Oakland Raiders Free Agency: Examining the Roster, One Week Later

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Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

8. Defensive Backs

Players let go and released: Tyvon Branch, Usama Young, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown

Players signed: Nate Allen, James Dockery, Vernon Kearney (future contract signed 12/30/14)

Incumbents: Charles Woodson, DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie, Keith McGill, Larry Asante, Brandian Ross, Jonathan Dowling, Neiko Thorpe, Taiwan Jones, Jansen Watson, Ras-I Dowling, Chance Casey

Probable starters: Charles Woodson, Nate Allen, DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie.

Reggie McKenzie has added a lot of defensive backs to the roster since starting as GM. He has drafted four, and brought in countless others as undrafted free agents as well as veteran free agents. Some have stayed, like Charles Woodson, and others were one and done, like Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, Ron Bartell, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. And this offseason, like every other, the Raiders appear to be starting over with the secondary, with holes and question marks everywhere.

The Raiders have a ton of players still under contract in this position group, but question marks still remain about a number of them, especially at the cornerback position. With the top corners in the draft now essentially all spoken for, many fans and observers have been scratching their heads about Reggie McKenzie’s position to only sign career backup James Dockery. While DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie both showed signs of starting potential in 2014, both are still relatively unproven and raw, as is Keith McGill, who projects right now as the Raiders #3 cornerback.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have a bunch of cornerbacks behind them who have taken hardly any quality defensive snaps, like Dockery, Chance Casey, and special teams ace Taiwan Jones, a converted running back. This group will go into camp deep – ten players on the roster right now are cornerbacks – but with no player having more experience than DJ Hayden.

The safety position is a bit more capably manned, despite the release of former franchise player Tyvon Branch and capable backup safety Usama Young. The Raiders passed on Jack Del Rio’s former Broncos safety Rahim Moore and focused in on former Eagles safety Nate Allen, who can play both strong safety and free safety but is most adequate at the latter position. Allen and Charles Woodson will be the Raiders starting safeties, though it will be interesting to see how they are used in Del Rio and Ken Norton’s defense.

Behind them are three young safeties with question marks. After being the worst-rated safety in the NFL in 2013, Brandian Ross made a triumphant return to the field after Branch and Young both went out with injuries in 2014. Larry Asante, a bigger, in-the-box type of strong safety, also played capably against the run late last year, notably against the Chiefs. Both players were tendered as restricted free agents. Jonathan Dowling, a 7th round pick last year, is also in the mix, though he needs to bulk up a bit and is still very raw, and may only be a special teams player.

With most of the top corners in the 2015 free agency class already gone, the pickings are slim for veteran corners. Long-time Jaguar and recent Lion Rashean Mathis, who is 35, might be up for a reunion with Jack Del Rio and was still a capable outside corner last year. Patrick Robinson is a capable nickel corner and is still available, as is Tarrell Brown, who started 14 games for the Raiders just last year. If the Raiders don’t make a move soon, the Hayden-Carrie tandem era may begin in earnest in 2015.

Next: Raiders Roster Breakdown: Special Teams