The top priority for Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders this offseason should be to completely re-haul the secondary.
There were many brights spots for the 2016 Oakland Raiders, but the secondary was certainly not one of them. The back-end of the defense is in need of some serious help, and the top priority for Reggie McKenzie this offseason should be to completely revamp the secondary.
Fortunately for McKenzie, there will be plenty of talent available via both free agency and the NFL Draft. By adding a few new players to the mix, the secondary would receive a much-needed boost headed into the 2017 season.
But to be fair, it wasn’t all bad for the secondary. Reggie Nelson continued to show his penchant for turnovers and was voted to the Pro Bowl, and rookie Karl Joseph showed promise in his first season. However, Sean Smith was a disaster in his first season in Silver and Black, David Amerson regressed from his 2015 level of play, and D.J. Hayden is still D.J. Hayden.
Let’s take a closer look at the secondary in 2016, for better and for worst, and how the Raiders can improve in 2017 and beyond.
Reggie Nelson signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract last offseason, and in his first year with the Raiders, the veteran safety largely held his own. Which with the shoes of Charles Woodson to fill, says a lot.
Mostly thanks to his 5 interceptions, Nelson was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career — with the first time being the season before in Cincinnati.
But despite his performance, it’s not secret that Nelson is nothing more than a stop gap for the Raiders. He’ll be 34 years old early in the 2017 season, and the team will have to look to replace him sooner rather than later.
Another bright spot for the secondary was rookie Karl Joseph, who made an immediately impact on the defense with his hard-hitting style.
Joseph started nine games in his rookie season, as he dealt with injuries to begin and end the year. He recorded 44 tackles and 1 interception, but he certainly looks like he’ll be a quality starter for years to come.
If the Raiders have Super Bowl aspirations in 2017, they’ll need the secondary to hold up their end of the bargain. The offense will continue to put points on the board with Derek Carr at the helm, but they can’t be relied on every single game. At some point, the defense is going to be needed to step up, and the secondary will have to play a large role in that.
Even though Nelson excelled in the turnover department, he showed his age and was burned deep several times during the season. Even with the Bengals, this was starting to become an issue for him. Beyond 2017 — and maybe even including 2017 — if Nelson continues to slow down, it’s doubtful he’ll remain in Silver and Black for long.
One of, if not the biggest disappointment on defense for the Raiders, was free agent Sean Smith.
Future first-ballot Hall of Famer Charles Woodson was recently outspoken about Smith’s struggles, calling his play a disappointment. And he is absolutely right.
However, was this due to talent and/or execution, or was it a scheme issue that was the main reason for Smith’s poor performance? That’s a question where opinions differ, but if Smith sticks around in 2017, there will be a new defensive backs coach on the staff. So perhaps we’ll find out if a fresh face on the coaching on the staff will make any difference.
A Look Ahead
Free agency will be the first avenue available for McKenzie to fix the secondary, but this may not always provide a reliable solution — case in point: Sean Smith.
Sure, if McKenzie could lure a big-time player such as Eric Berry or A.J. Bouye, among others, the Raiders might actually have a legit secondary on their hands. But with cap space being needed for Derek Carr, to re-sign their own free agents, and eventually for Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson and Amari Cooper, it seems unlikely that big Reggie will be looking to make a splash in free agency.
So with that being said, expect the NFL Draft to be the primary method in which McKenzie looks to fix the secondary. Which is more his style, anyway.
JBB’s own Maliik Obee recently put together a seven-round mock draft, and he has the Raiders selecting a couple of players in the secondary.
In the second round, Maliik had the Raiders picking up Desmond King out of Iowa. What’s unique about King is that he is a player Jack Del Rio and the staff could deploy at either cornerback or safety. With that kind of versatility, he could become an instant starter.
Maliik once again addresses the secondary in the fourth round, with Miami cornerback Corn Elder as the pick. Elder is an outstanding tackler who could immediately be plugged as in a nickel corner. His stock is on the rise, however, and he would be a steal in the fourth round.
If not these two players, the 2017 draft class is loaded in the secondary — particularly at cornerback.
Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Tre’Davious White, Sidney Jones and others are potential options in the first-round. Prospects such as Rasul Douglas, Cordrea Tankersley and Gareon Conley are projected for the second round, and all bring multiple strengths to the table.
At safety, players like Budda Baker, Obi Melifonwu and Marlon Humphrey, among others, are options either in the first or second round.
Adding at least one of — and ideally more than one — these prospects should be a top priority for McKenzie. If he can draft quality players in the first few rounds to shore up the secondary, the Raiders will be that much closer to seeing their 2017 Super Bowl aspirations become a reality.