With Tom Cable finally in as the head coach, we can all finally focus on the actual team on the field while he and Al finish figuring out who the Offensive and Defensive Coordinators will be. There are a quite a few glaring weak spots on this Raiders team that MUST be addressed this offseason. I will be going through many of the best and most likely options that the Raiders have for filling or upgrading those positions in a series in which each article will focus on certain positions that need the most immediate attention.
In this first installment I will focus on the offensive line. The Oline is consistently the most important part of any team. They either give the quarterback time to throw and the running backs lanes to run through, or the entire team both offensively and defensively, collapses. This is why Offensive tackle is the highest paid and most sought after position in football. So it comes as no surprise that the offensive line was a big reason that the Raiders floundered most of last season. And that is where we will start.
Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
The Raiders may be tempted to take a wide receiver with their first pick, especially if Michael Crabtree is still on the board. But the Raiders need to build in the trenches and it is another good year to find a left tackle.
As a freshman, Monroe was kept on the bench most of the season by the presence of D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Although, Monroe still appeared in every game of the 2005 season seeing time at left tackle and right guard. He started six games at left tackle and appeared in all 12 games in 2006. Monroe started 10 of the 11 games he appeared in at left tackle during the 2007 season.
He is a pure pass blocking tackle and is a perfect placement at left tackle. But most importantly, he has the athleticism to play in the zone blocking scheme.
Monroe’s game might not be as highly regarded as Jason Smith’s or Michael Oher’s, but he’s a cleaner pick who comes with fewer question marks regarding his character, maturity and size.
Monroe could provide help at either tackle spot immediately. .
Monroe is an excellent all around tackle. He has the prototype frame for a left tackle, along with all the physical attributes you could ask for as well. He is blessed with very good athleticism, which allows him to be a standout pass blocker. Monroe has the agility and footwork to keep his man at bay, and protect his QB’s blindside. He is not just a pass blocker, as he also shows the ability to man handle defenders at the point of attack. Monroe has the strength to drive his man into the ground off the snap, and clear out a path for his running back to follow.
Eugene Monroe is a guy that will be mentioned up there with Michael Oher and Andre Smith as the top offensive lineman available for this draft. He has the potential to be just as good if not better.
Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi
He could very well be the best lineman in the draft.
Michael Oher was an immediate success as a freshman for the Rebels in 2005. He started 10 of 11 games at right guard, earning Freshman All American honors in the process. He shifted over to left tackle as a sophomore, starting all 12 games and being named to the All SEC 2nd team. Oher continued to improve as a junior, keeping alive his consecutive start streak and running it to 34 games. He earned 1st Team All SEC honors, and various All America honors. The accolades did not stop as a senior, again earning All SEC and All America honors.
Oher has the ideal Left Tackle frame, with a lean body and long arms. He easily controls defenders at the line of scrimmage in pass protection. Oher also has been able to drive lineman off the ball and open up huge running lanes for his running backs. He is the complete package physically, and has a ton of experience in the SEC. He has been very durable during his career, and has extensive time at both tackle and guard. This versatility means that he could play at either tackle position.
The big question for Oher is how well he can pick up an offensive scheme at the pro level. Much was made of his upbringing as a child and his struggles to get his grades in order in high school in the book, “The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis. He hasn’t had any issues at Ole Miss, but teams will do their homework to make sure there is nothing standing in the way of an all pro career for their investment.
Oher almost kept his name in the draft last year but decided to return to school for his senior year. He has arguably the best package of talent available at the tackle spot and could be the first tackle selected. Oher has some maturity issues to address in the predraft scouting process, but he’s a gifted pass and run blocker who would give the Raiders a book-end protector for JaMarcus Russell.
Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Possibly the most athletic lineman available and could very well play other positions (guard for example) until he is ready to start. Smith has as much potential as any lineman in the draft. He is arguably the most natural LT available and would help immediately.
Smith had a fine freshman season, earning eight starts as a tight end during the 2005 season, catching six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. He was moved to the offensive line the following season, and started every game at right tackle for the Bears. He shifted over to left tackle last year but was limited to just seven games because of a knee injury. Smith still managed to earn Honorable Mention All Big 12 in his limited time.
