We've powered through four position reviews thus far, but the fun is far from over.
The Raiders took a step forward in 2019 for myriad reasons, but a lot of success offensively stemmed from the renewed greatness along the offensive line. A couple years ago, the Raiders' offensive line was at the top of the league, but after a down year in 2018, they rebounded nicely in Head Coach Jon Gruden's second season back with the team.
Let's break down why the unit was so productive.
As the NFL has evolved over time, one aspect of the game has always been true: you need a strong offensive line in order to succeed. No matter the coaching style, if you're a run-first team or a pass-heavy team, if you don't create leverage at the line of scrimmage, you'll always struggle to get much of anything going.
In 2018, Derek Carr took the most sacks of his career with a whopping 52. He had a pair of rookie tackles starting – one was filling in for the then-injured Pro Bowler Donald Penn – his guards were injured and struggled to stay on the field, and the weapons around him weren't ideal. The coaching staff and front office knew they needed to improve the line during free agency if they were going to add more Ws in the win column.
Enter, Trent Brown and Richie Incognito.
A year ago, I was aware that the Brown signing was big – considering he was touted as the best tackle on the market – but I didn't realize "The Greatest Underdog" was an absolute monster. Coming off a Super Bowl victory with the New England Patriots, Brown brought exactly what Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock were looking for a dominant tackle with postseason experience. Brown stepped in and fortified the right side of the line, throwing defenders off with ease as they tried a handful of maneuvers to get by him. His play this season earned him his first career Pro Bowl selection, the first of many more to come, I'm sure.
While Trent Brown was the big splash, Richie Incognito joined the Raiders after announcing retirement at the end of 2017. At 36 years young, people questioned what kind of contribution he'd be able to make on the roster, but with a clear mind and plenty of rest under his belt, Incognito performed at a high level each game he played. His veteran leadership next to Kolton Miller on the left side kept Carr's blindside clean for much of the year.
Speaking of Miller, the growth he showed from Year One to Year Two was immense. The first-round pick out of UCLA had several flashes of brilliance during his rookie campaign, but he endured his fair share of rookie mistakes also; however, his work in 2019 was nothing short of great and it's clear he's going to be a force at left tackle for years to come.
Number to Know:
After giving up 52 sacks in 2018, the Raiders allowed 29 sacks in 2019 and improved from 27th in that category to eighth.
Jordan Devey – Unrestricted Free Agent
David Sharpe – Restricted Free Agent
Denzelle Good – Under Contract
Kolton Miller – Under Contract
Rodney Hudson – Under Contract
Trent Brown – Under Contract
Richie Incognito – Under Contract
Brandon Parker – Under Contract
Gabe Jackson – Under Contract
Andre James – Under Contract
Coach Gruden and Mayock agreed when their partnership began, locking up the offensive line is essential for the team's future. Getting all of the pieces in place is crucial in order for the duo to begin addressing issues at other key positions.
As they planned, the starting five for the Raiders are locked in for years to come, as Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito – who recently signed a contract extension – Rodney Hudson (a player who also signed an extension this year) Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown will be on the team for the foreseeable future. You can never have enough depth though and that's what the priority will be this offseason in regard to the offensive line.
Denzelle Good has performed admirably over the last two seasons and he was rewarded with another contract extension at the end of the year. Good, along with Andre James and David Sharpe are versatile pieces, and when a starter has been injured, they've plugged the hole to stop any leaks from occurring.
In recent memory, the Raiders have used at least one draft pick a year to address the offensive line, but with clear needs elsewhere I wouldn't expect them to use one of their first-round picks on someone.
Position Group MVP:
I'm going to give the MVP award to the person I feel deserves it most, but I'm also going to give it to someone who flew under the radar all year.
Clearly, Rodney Hudson is the iron man of the offensive line and is one of the best players to wear the Silver and Black, there's no denying it. What Hudson provides week-in and week-out is constant leadership, elite production, and a high IQ that's second to none. His value on the football field can't be measured.
While Hudson is the MVP, I'd like to give a runner up to rookie tackle Andre James. The former UCLA Bruin went undrafted and joined the Raiders as a tackle, but offensive line coach Tom Cable molded him into more than that, teaching him the guard and center positions as well. When Hudson went down with an injury, James took command of line and surprised a lot of people with his play. Every team needs a utility player that does it all and he showed this season he can be that for the Raiders offensive line unit.