Last season the Raiders’ secondary had some major question marks, going into 2017, should we be concerned?
As the saying goes… defense wins championships. This fact was abundantly clear in the Broncos’ title campaign. Old man Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl on the back of the Broncos’ elite defense, not through anything he accomplished. For the Raiders to actually compete against the Patriots for a shot at making it to the Super Bowl, their defense must improve.
Last season there were multiple question marks in the secondary. Sean Smith looked like a shell of the player we took away from our division rivals in Kansas City. David Amerson took a slight step back after his impressive 2015 campaign. Reggie Nelson got caught napping too many times for my liking. But we cannot forget Karl Joseph, who struggled with some injuries, but looked promising in his time on the field.
For the Raiders to take the next step into becoming a perennial contender and live up to their hype, the secondary has to step up. Smith needs to return to the form that earned him a hefty contract. Amerson needs to be back to the player that recorded 25 passes defended and four picks in 2015. And most importantly, Joseph needs to continually improve.
With their first two selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Raiders addressed the holes in the secondary. With the 24th pick in the first round, they selected cornerback Gareon Conley out of Ohio State. Conley could end up being the steal of the draft as some considered him to be a top-10 talent. With the rape allegations surrounding him, it was a very precarious pick. Nonetheless, he was cleared and is poised to be an outstanding rookie for the Raiders.
Conley could usurp former starter Smith and play opposite of Amerson, or he could slot in nicely as the nickel corner. Either way, Conley is too talented of a player to leave on the bench, so he is guaranteed to see action this season. We have yet to see him in training camp, however, as he has been held out the entire time.
With their second-round pick, the Raiders went with safety Obi Melifonwu out of UConn. The four-year starter really made a name for himself at the combine where he posted incredible numbers and showed just how athletic he is. This pick is another possible steal for the Raiders as Melifonwu was considered to be a late first-round talent.
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The Raiders could also tinker with Melifonwu as a nickel linebacker, where he could play a similar role as Kam Chancellor does in Seattle. He is a gifted tackler and a huge presence coming out of the secondary. Obi may not start right off the bat, but like Conley, he will surely play a lot.
Another key addition for the defense is John Pagano who came over to become an assistant coach on defense. Pagano has a long resume and is a proven defensive mind in the league. He should be a lot of help for our secondary and defense as a whole. If Pagano and Ken Norton Jr. can figure out the best way to use the players we have on defense they could look a lot better.
Last season ProFootballFocus.com ranked the Raiders secondary at 17th. If the team wants any chance at competing this season, that ranking needs to be in the top 10. There is a young core with a lot of talent, it just remains to be seen how that translates on the field. There are some concerns with the secondary, but they should improve from last season. Overall, I think Raiders fans should have tempered optimism for the secondary, but should not expect them to be vastly better than last season.