Andre James, however, had other plans.
The Raiders’ incumbent pivot remained the steadfast starter in 2022 while Parham played primarily at guard — despite getting both preseason and regular-season snaps at center. James (a 2019 undrafted free agent out of UCLA who transitioned from tackle to center) impressed two different coaching staffs the past two seasons to outright win the gig at pivot. He was a 17-game starter in 2021 and a 15-game starter this past season with Parham starting the two games at center that James missed in 2022.
While the Las Vegas coaching staff wants every offensive lineman on the roster to be versatile enough to play multiple positions up front, it appears James is the clear-cut favorite to be the starting center again. That means Parham is slated to man one of the guard spots (he played mostly at left guard) this coming season.
Thus, in the upcoming 2023 campaign, the Raiders can focus on Parham solidifying one of the guard spots with eyes on the 23-year-old eventually becoming the long-term starter at the pivot.
Why center, though?
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, Parham came out of Memphis with a thinner frame than most NFL teams like from a guard prospect. Parham exhibits requisite strength from his lower body and has the smarts and leverage to hang at guard, but his ability to anchor remains suspect. Parham was a 17-game starter his rookie season and was a productive member of the Raiders offensive line that paved the way for running back Josh Jacobs to excel in 2022. It was Parham’s pass blocking ability that highlighted his shortcomings.
Due to his size, or relative lack of bulk, Parham was often overwhelmed and dislodged by defensive lineman who were much bigger and more powerful. Parham’s always been as sound technician and once he sinks his hooks into defenders, he maintains. But when met with superior power or bullrush, Parham is knocked off the all-important anchor point.
This is where Parham is better served a the point of attack at center. He is quick to engage and is much better firing out of the stance rather than playing on the move — which guards tend to do more. What compounds matters for Parham in pass protection is his lack of ideal length to keep defenders at bay with his arms and movement, hence getting dejected from his spot his rookie season.
This isn’t to say Parham can’t improve in those areas and continue to be a reliable guard. But it’s to note his best position is center. Which is why move further inside likely puts Parham in the best possible position to succeed.
It was a similar story for James coming out of UCLA. At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, James was seen as too slow due to lack of functional athleticism. That would make him a liability at offensive tackle at the next level despite being a full-time starter at left and right tackle in college. James did produce ideal power and bulk to maintain at guard but the previous coaching staff felt he could shuffle even further inside to the pivot. And that’s where James has been since the 2021 season after taking over as an unknown commodity for Rod Hudson.
In the games he’s appeared in since that season, James has played 100 percent of the snaps at center (1,140 in 2021; 956 in 2022).
And while pivot may be Parham’s best position, there’s an ultimate rub in moving him there now: There’s not many viable options to man the guard spot if Parham did move inside. Another guard or offensive lineman needs to show they’re capable of replacing Parham and that hasn’t happened yet.
The drop off from moving Parham to center and someone else to guard is a steeper drop off in effectiveness than keeping James in place and Parham at a guard spot.
That’s where 2023 is going to be vital.
This coming season is likely going to provide some concrete answers to the Raiders’ future up front, though. James, who signed a two-year, $8.65 million contract extension in 2021, is under contract only for this coming season. Void years makes the 26-year-old lineman an unrestricted free agent next offseason — unless the Raiders ink him to a new deal or extend him once again.
And if James is allowed to walk, Parham is the favorite to man the pivot.