It’s probable that the Raiders are done with the makeover of the offensive line. They now have their veteran left tackle locked up, after agreeing to terms on a new deal with Donald Penn, and have added a “nasty” run blocker at right guard in free agent Kelechi Osemele.
The unit – which has been tagged with the nickname “Carr Insurance,” as the protection for quarterback Derek Carr – looks solid, and Penn told the media Thursday it should now be considered the best in the NFL.
But general manager Reggie McKenzie still may not be done adding pieces. A team can’t have enough depth and young talent up front – it lost two right tackles, Menelik Watson and Austin Howard, to injuries in 2015 -- and with the 14th overall pick in the draft, McKenzie could decide that the best available player is an offensive lineman such as Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, who’s long been linked to Oakland in several mock drafts. Conklin could compete for the starting job at right tackle, or work as a swing tackle as a rookie. He could wind up taking over for Penn in two years. Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker also have been projected as high first-round picks.
Also, the Raiders could take a player at another position with their first choice, and still get a quality blocker in the second or third rounds. Tackles likely to be available in Round 2 include Jason Spriggs of Indiana, Le’Raven Clark of Texas Tech and Jerald Hawkins of LSU. Guards available in the second could be Cody Whitehair of Kansas State, Vadal Alexander of LSU, Joshua Garnett of Stanford and Christian Westerman of Arizona State.
Depth could be a concern for Oakland. Though the Raiders took guard Jon Feliciano in last year’s draft and have Howard, who can play guard and tackle, Oakland lost backup center Tony Bergstrom in free agency and longtime versatile swingman Khalif Barnes is an unrestricted free agent.
But, for now, the line looks solid. The analytic website Pro Football Focus noted Thursday that the Raiders are the only team in the NFL with five offensive linemen with grades of 79.0 or higher: Penn 84.5, Osemele 79.6, Rodney Hudson at 84.7, Gabe Jackson at 84.4 and Howard at 80.6. Howard, too, might even find himself on the bench if Menelik Watson – who beat him out last summer for the starting job only to be injured before the regular season – comes back strong.
Now that he’s coming back, Penn is eager to get to work.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit, man, but one thing we have to do, we can’t talk about it,” he told reporters after his new deal was announced. “We have to go out there and put in work and do it and show the world that we’re really about it. But I think we have the guys for it. We can be one of the best O-lines in the league.”
NFL analyst Sam Monson of ESPN.com agrees. After the Penn deal was reported Thursday, he ranked Oakland No. 1 on his list of the best offensive lines in pro football.