The Las Vegas Raiders are not getting a solid return on drafting Alex Leatherwood, and he may be best suited moving inside to guard.
Unfortunately for the Las Vegas Raiders, the first-round selection in this year’s draft has looked a lot like a former first-round bust in Robert Gallery, even if he was not as hyped and a much later pick. Alex Leatherwood was seen as a reach in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and to say he has struggled as a rookie would be an understatement.
Expectations for rookies, especially at the offensive line position should be tempered. Rarely do rookies at these said positions come out and dominate. In fact, the Raiders top offensive lineman in left tackle Kolton Miller had a year to remember as a rookie, and not in a good way, as he led the league in sacks allowed.
The narrative surrounding Miller was much lighter. The Raiders were in their first season under head coach Jon Gruden and were expected to go through growing pains as they faced a complete rebuilding phase. This season is not the case, in fact, it is the complete opposite.
In Gruden’s fourth season at the helm, the Raiders have so far improved in the win column every season since he received his historic contract. And with a team that is so far standing at a record of 3-1, the Raiders do not have the patience right now to deal with the many struggles of Leatherwood.
Missed blocks are becoming the norm for Leatherwood as opposing pass rushers are routinely running past the former All-American out of Alabama. And to make matters even worse, he is leading the league in penalties committed.
Raiders need to improve along the offensive line
For an offense that is one of the best in the league, it is honestly amazing to think they have reached this level of success, with such horrific play from a vital position on the offensive line. As it stands, Leatherwood is staring into the face of first-round bust territory, which has already been stamped on defensive end Clelin Ferrell and more than likely cornerback Damon Arnette.
The struggles of the offensive line have been on full display for this Raiders offensive line, even as quarterback Derek Carr continues to have his best season yet. However, this is due to his play and the ability of his receivers, as his offensive line continues to let him down week-to-week.
The Raiders are starting two backups at guards, and although their play has been inconsistent and poor, this is expected from backups. The poor play of Leatherwood is not excusable, as he not only is a first-round selection but has been penciled in as a day-one starter since he was drafted.
With penalties and blown blocks becoming a routine for Leatherwood, maybe the best thing for offensive line coach Tom Cable would be to move Leatherwood inside to guard. The guard position is having a hard time dealing with the season-ending injury to Denzelle Good, as well as missing captain and opposing starting guard Richie Incognito, whose injuries are starting to become his story as a Raider.
The flags allowed sacks, and pressures from Leatherwood seem to come from a talent standpoint. He is a very strong lineman, but it seems that he lacks the footwork and athleticism to play the tackle position. With his strength, it would work wonders for the Raiders to move Leatherwood on the inside, and might finally open up some holes for a running game that is non-existent at this point in the season.
It has become normal to see opposing outside linebackers and defensive ends give Leatherwood a difficult time, this has been the reason for the penalties as well as the missed assignments. He just can not combat the athleticism coming from these positions and would be of much better use to block less athletic and much less fast defensive tackles.
This move is debatable, and maybe like Miller, Leatherwood just needs more time to develop. The offensive tackle position is one of the most difficult to master in the league, and maybe Leatherwood just needs more seasoning. But from what we have seen thus far, it is more than likely, the truth of the matter is that Leatherwood just does not have the skills to play offensive tackle.
The Las Vegas Raiders offensive line continues to struggle, and these three offensive linemen must be signed immediately.
If the Raiders can move Leatherwood into a guard position, it may salvage his career, and make that first-round choice not look like such a reach. In fact, the struggles at guard are almost as bad as his play at offensive tackle, so the Raiders should make this move now, as Leatherwood and the offensive line’s struggles are only going to get tougher here on out.