The Oakland Raiders need to figure out what the 2018 plan is at right tackle, whether they go with an in-house player, a draft pick or a free agent. Can David Sharpe fill the void?
The Oakland Raiders have responded to the disappointing 2017 season with sweeping changes to the organization. A new coaching staff is in the process of being hired, there are rumored additions to the scouting department, and very soon, changes to the roster will begin. With newly re-hired Head Coach Jon Gruden returning, the stagnant offense will be the first unit to see the effects of those changes.
There wasn’t a single player or position group most to blame as the entire offense took their turns coming up short last season. But it will undoubtedly be the offensive line that is scrutinized first and the staff will see that an upgrade at right tackle is needed.
Marshall Newhouse was signed to a two-year deal last offseason after failing to win the starting right tackle job for the New York Giants. Newhouse has proven himself to be a backup caliber player for the majority of his career and this past season was no different, so an upgrade is needed. There will be plenty of candidates the Raiders could choose from to fill this role through both the draft and free agency, but there is also a tackle on the current roster who could possibly grow into the role. That tackle is 2017 4th round pick David Sharpe.
The knock on Sharpe coming into the draft was his lack of lateral speed and lack of ankle and knee flexibility to anchor for blocks. Many scouts had him pegged to move inside to guard where his lack of athleticism wouldn’t be an issue and he could take advantage of his 6’6″ 345 pound frame. Sharpe did not completely dispel those assessments but he did show adequate movement skills needed to play tackle in the NFL.
On the above clip, Sharpe is able to kick step, mirror the defenders depth, set his feet, anchor, and control the defender. The issue with Sharpe, as with any young player, is to perform this well on a consistent basis. He gave up two sacks and allowed another four QB pressures in this game, which naturally overshadows anything positive he did.
Gruden has yet to hire an offensive line coach but it will absolutely be one of the most important position coaching hires he makes to his staff. A coach who can improve the young offensive linemen currently on the roster will be needed to overcome the injuries that always seem to occur along the line throughout the grind of an NFL season.
When it comes to Sharpe, the biggest area that needs improvement is his footwork. When he uses his feet to get into position as he did in the previous clip, he grades out pretty well. It is when he doesn’t use his feet and starts reaching that he gets into trouble.
Here, a great “jab step” by Chargers EDGE Melvin Ingram gets Sharpe off balance, and it is left guard Kelechi Osemele’s awareness that prevented a hit on quarterback Derek Carr on this play. Sharpe’s ability to cleanup his footwork will be the deciding factor in his chances of becoming a starting tackle in the NFL.
Getting to play right tackle instead of left tackle — as he did for the two games when starting left tackle Donald Penn was out due to a leg injury — will not be a reprieve for Sharpe. Defensive coordinators will move their best pass rushers around to take advantage of favorable matchups, and most teams have at least two dangerous edge rushers. The days of the right tackle being a run blocker and the left tackle being the pass blocker are long gone. Offensive lines need two tackles capable of handling one-on-one pass protections.
Teams are are really dependent on their quarterbacks to have any level of success. The difference in the level of play of the 2016 Raiders before and after Carr broke his leg is a perfect example of that. The coaching staff is not going to play an offensive linemen that continuously lets the quarterback get hit.
Any time new coaches come in, the opportunities for holdover players to prove themselves get scarce. This is a make or break offseason for the Raiders fourth-round pick from just a year ago. Sharpe has to prove he is at least a viable option or he could potentially find himself on the list of players cut before the start of next season. He does have his rookie contract cap number working in his favor and hopefully the next offensive line coach can fix his footwork.
It is in the best interest of Sharpe and the Raiders that their investment rises up to take the starting right tackle spot. He has the strength and size — he just needs to maximize his movement skills to make it happen.