2017 Oakland Raiders Review: Cornerbacks

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 17: Sean Smith #21 of the Oakland Raiders intercepts a pass by Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 17: Sean Smith #21 of the Oakland Raiders intercepts a pass by Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

It was a rough year for the Raiders cornerbacks in 2017, and while it may be hard to do for the fans, let’s take a look back at who manned the position.

Let’s just be candid. The Oakland Raiders cornerbacks were not good in 2017.

Now obviously some of that had to do with the number of injuries the group suffered, but even with that, the overall talent (or lack of) at cornerback just wasn’t good enough to compete this past season.

So the Raiders will definitely be looking to turn things around in 2018. But for now, let’s look back at the players from 2017.

Sean Smith

When the Raiders signed Smith back in 2016, they expected him to resemble the player he was with the Kansas City Chiefs. Not necessarily a top-flight corner, but someone who could indeed hold his own as a good starter. However, Smith has become one of the more prominent disappointments on the roster.

Smith’s his lack of quickness, and overall speed made him susceptible to giving up the deep ball. Add that to his struggles with locating the ball in the air, and you have a recipe for disaster.

However, in Smith’s defense, former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. put him in a terrible situation and never schemed to Smith’s strengths. After John Pagano took over, Smith was mostly used to match against team’s biggest receivers and could play a little more zone to hide his lack of speed.

His performance the last six weeks of the season was what people had hoped for when he first signed. Though at this point it may be too late, Smith has an $8.5 million cap hit this coming season and when you combine that with his current legal issues, he has a high chance of being cut this offseason.

TJ Carrie

The shining light of the cornerback group last year was Carrie.  He brought great versatility playing both on the outside and in the slot. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 21st best corner in the league which is tremendous when you consider that he was not supposed to be a full-time starter when the season began.

Carrie is a free agent this offseason, but while on a visit to Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital a few weeks back he had it clear to SFGate’s Matt Kawahara he wants to return.

"“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a hometown kid. I’m a Bay Area kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else than Oakland … I’ve loved and I’ve dreamed of playing for the Raiders for such a long time. And now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish there.”"

It’ll be interesting to see what GM Reggie Mckenzie does with Carrie.

David Amerson

Amerson went into the 2017 season as probably the Raiders’ best cover corner, but a foot injury cut his year short. He also didn’t do much of anything when he was on the field for six games, and it was clear the injuries left him limited. These factors, along with his contract situation led to the Raiders releasing him last month.

Dexter McDonald

The injury to David Amerson opened the door for McDonald to get on the field a lot in 2017. However, he really didn’t make much of an impact with the snaps he was given. It’s hard to expect much from a former seventh-round pick, but I give McDonald credit for going out each week and competing. He’s probably just a position depth guy at the moment, but he deserves some respect.

Gareon Conley

Last year’s first-round pick Gareon Conley was meant to be the next shutdown corner in Oakland. Things didn’t pan out that way as Conley faced multiple nagging injuries and was only able to play two games.

As an Ohio State fan, I watched Conley play every game in two seasons as a starter so I’d consider these setbacks an anomaly. His talent is indisputable, and he will definitely improve the team’s corner play on the outside and in the slot too if needed. 

According to Kyle Martin of Raiders.com, Jon Gruden said Conley will be ready to go in 2018.

"“He’s going to be ready to start the offseason program,” Gruden said Wednesday. “Everybody liked Conley at Ohio State. He had an excellent training camp. When I studied the training camp film, he was inside playing the nickel position. When the season started he was out at right corner. He’s a young player. We’re counting on him and Obi Melifonwu to play, and we need them to. We’re really excited to start working with him.”"

Obi Melifonwu

When neither one of your top two draft picks play, it’s hard to improve. Much like Conley, Melifonwu struggled with multiple injuries in 2017 and never got on track. While a safety, he did make a start at cornerback last season.

He started the season on injured reserve and unfortunately came back in November for the New England Patriots game where he was quickly picked on. He returned to IR in December, so the jury is still completely out on him.

Melifonwu should return to safety this coming season as he’ll be a perfect piece for new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. While coaching with the Bengals, Guenther had success with a similar big-bodied safety in George Iloka.

Next: 2017 Oakland Raiders Review: The Wide Receivers

Antonio Hamilton

Hamilton only played 56 snaps in 2017, and they were not very productive reps. He graded out poorly (6th worst) on PFF, but honestly, the sample size is just too small to give a meaningful evaluation.