The fact that Smith was a successful Tight End before shifting to the offensive line should tell you how athletic he is. He is an excellent natural athlete that has the ability to mirror a defenders moves off the snap. Smith quickly gets into his stance, does an excellent job shuffling his feet, and moves well laterally. He keeps his feet moving and does a good job staying in front of the defender. He has taken quickly to the offensive line and is a standout despite just two years playing experience, and has a lot of upside. Smith also puts the work in off the field, as he had already graduated and was taking post-graduate courses during the 2008 season.
Khalif Barnes, OT, UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars
He started all 16 games last season at Left Tackle for the Jaguars. He is not near the top of the list as far as free agent offensive lineman go either so while the big name guys will be signed to big contracts with much fanfare, Barnes could be the guy that the Raiders could swoop in under the radar and get for a reasonable price. Well, “reasonable” taking into consideration the percentage increase that will be required to lure anyone to come to the Raiders. But also consider that he is from California originally and went to Washington so he may be very open to returning closer to home for the first time in his NFL career after spending his first four seasons all the way in Jacksonville. Hey, we can hope right?
Paul McQuistan, G/OT, Oakland Raiders
Yeah, that’s right, I think the Raiders answer at Right Tackle may just be a guy already on this team. Let’s not forget that two seasons ago, McQuistan started six games at Right Tackle and really held it down quite well. He went down in the first game of last season and was placed on the injured reserve. If he hadn’t gotten injured, I have no doubt that he would have stepped in for Cornell Green and, along with Mario Henderson, would have given the team and it’s fans a lot of reason for optimism in regards to the Offensive Tackle position.
Alex Mack, C, California
He is one of the best center prospects ever with his leadership and overall blocking balance.
A few awards he has collected over the years include:
Draddy Trophy as college football’s top scholar-athlete
Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for football
first-team All-American by Rivals.com
second-team All-American by Walter Camp and the Sporting News
Morris Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the Pac-10 (as voted by Pac-10 defensive linemen) for the second year in a row, just the third player to receive the award twice.
So, yeah, he is pretty good. And REALLY smart which is just what any team needs in a center.
The Raiders may be content with sticking with Jake Grove at center but if Mack somehow falls to them in the 2nd round, he would be an extremely tempting pick. He grew up in Santa Barbara and went to Cal so he is a pretty much a hometown boy. Al Davis has shown throughout the years that not only does he pay special attention to those players that suit up for the Golden Bears, but he likes to spend high draft picks on them. Nnamdi Asomugha immediately comes to mind. Langston Walker as well.
Max Unger, C/OL, Oregon
Unger could legitimately fill in at any spot on the offensive line in the NFL. He could project as an immediate upgrade at right tackle, while providing depth at every other spot. That versatility makes it easy to fill in holes as they come open and makes him an attractive option for any team.
Unger has proven to be one of the more versatile lineman in the country during his career with the Ducks. He was a Freshman All American after his success at left tackle. He earned All Pac 10 honors a year later, again at the left tackle position. Last year as a junior, Unger was just as effective despite a switch to center.
Versatility is a big part of Unger’s game. He has the size and athleticism to play tackle or center in the NFL. He has good mobility, showing the ability to slide laterally to keep his man in front of him, but also the ability to get out and pull and block on the move. He has extensive success at both positions and could play either in the NFL. Unger also battles to the whistle, and plays with a mean streak on the field.
Unger’s versatility is very attractive and his standout play at two positions is going to put him in high demand come April.
This is another guy that the Raiders should highly consider if he is available in the 2nd round. Center and Tackle? What more could you want? The Raiders have guys like Chris Morris, and Fred Wakefield on this team because of their versatility but Unger would offer the same thing but would be an instant upgrade.
Despite the Raiders’ need at the Offensive tackle spots, I don’t think they will go that direction high in the draft. The main reason being that there are at least two teams ahead of them that are also looking for help at the tackle position in the Rams and Chiefs which would leave the Raiders already looking at possibly the third best tackle in the draft at just the #7 pick. Add to that the emergence of Mario Henderson as the possible future at the LT and suddenly this team has the luxury of taking a player at a more pressing need with their first pick and perhaps even their second pick. But if one of the guys they are high on falls to them, then you can bet he will be swiped up. Of course, that doesn’t mean that an upgrade at Right Tackle won’t be job one in free agency. Especially considering that RT comes much cheaper in free agency than does LT.