How the Oakland Raiders Could be Replacing Tyvon Branch


With the announcement that Tyvon Branch will officially be released by the Raiders on Monday, this makes the Strong Safety position a legitimate need for the Raiders. While Branch spent a majority of his Raider career sidelined due to injury, he started each season undoubtedly first on the depth chart. His replacement, Brandian Ross, showed an incredible improvement from 2013 (the first time he was asked to replace an injured Branch).

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Last season, Ross ended up ranking 55th overall among all Safeties in the NFL; an incredible step up from 85th overall in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus. For what the Raiders are hoping to accomplish in 2015, Ross should still be considered a quality rotational backup at the position; not the starter.

With all the talk of Defensive Lineman and Receivers in Free Agency this year, the Safeties have easily been overlooked. There are quite a few very good, young Safeties coming up in Free Agency, perhaps this is what the Raiders are hoping for. If some of these guys are able to hit the open market, the Raiders could fill this need for many years to come. So who’s coming available?

The two prizes of the Free Agency Safety class are Devin McCourty from New England, and Tashaun Gipson from Cleveland. Gipson had a season ending injury in 2014 and the injury showed his value in Cleveland as the Browns lost every game with Gipson out of the line up. Gipson is apparently quite happy in Cleveland, and the Browns have the money to resign him, so I doubt he’ll hit the market.

McCourty, on the other hand, may be a cap casualty if the Patriots choose to pay the King’s Ransom to keep Revis Island in New England. McCourty is still relatively young, at 28, and with no apparent holes in his game, he should be playing at a high level in the NFL for years to come. McCourty could be a perfect compliment to Woodson, and could replace the GOAT as the veteran leader of the secondary, when Father Time eventually catches up with the future Hall of Famer.

To put in perspective how much of an upgrade McCourty could be, Ross was the highest ranked Safety on the Raiders roster in 2014, at 55th (13 spots ahead of Charles Woodson). McCourty was ranked 8th. Obviously, numbers aren’t the only thing to factor in. We all know Woodson had much more of an impact on games than his stat sheet shows, but when a player ranks 47 spots higher on a statistical, and situational evaluation of their play, it is quite obvious he’s an improvement for the team.

Rahim Moore from Denver is another player on the long list of Bronco players the Raiders could use Del Rio’s ties to attain in Free Agency. Moore is tremendous is pass coverage, grabbing four interceptions last season and five deflected passes. This shows great field awareness and knowing when and where to be aggressive. For how great he was in pass coverage, he actually graded out lower than Ross in stopping the run. Moore might be a solid consolation prize if McCourty isn’t able to be obtained.

The Raiders will have enough cap money to spend on McCourty should they choose to go that route, but it seems every time a big name Free Agent comes up, someone is predicting the Raiders to pay big for the player. Randall Cobb, Ndamukong Suh, Jeremy Maclin, Terrance Knighton, Byron Maxwell, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson (just to name a few) are all names I’ve heard the Raiders will be pursuing from one source or another. Obviously, there isn’t enough money to go around to pay all these players. I’m expecting them to be able to land two high profile players, hopefully one on each side of the ball. The rest will have to be addressed in the draft.

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The general consensus has been that the Raiders are going either D-Line or Receiver in the first and/or second round. Both pressing needs; no one could fault them for doing so. To address the Safety situation, if not in Free Agency, then the third round of the draft may hold a building block, and instant starter at the position.

Jaquiski Tartt out of Samford Southern is an aggressive, fast, and solid all around player. He has a few spots to work on, like all 3rd round prospects, but he should be able to get pretty polished by the time the regular season starts. His biggest weakness is also one of his best strengths, at times, he’s a little too aggressive and will take the wrong angle on a tackle. But he’s got a strong motor, great run stopping ability, and solid coverage skills. Even through he’s graded as a third round talent, he’s still expected to be able to step in as a starter on an NFL team.

While Branch had great potential, and his replacements were able to hold their own, they still weren’t able to shine at the position. If the Raiders are to reach the goals Jack Del Rio has set, to win the Division, they’ll need reliability at the Strong Safety position. Whatever route the Raiders go come the 2015 season, upgrading on Branch is a must after moving on from the injury prone starter by shedding his salary before Free Agency begins.