Sep 21, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Oakland Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski (61) during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Line: Current Contributors – Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard, Kahlif Barnes and Menelik Watson.
As a whole, the offensive line played much better than I anticipated last year. I give a lot of credit to Tony Sparano for that. Donald Penn was the 7th overall ranked Offensive Tackle in the NFL, by PFF. He’s got a few years left in him I believe. Gabe Jackson, as a rookie, was ranked 27th overall of all Guards in the league, and I believe he will only improve.
Wiz, had a down year, and is probably going to be looking for a big pay day. I see him leaving in free agency. Austin Howard played well at times, but did rank toward the bottom at the position. Same with Barnes and Watson.
First and foremost, resigning Wiz, or finding his replacement in free agency is imperative to the success of the offensive line. Wiz may have had a down year for his standards, being ranked 22nd overall by PFF, but he did rank 11th overall in 2013.
Wiz is one of the better centers in the league, especially in pass protection, but might not be worth the top tier money he may be wanting. My biggest concern with Wiz is the number of fumbled exchanges him and Derek Carr had last year. Now it might just have been a young quarterback adjusting, or it might be simple bad chemistry between the two players.
The Bears are in a tight situation salary cap wise, and Brian De La Puente would be the only real upgrade to Wiz in free agency. He doesn’t grade out as high in pass protection, but he would be a huge upgrade in run blocking, as he is the 10th rated run blocking center by PFF.
With all that is going on in Chicago, it might be hard for them to hang on to him, and he would be worth the extra money to bring in. Rodney Hudson from KC would be a dream replacement, but I don’t see the Chiefs letting him hit the free agency market.
If Wiz is allowed to walk, and free agency doesn’t provide the replacement, then Andy Gallik out of Boston College might be the perfect replacement. Gallik was a four year starter, who plays smart, has a strong motor, and has a lot of quickness off of the ball. He would need to put on some clean weight, to get a bit stronger to handle some of the better defensive tackles, and linebackers in the NFL, but he would be a steal in the 4th round if he’s available.
The second way to upgrade the offensive line would be to have Austin Howard go back to his natural position of Tackle instead of Guard, then finding a legitimate guard to take the position. Free Agency could provide either Orlando Franklin from Denver, or Mike Iupati from San Francisco. Both ranked in the top 15 overall at the Guard position by PFF, both are the same age at 27.
Franklin seems to be the more well rounded player, landing positive grades in both pass and run blocking. Iupati, is a bit of a liability in the pass protection side, but was one of the higher ranked run blockers. I think this should be a position Reggie should handle regardless, it is one of the more important needs on the offensive side of the ball in my opinion.
If the guard position isn’t able to be upgraded in free agency, then Tre’ Jackson out of Florida State should be the pick in the 3rd round. He is a physical beast, with tree trunk legs, and surprising quickness. Jackson would be able to step in as an instant starter for the Raiders, and give Howard the chance to upgrade the right tackle position.
Summary of the O-Line: Adding one upgrade to the guard position will also upgrade the right tackle position, and resign Wiz if possible.
Next: Offseason Upgrade: Linebacker