Oakland Raiders' Weakest Position Heading into Training Camp

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2015

Right Guard Khalif Barnes
Right Guard Khalif BarnesEric Risberg/Associated Press

It’s a disservice to the Oakland Raiders fanbase to portray the roster as one filled with nothing but All-Pro players and Pro Bowlers. Let’s not pretend every position stands as strong as the next.

Often we don’t question general managers, head coaches and coordinators because we automatically assume they know what they’re doing, and they do. However, they’re not above making poor personnel decisions.

General managers, coaches and coordinators are fired every year. Why? Their decision-making didn’t yield optimal results.

The mishandling of the right guard position isn’t a fireable offense, but the talent at the position lags far behind that of every other position on the roster. The Raiders entered the offseason with three glaring weaknesses: wide receiver, pass-rusher and right guard:

Scott Bair @BairNBCS

With Austin Howard moving back to RT, expect the Raiders to look outside for a right guard.

In disappointing fashion, right guard remains a major concern for Oakland.

Yes, optimists will say, “Let’s wait and see.” Instead we’ll take a proactive approach in critiquing one of the major blunders of the Raiders' 2015 offseason. We’ll dig into the stockpiled talent or lack thereof at right guard.

J’Marcus Webb

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Aug 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears tackle J'Marcus Webb (73) during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field. Chicago won 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

According to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, J’Marcus Webb leads the competition at right guard two months after arriving in Oakland. By the way, he didn’t play a single snap last season and only took 108 snaps in 2013.

Furthermore, he has never taken a snap at the guard position in his five-year career.

That doesn’t suggest that Webb arrived and blew out the competition. It’s a sign of the lack of competition at the position. He leads all potential starters after a year of inactivity and lack of experience following merely two months of practice without pads. That should raise some eyebrows.

Here’s some data on Webb during his starting days with the Chicago Bears under Mike Tice, who served as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator:

J'Marcus Webb 2010-2012
YearSnapsPass-block gradeRun-block gradeSacks AllowedPenalties/Overturned
Pro Football Focus

Frequently, supporters sing the praises of Tice’s work as an offensive line coach, but he couldn’t fix Webb’s deficiencies over the course of three seasons.

Webb made a considerable improvement in his third season when Tice transitioned to an offensive coordinator role. However, Webb failed to improve his mechanics, allowing an alarming rate of sacks. Secondly, coaches usually highlight mental errors for offensive linemen who draw a high volume of penalties.

Mike Tice
Mike TiceJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Tice is a great offensive line coach, but he’s not King Midas. Every offensive lineman he touches doesn’t turn into a golden gem. Webb regressed into a backup role for two years with the Minnesota Vikings after his stint with the Bears.

The fifth-year offensive lineman shifts to a different position, but he’s still the same player learning something new, which means growing pains.

If you were dissatisfied with Austin Howard’s work at right guard, don’t expect much more from Webb, who's still learning. 

Khalif Barnes

What you see is what you get from 11-year veteran Khalif Barnes. Here’s the data on his last three seasons as a starter at right tackle:

Khalif Barnes 2012-2014
YearSnapsPass-block gradeRun-block gradeSacks AllowedPenalties/Overturned
Pro Football Focus

It’s important to note, Barnes only played 681 snaps as an interior lineman over the past three seasons. He’s labeled a swing lineman capable of playing inside and outside but has played the majority of his career on the outside as a tackle.

At 33 years old, Barnes isn’t giving the Raiders much more than he has already shown them in recent seasons.

Khalif Barnes blocking J.J. Watt
Khalif Barnes blocking J.J. WattThomas B. Shea/Getty Images

He’s a quality backup but a below-average starter. Barnes won’t make a bunch of mental errors with false starts and holding penalties, but he doesn’t match up favorably against the better defensive linemen in the game.

Logically, he’s the better choice at right guard compared to an inexperienced, below-average offensive lineman in Webb. With that said, he’d be severely limited over the stretch of a 16-game season as a starter.

Jon Feliciano

The decision to draft Jon Feliciano went from baffling to almost hopeless for the upcoming season. The Raiders wouldn’t have signed Webb if they felt Feliciano could come anywhere close to challenging Barnes at right guard.

Williamson shares the same sentiment:

I think it hurt Feliciano's chances that journeyman J'Marcus Webb was working ahead of both him and veteran Khalif Barnes during the minicamp. Webb, who didn't play in the NFL last season, was a tackle in Chicago under new Oakland offensive line coach Mike Tice. If Webb starts, it means Feliciano is just not ready to play. 

It’s troubling that Feliciano is taking reps behind two other players at his position when the Raiders clearly needed to draft a starting guard.

Raider Nation balked at Feliciano’s undrafted projections from CBSSports.com and NFL.com in favor of the acumen of the coaching staff. Head coach Jack Del Rio expected Feliciano to get an early start along with his top three draft picks, per hngn.com writer Cal Setar. Sorry, Del Rio. That’s not happening.

Here are two bottom-line assessments from draft analysts whose job focuses on breaking down players and giving unbiased perspectives. Sure, they’re capable of inaccurate evaluations, but they certainly pass as credible.

First, NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein’s take on Feliciano:

DRAFT PROJECTION Priority free agent

BOTTOM LINE Isn't able to latch onto targets, which hinders his consistency as a run blocker in power. Foot quickness is a weakness, which creates too much lunging and leaning in his game. Feliciano is a competent college guard who appears to be lacking the athleticism and technique to be a full-time NFL starter.

Second, CBSSports.com draft analyst Ryan Booher’s take on Feliciano:

Feliciano is a very experienced starter who comes from a more traditional style offense, he offers you position flexibility with your gameday actives on the offensive line. While he has his limitations athletically, he looks to be the kind of guy who will stick around on a roster, an easy guy to project because he is basically what he is going to be in a few years already going into the draft.

Both analysts agree he’s good enough to maintain a roster spot but stop short of labeling him a solid starter with longevity.

The Raiders tipped their hand in showing how they view Feliciano’s short-term outlook by signing another veteran player to compete for the starting position. Feliciano could develop into a low-end starter in a few seasons, but the Raiders clearly didn't draft an immediate starter with their fourth-round pick.

Lamar Mady and Matt McCants

Second-year guard Lamar Mady took 100 snaps in 2013 but hasn't seen regular-season action since.

The coaching staff's reluctance to insert Mady into the right guard rotation is puzzling. Oakland has a shortage of natural guards on the roster and prefers transitioning tackles inside to bolster versatility.

According to Silver & Black Pride's Levi Damien, Matt McCants became the latest tackle to move inside and take reps.

"The one change along the offensive line I saw was yet another player in at right guard. Matt McCants was in with the second team at right guard. He has played there before, though he has been a reserve tackle for the most part over his two seasons with the team." 

Khalif Barnes (left) and Matt McCants (right)
Khalif Barnes (left) and Matt McCants (right)Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press/Associated Press

Both Mady and McCants have limited playing experience in the beginning stages of their careers. Both offensive linemen project as long shots to earn the starting job.

Hopefully, training camp forces one player to step up at the position. Until that happens, it appears the Raiders' brain trust dropped the ball in this particular area.

Raider Nation may be sensitive to criticisms of its beloved franchise on the rise, but the talent void at right guard deserves healthy skepticism.

The negligence in addressing a weakness that potentially affects Latavius Murray’s running lanes and Derek’s Carr’s ability to roll to his strong side in the pocket should grind your gears a bit.

Do you think the right guard position was mishandled? All comments are welcome below. Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for Raiders news.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.


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