at the point of attack and gain control of the block. To top it all off, he has great leg drive to widen that three-technique and help Jacobs pick up seven yards on first and ten.

This isn’t a devastating block by any means, but one that does help spring a nice run by Jacobs and serves as a good table-setter for the rest of our clips.

This next clip is pretty similar to the last one.

Las Vegas runs a split zone where Leatherwood is responsible for reaching the three-technique. Again, he does a great job of getting to square, or at least close to it, but he’s not going to be able to seal the edge with the defensive line slanting to the play side like Denver’s line does here.

However, the rookie keeps his hands inside, gets his helmet under the defenders and keeps his feet pumping throughout the block to kick the defender outside. What stands out to me even more about this clip is how Leatherwood gets on No. 90’s hip to ride 90’s momentum and make the defense pay for slanting. That causes the defensive tackle and the standup outside linebacker to collide in the C-gap and a cutback lane is successfully created.

The problem is, John Simpson never gains control of his block on the backside and the Broncos keep the Raiders from gaining any yards. But this is still an impressive block from Leatherwood nonetheless.

While this is a combo block where Leatherwood gets some help from center Andre James, part of what makes this rep impressive is Mike Purcell — No. 98 the nose tackle — a stout run defender at 6’3” and 328 pounds.

The Raiders have Leatherwood on the backside of the zone run here, but he has a similar responsibility where he needs to either reach or kick the nose tackle outside with some help from James. The guard’s initial footwork is solid again which helps him get hip to hip with the center and avoid creating a crease for the defensive lineman to split their block.

This is also another example of how the 2021 first-round pick’s hand placement, pad level and leg drive allow him to create a cutback lane. Purcell is basically just along for the ride as Jacobs cuts it back and picks up seven.

Leatherwood benefits from some lazy play by Dre’mont Jones — No. 93 — but this falls into the “ass-kicking block” category.

The Raiders call a mid-zone run where Jacob’s aiming point is going to be the weak B-gap — between Kolton Miller and John Simpson — but he has the option to cut it back to either A-gap — to the left or right of James — if a lane opens up. So, the offensive line is trying to get vertical movement or push on the defense instead of horizontal as we saw in the other few clips.

On the front side, Simpson doesn’t do a bad job but he also doesn’t open up a lane for Jacobs to run through, forcing Jacobs to cut it back. Luckily, we see another example of Leatherwood’s great pad level and leg drive to create a ton of space for the back to work with and create a chunk play on the ground.

Again, Leatherwood does benefit from Jones being lazy, but Jones does at least get his hand near the dirt before the snap to take on the block, and pushing the defensive lineman nearly into the safeties is something that any offensive line coach will drool over.

On this inside zone run from Las Vegas, Leatherwood and Brandon Parker are going to be on the backside and responsible for the three-technique defensive tackle — No. 90 — and the left (from the defense’s perspective) inside linebacker — No. 56.

It’s the guard’s responsibility to make sure the first level is secure first and with No. 90 working wide post-snap, the guard’s job is a little easier and he can start climbing up the second level. Now, it’s his job to make sure the linebacker stays out of the backside A-gap to give the running back a cutback lane.

Leatherwood does an excellent job with his pacing to meet No. 56 at the spot without overrunning the backer. That also helps him maintain a wide base at the point of contact and those feet keep pumping as he flips his hips. Finally, he seals the backer to give Jacobs enough room to burrow through the defense and pick up about five or six yards.

If James had more control of his block, this play has a chance to be an explosive one with Leatherwood’s block on the backside.

The analysis will be short and sweet for this one since I just want you to enjoy the clip.

The Raiders run a split zone where James and Leatherwood are combo blocking Purcell — No. 98 — and the right inside linebacker — No. 50. James holds Purcell up and Leatherwood just comes in and cleans it all up to put the defensive tackle on his back and get a pancake block. That also ends up helping James as No. 50 was blitzing but gets clipped as Purcell goes to the ground.

Put this one in the “ass-kicking block” category as well.

Another zone run that’s similar to one we saw a couple of plays ago. Leatherwood and Parker are responsible for No. 93 and 50, and Leatherwood does a solid job on the first level of using his outside hand to help turn 93’s shoulders.

He works up to No. 50 and does get beat inside, but watch how the guard adjusts his hands to recover. He gets his outside hand right on the backer’s hip and his inside hand underneath the backer’s armpit. That, combined with the leg drive, allows him to ride 50’s momentum outside and wash the backer down to give Jalen Richard a cutback lane.

Excellent recovery and finish by Leatherwood to help pick up about five yards on third and three.