Raider Nation, we’re approaching the home stretch of our Position Review series, but don’t worry just yet, we still have a few installments left on the docket.
Today, we take a look at the play of the Oakland Raiders cornerbacks in 2018, a group that had its fair share of ups and downs last year, but ended the season with a little more clarity than it had at the beginning of the campaign.
Paced by Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley, let’s take a look back at the play of the Raiders cornerbacks in 2018, and see what can we expect from the group in 2019 and beyond.
*Defensive back Rico Gafford is included in this Position Review.
When I look back at 2018, to me, one of the most interesting position groups on the roster was the cornerbacks.
Headed into the season, the Raiders front office added a ton of new faces to that position group; they acquired Rashaan Melvin in free agency, along with veteran cornerback Leon Hall, drafted Nick Nelson out of the University of Wisconsin, and also added Daryl Worley to the mix as well.
With all those additions, Gareon Conley was one of the few holdovers from 2017 – more on him later –but after appearing in just two games as a rookie, the former Ohio State Buckeye was still in many senses an unknown entity headed into his sophomore campaign.
And the room kept evolving even throughout the preseason, as veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie joined the Silver and Black in late-August, playing in seven games before ultimately retiring a day before Halloween.
Like I said earlier, from top to bottom, we learned a lot about the 2018 cornerbacks over the course of the 16-game regular season, and perhaps the biggest takeaway was that Gareon Conley can play a little bit of football.
In many senses, 2018 was Conley’s de facto rookie year, and while he undoubtedly dealt with a bit of a learning curve in his first season in Paul Guenther’s scheme – as was the case with almost everyone on the roster – by the end of the year, we had a pretty good idea of who Conley could be going forward, and for a team searching for players who will stick long term, that’s a really good thing.
The second-year defensive back ended up missing just one game last year, making 14 starts, and when the season came to a close, Conley had tallied a team-high 15 passes defensed, and put together multiple stretches where he really did look like a legit, No. 1 corner.
After serving a four-game suspension, Worley also returned to work in a big way for the Silver and Black, starting nine games, and recording six passes defensed.
It took some time, and there were no shortage of players given a chance at getting some extended run, but by the end of the season, the tandem of Conley and Worley had established themselves as the team’s primary base corners
Not to be forgotten, Rashaan Melvin made seven starts of his own on the outside, recording nine passes defensed in his own right.
As far as the nickel position was concerned, veteran cornerback Leon Hall handled the bulk of that duty for the first part of the year, but then eventually ceded the work to rookie Nick Nelson.
Hall was eventually placed on IR in late-November, but proved to not only be a quality player, but an exceptional veteran presence during his 10 games on the active roster.
Rounding out the group, Bene Benwikere appeared in four games for the Raiders, and Rico Gafford made one appearance in Silver and Black.
The Number To Know:
That was both the number of passes defensed that Gareon Conley tallied in his second season as a Raider, as well as the number of games he played in.
As I said earlier, his 15 passes defensed were the best by any Raider in 2018.
Reviewing the Raiders cornerbacks from the 2018 season.
Position Group MVP:
I was tempted to give the nod to Daryl Worley, like, really, tempted, but just by virtue of him missing the first quarter of the season, Gareon Conley’s going to my dude here.
Conley really brought his level of play to a new level in 2018, and it’s even more impressive when you consider all the questions surrounding him after essentially missing his rookie year.
The former Ohio State Buckeye really needed to put together a quality campaign, and give the man credit, he did just that.
Of all the cornerbacks that finished the season on the active roster, only Rashaan Melvin is set to be an unrestricted free agent once the league year turns to 2019.
Montrel Meander, Bene Benwikere, Nick Nelson, Gareon Conley and Rico Gafford are all under contract for 2019, while Daryl Worley is technically a restricted free agent.
The other unrestricted free agents, in terms of the Raiders cornerbacks, are Leon Hall and Dexter McDonald, who spent the entirety of last year on IR.
Will there be upgrades that need to be made to the position group in the next few months? Absolutely, but compared to other groups on the roster – at least on paper – the corners seem to have a little stability in their midst.