There are a lot of areas on the Oakland Raiders that are inconsistent in their play, but not when it comes to the interior of their offensive line.
So often in the NFL or football, in general, we are captivated by the spectacular plays made by skill position players. When a quarterback makes a great throw between two defenders or a wide receiver makes one-handed catches fans, and media erupt.
However, how often do we appreciate a lineman holding his ground in pass protection or leading the way in the run game?
For the Oakland Raiders, it seems most of the attention went to the struggles at tackle in 2017. Which deserves attention, but let’s not forget the top-notch play of the big guys on the interior.
Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson collectively are one of the best interior lines in football. It is an area general manager Reggie McKenzie zeroed in on, and his investment has paid off. Jackson as part of the great 2014 draft then Hudson and Osmele as free in 2015 & 2016 respectively.
"“Those three guys inside are a pleasure to be around,” said head coach Jon Gruden. Can’t say enough about the physicality of Osemele. He’s rare that way. The guy in the pivot is a sensational player. Rodney Hudson makes us go. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. He’s a great athlete. He’s smart. He doesn’t miss a snap. He doesn’t miss a call. Gabe Jackson is the most underrated guard. For him not to be in a Pro Bowl, there really should be an investigation, honestly. We’ve got three really good players in there.”"
And the advance numbers back up the high praise Gruden lavished on these guys. Oakland’s dominance is nearly unmatched, particularly when it comes to pass protection.
Osemele, who by his standards had a down year still ranked in the top 10 in pass blocking for guards according to Pro Football Focus. And since 2015, he has been a top-five player regarding pressure allowed per pass snap.
Osemele is known for his physicality in the run game, which is still very accurate, but he’s proven to be a complete player during his time with Oakland.
In the run game, I expect less zone blocking this season, and more power schemes as they did in 2016 to get the most out of him. Because two years ago he was arguably the best guard in football.
Our site expert Brad Weiss just wrote an excellent piece on the recent love for Rodney Hudson from PFF, and praise is long overdue. Since joining the Raiders in 2015, Hudson has elevated his game to new heights, and 2017 was his best yet.
This might not even be the most impressive of the numbers. In 2017, Hudson only allowed pressures on 1 of every 85.5 snaps. Behind him is Brandon Linder of the Jacksonville Jaguars at 59.6. When compared to his counterparts at the center position in pass protection it is not even close. Fans (myself included) have killed McKenzie for moves in the past but stealing Hudson from rival Kansas City deserve far more credit than it gets
Then lastly we have Jackson, who’s rarely if ever talked about by anyone. As mentioned earlier Jackson was drafted in 2014 and was pretty much plug in play from his rookie season.
Jackson was not entirely himself in 2017 thanks to nagging injuries and the unfortunate pleasure of playing next Marshall Newhouse. He too like Osemele would benefit from less zone blocking scheme.
However, when on the field, Jackson has been a top-notch pass blocker.
Shout out to Marshal Yanda who is not of this world given these numbers.
Jackson has proven to be a complete steal in the 3rd round for Oakland. Hopefully, improved play at tackle will not leave Jackson by himself on the right side of the line.
It’s a sad situation when you have guys who are this good on the interior, and one of your main problems is still offense line. The tackles definitely need to pick up their play this year. But one thing is for sure; there will be no issues up the middle.
The three men on the interior have elite level skills in pass protection and if given the right scheme show many of the same abilities in the run game, and with all of them still being under 30, there’s still plenty of room to get even better.