The Las Vegas Raiders raised some eyebrows when they opted to take Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood with the No. 17 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
There is no question that the Raiders had some notable voids to fill up front after parting ways with three key members of their offensive line this offseason. Regardless, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock received plenty of criticism from those that felt they might have reached on the pick.
After all, Leatherwood and new center Andre James have some big shoes to fill in the 2021 NFL season. Fortunately, Las Vegas remains optimistic with the start of training camp.
Gruden opened up on the major turnover the Raiders experienced up front and expressed high hopes that Leatherwood will be able to do his part to alleviate it.
“Well, we haven’t put a pad on yet, so I’m not going to say too much,” Gruden said. “It’s been a big topic, our offensive line. Never want to lose good players. Never want to lose good players at any position, but we did. We lost some good players, and the salary cap went down this year for the first time I believe ever. There were some financial decisions that we had to make. We feel like we’ve got some emerging players, Andre James being one of them. Kolton Miller, we felt we had to get extended. You see some of these young left tackles, what they’ve extended their contracts for, it’s astonishing. It’s big money. And we love Leatherwood. We loved him at Alabama. He’s off to a great start and he’s got to back it up, and we’re going to try and help him. I have no doubt about him as a football player.”
Experiencing such major changes at key positions is hardly ideal for any team. Despite losing some crucial pieces, the Raiders clearly feel they are well-equipped to weather the storm.
Having a notable vacancy at right tackle was nothing unusual for Las Vegas during the 2020 campaign since Trent Brown struggled to get healthy anyways. Therefore, the onus will fall on Leatherwood to show that he can produce on a consistent, weekly basis.
Gruden fully expects the rookie to become a cornerstone of this offensive line for years to come. The Raiders boasted a top-10 offense last year and will need this group to do its part if they hope to kick things up a notch.