The Raiders have a number of interesting players who are questionable to play against the Rams on Thursday night. One of those guys is their starting center, Andre James, who has a quad injury and was listed as being limited on the practice report.
Per PFF, James is a below average starter, ranking only 26th out of 38 qualifying centers. Per SIS Datahub, James is the top scoring lineman for the Raiders, even higher than their franchise left tackle, Kolton Miller. On the SIS point rankings for centers, James comes in tied with Erik McCoy of the Saints. On tape, I think James displays good balance, quickness and awareness. Even before James became a starter, the Raiders were confident enough in him to extend his contract prior to the 2021 season with a salary of over $4 million.
It is surprising that James even developed into a decent starter. At UCLA, James didn't play interior offensive line, he played both right tackle and left tackle. An UDFA in 2019, James didn't seem like he'd be a good prospect. He was too light, only 299 pounds (the Raiders currently list him at 300 pounds), he ran very slow with a 5.32 second time in the 40, with poor times in the shuttle and 3 cone, only did 21 bench reps and had short arms at 32 inches.
Experts saw James as a guard in the NFL, but had him graded as a fringe player. The Raiders signed a more well known UDFA guard that year, Lester Cotton from Alabama. Cotton is still with the Raiders, but has only started 1 game his entire career and is currently on IR.
James made one start as a rookie when Rodney Hudson was injured, but PFF wasn't impressed, giving him a horrific overall grade of 23.4 that year. The following season, James only appeared on special teams.
The Raiders traded Hudson to Arizona in 2021. James became the new starting center and he played every single offensive snap, earning a 64.1 PFF grade. The trade worked for the Raiders, because each of the last 2 seasons James has posted a better PFF grade than the injury prone Hudson.
The Raiders weren't supposed to have a good OL this year. ESPN projected them to be the 29th best OL in the NFL, to be 24th in pass block win rate and dead last, 32nd in run block win rate. Instead, the Raiders have been surprisingly solid, ranking 11th in PBWR and 10th in RBWR.
Kolton Miller 81.9 PFF (8th out of 77 OTs) Per ESPN, Miller was excellent at pass blocking in 2021, but terrible as a run blocker. This season, Miller ranks 8th among OTs in pass block win rate and 5th among OTs in run block win rate. He's developed into a strong all around left tackle, a considerable jump from the early years of his career. Miller had a 49.6 PFF grade as a rookie in 2018, then was at 65.0 his 2nd year. Miller had some injuries earlier in 2022, but his name wasn't on the recent injury report, so must be feeling better.
Dylan Parham 62.0 PFF (42nd out of 66 OGs)
Andre James 60.0 PFF (26th out of 38 Cs)
Alex Bars 49.1 PFF (74th out of 86 OGs)
Jermaine Eluemunor 71.8 (30th out of 77 OTs) Expected to be just a low cost, swing backup vet prior to the year, the right tackle spot was supposed to be a competition between 2 disappointing early round draft picks, Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker. Instead, Leatherwood got waived and Parker went on IR. A former 5th round pick by the Ravens, Eluemunor has been a fantastic investment, giving them solid play on a dirt cheap $1.25 million contract. Per SIS grading, 2022 has been the best season of Eluemunor's career.
Backups: John Simpson, Jackson Barton, Thayer Munford
If James can't go at center, I imagine they'll shift Parham over to center and plug one of the other guys in at guard.
Maxx Crosby is ranked by SIS as the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Donald is 4th. Crosby isn't just a great pass rusher, he also has the 2nd best run stop win rate among edge defenders, per ESPN.
Josh Jacobs is the top ranked RB in the NFL per PFF, with a 93.4 grade. Jacobs is also head and shoulders clear as the best RB in the NFL per the SIS Datahub rankings. He has 45 points, way ahead of Nick Chubb (32). Per SIS, Jacobs has the most yards after contact in the NFL and has generated an enormous number (61) of broken and missed tackles. All of the Rams RBs combined only have 19 broken or missed tackles, less than 1/3 of the number created by Jacobs by himself. Jacobs has a calf injury and was limited in practice. Zamir White is a backup for the Raiders and has gotten limited action so far, but with both Jacobs and Ameer Abdullah listed as limited in the injury report, White could see playing time if the other 2 RBs aren't healthy.
On special teams, Daniel Carlson is ranked by SIS as the 4th best kicker in the league. Matt Gay is 7th. AJ Cole for the Raiders is ranked as the 2nd best punter (Hekker is ranked 3rd and Dixon is ranked 16th.)
Both Waller (hamstring) and Renfrow (oblique) might return to the lineup for the Raiders later this season, but aren't expected to play against the Rams. The Raiders have done pretty well offensively without those 2 big weapons and probably part of that is the surprising play of their OL (which in turn has helped Jacobs be productive. I wonder how well he would have run if they had ranked 32nd in run blocking the way ESPN predicted they would do prior to the season.)
As an individual QB, Derek Carr's PFF grade (69.5) is only slightly better than Stafford's grade (67.0), but Carr's passing stats are better than Stafford's. Carr ranks 8th in QBR, while Stafford is 22nd. Carr is 10th in yards per game.
With other passing targets injured, one beneficiary has been Mack Hollins. I liked Hollins as a prospect when he was a 4th round pick by the Eagles, but he disappointed and got waived in his 3rd season after spending his 2nd year on IR. Hollis has career highs in yards and catches with 45-566-3.
Andrew Billings has a leg injury and probably is out vs the Rams. He has the 10th best run stop win rate among DTs and a 76.1 PFF grade. Billings was once projected as a 1st round pick, but wasn't taken until the 4th round by the Bengals. He looked like he was washed up after he opted out of the 2020 season, then got waived by the Browns in the middle of 2021 and bounced off the practice squads of 2 other teams, but has revived his career with a strong season for the Raiders. Like Eluemunor, Billings is on a dirt cheap one year contract ($1.2 million), so the value the Raiders got with some of their vet minimum type deals has been impressive. With Billings out, the Raiders probably will use former 1st round Chargers bust, Jerry Tillery (58.9 PFF).
Veteran safety and former Patriot, Duron Harmon (76.4 PFF, 12th out of 88 safeties) has been a very important defender for the Raiders. Harmon has a quad injury and is listed as limited, which would be a key loss if he can't play. Trevon Moehrig at safety (2nd round pick 2021) only has a 56.0 PFF grade. NRC is on the PS for the Raiders. Rock Ya-Sin, a CB, also has an injury. Sidney Jones, the former Eagle draft pick, is one of the backup CBs on their team.
Ty Nsekhe 65.2 PFF
Matt Skura 49.1 PFF
Brian Allen 63.9 PFF (17th out of 38 centers)
Coleman Shelton 53.3 PFF (34th out of 38 centers)
Rob Havenstein 73.2 PFF (22nd out of 77 OTs)
Backups: AJ Arcuri (48.4), Oday Aboushi (62.0), Zachary Thomas, Bobby Evans (29.8)
The Rams showed some fight in nearly upsetting the Seahawks. The Raiders aren't that strong and are dealing with a number of injuries, so maybe the Rams have an outside chance at getting a win. At this point, the Rams are only playing for pride and for the players to put together good tape to try to earn roster spots for next season or maybe for another team if their contracts are up or they get waived by the Rams down the road.