The Las Vegas Raiders defensive front will have a battle this season as they face some massive men upfront, who average about 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds.
Not a lot of people pay attention to the big boys upfront, yes I'm talking about the guards and centers. While they might slack speed, they make up for it in strength.
With the Raiders beginning to arrive in Las Vegas, the coaching staff will start to fill in the 53-man roster with notable players who can take on these big men.
If the opposing offensive line dominates the line of scrimmage, the Raiders defense will have no shot of winning and will end up having a long season.
For a young Raiders defensive line, it's going to take more than strength to beat these men down.
As we continue to cover the Raiders' top five matchups by position, it is good to look into the Raiders roster as they prepare to start training camp.
The top five interior linemen the Raiders will play this year are:
At No. 5, Cleveland Browns left guard Joel Bitonio. Highly-respected around the league, Bitonio has been the Browns' best interior lineman for years. His 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame makes him a wall upfront. Pro Football Focus graded him with an 86.0, fourth-best pass-blocking guard from a year ago. He loves to run and impose his strength on the linemen up front, which showed the success of running back Nick Chubb. Under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, expect him to let him loose in the run game when they meet the Raiders in Week 8.
At No. 4 is New England Patriots left guard Joe Thuney. Thuney has been part of two Super Bowls victories and was once responsible for keeping Tom Brady clean in the pocket. He is very different among other left guards, as watching his tape, he doesn't seem to overpower his opponents with his enormous size of 6-foot-5 and 308 pounds. Instead, he uses his excellent combination of pass and run blocking technique. Thuney has graded an 88.0, the third-best pass-blocking guard, according to PFF. As the Patriots begin to transition away from Brady, no matter who is at quarterback, the Raiders will still have to face a strong offensive line early in Week 3.
Talking about Brady, our No. 3 interior lineman will be Brady's new left guard, Ali Marpet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Another big man upfront at 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, Marpet started his NFL career playing center, and a year ago, the coaching staff returned him to his natural position of left guard. The 10th-best pass-blocking guard in the league, according to PFF, will have a quarterback that will not hold on to the ball very long. Marpet gave up only two sacks last season, tying his career-best.
At No. 2 is Atlanta Falcons' center Alex Mack. In 2019, the Falcons center might have taken a step back, grading the lowest offensive grade of his career at 72.1, ninth-best among all centers. The grade might not have been up to his standards, but it was also out of his control. Mack faced several injuries last season, including a lingering calf injury that prevented him from playing at 100 percent. Everyone knows how dominant Mack can be upfront, and allowing him to recover and play healthy will surely make the Falcons' passing attacks even more dangerous. The Raiders will see him on Week 12 in Atlanta.
At No. 1 is Indianapolis Colts' left guard Quenton Nelson. Entering his third season in the NFL, he is already being considered one of the best interior lineman in the NFL and perhaps a year away from being the best offensive lineman in football. There is nothing Nelson can't do up front; he can easily dominate defenders, he can run and make huge blocks for the running backs, and he can also stay back and pass block, keeping defenders away from the quarterback. Pro Football Focus ranked Nelson second among eligible guards with a 91.2 mark. In 2019, he allowed zero sacks. The 24-year-old is part of a strong offensive line that will feature Philip Rivers behind them as the new Colts quarterback.
Along the way, we left out some notable interior linemen that played outstanding a year ago. Who missed the cut out of the top five? Right guard Shaq Mason and guard David Andrews, both of the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly and Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen. While they are all deserving to be on any list, the top five on our list can be a problem to the Raiders defensive front.
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