Through most of 2015, the Raiders' offensive line was arguably the team's most consistent unit, ranking in the top half of the league for fewest sacks allowed, all the while working effectively in the run game, allowing running back Latavius Murray to become the first Raider to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 2010.
However, as good as they were last season, after the moves that General Manager Reggie McKenzie made in free agency, there is a strong sentiment the group will be even better in 2016.
Leading the charge praising the talent now accumulated in the trenches for the Silver and Black is Pro Football Focus, who recently produced a piece comparing the Raiders' and Dallas Cowboys' offensive lines, debating which is the best in football.
"Last year's group made significant strides to finish as the sixth-ranked line in our annual offensive line rankings, up from 16th in 2014 and 29th in 2013," Pro Football Focus wrote. "Using our player grades from last season, Oakland is not only the lone team with all five offensive linemen owning 79.0 overall grades or better (no other team has more than three), its average starter grade of 82.7 edges out Dallas (81.9) for the highest in the league."
A majority of the Raiders' line from last year will be returning in 2016, perhaps most notably left tackle Donald Penn who was an unrestricted free agent.
"Penn is not a name that often gets thrown around when discussing the top tackles in the league, but he's been consistently solid throughout his career," PFF wrote. "He's earned positive run-blocking and overall grades in every season since PFF began grading in 2007. His pass-blocking hasn't been quite as up to par, but his two seasons in Oakland have accounted for two of his three best pass-blocking years."
Penn's return to the Bay Area also means that newly-signed lineman Kelechi Osemele will be able to play his natural position of guard – a spot where he has been impressive throughout his career.
"When looking at just his performance at guard through Week 13, Osemele's 89.0 overall grade ranked fifth among all guards," PFF wrote. "He is a powerful run-blocker who can be outright dominant at times. His 94.3 run-blocking grade at guard ranked behind only Evan Mathis, and even ahead of now former teammate Marshal Yanda."
PFF also went on to speak glowingly about the rest of the offensive line, and while most of the lineup is thought to be set in stone heading into 2016, Head Coach Jack Del Rio made sure to note that there would still be competition, particularly between Menelik Watson and Austin Howard for the right to be the starting right tackle.
"They're both returning from injury from last year," Del Rio said at the annual AFC Coaches Breakfast. "Menelik is going to be first to return; Austin will return a little later in the offseason. They're both guys that showed they could play at a high level. Menelik was probably ahead at the point he was injured. Austin stepped in and really had a good year for us."
Regardless of who earns the job, whether it be Watson, Howard, or a combination of the two, the Raiders' offensive line is set up to be one of the best in the NFL, and a positive output from the big guys up front would go a long way in securing wins for the Silver and Black.
"As long as the line stays healthy, Oakland should challenge Dallas for the best offensive line in 2016," PFF wrote. "Regardless of who sits atop PFF's offensive line rankings at the end of the season, both lines will likely remain among the best in the league, and credit needs to be given to the Raiders' front office for turning around the O-line relatively quick and making Derek Carr's protection a priority."