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2018 Position Review: Safeties

MORE POSITION REVIEWS: Quarterbacks

It’s time for our first Position Review of a group on the defensive side of the football, and the Oakland Raiders safeties are the ones who get the treatment.

Much like every group on Paul Guenther’s defense, the safeties enjoyed a strong finish to the 2018 campaign after some growing pains over the first half of the season.

From Reggie Nelson, to Marcus Gilchrist, Karl Joseph and everyone in between, let’s take a look back at the play of the Raiders safeties last year, and see what the New Year could spell for the group as a whole.

Overview:

Week 1, when the Raiders kicked off 2018 under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist were listed as the team’s starting safeties.

Fast forward to Week 17, and with Reggie Nelson on IR, Karl Joseph and Erik Harris were the two guys assigned the starting safety jobs in the season finale at Arrowhead Stadium.

While Marcus Gilchrist served as the reliable veteran on the backend of the Raiders defense – starting in all 16 games last year, playing numerous positions – besides him, for much of the year there was a rotating cast of characters residing in the Raiders secondary.

As I mentioned earlier, Reggie Nelson started 11 games before he was placed on the reserve/injured list on December 5, but his absence did open the door for other players on the roster to show the coaching staff what they could do with some extended run.

Erik Harris – a player who previously primarily made his hay on special teams – made four starts in 2018, including the final three games of the regular season, and after not playing much early in the year, third-year safety Karl Joseph started eight games down the stretch.

And really, the play of Joseph was one of the biggest – and brightest – storylines of 2018.

After seeing limited time on the field in the first half of the year, Joseph earned his first start of the year Week 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers, and truthfully, the hard-hitting safety didn’t look back after that.

Over the final eight games of the year, Joseph tallied 31 tackles, two sacks, as well as two interceptions, and honestly, he might have played the best football of his young career in Silver and Black over that stretch.

Plain and simple, Joseph appeared to be a man re-born over the second half of the regular season, and he very much looked like the type of game-impacting safety the Raiders hoped he would be when they selected him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

While Nelson, Joseph, Harris and Gilchrist ended up doing most of the heavy lifting in 2018, undrafted rookie Dallin Leavitt – who spent much of the year on the practice squad – made a pair of appearances down the stretch.

The Number To Know:

Thirty-one.

After taking over a starting role in Week 10, Joseph tallied 31 tackles down the stretch, six of which came in his best outing of the year in the Raiders Week 16 win over the Denver Broncos.

All told, Joseph finished that magical Christmas Eve with those six aforementioned tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, and a few thundering collisions that made sure the Broncos wide receivers thought twice about coming across the middle.

Position Group MVP:

I was tempted to give the nod to Karl Joseph for what he did over the final eight games of the season, but upon a little more reflection, I ultimately decided that Marcus Gilchrist has to be the guy.

Look, Joseph was really good over the final eight games – in fact, he might have played the best football of any Raider over the final month of 2018 – but Gilchrist was just so darn consistent from Week 1 to Week 17, he had to get the nod.

Gilchrist’s three interceptions were tied for the team lead, and his 38 tackles were good for third on the Raiders, behind just Tahir Whitehead and Marquel Lee.

Not only that, but Gilchrist was a solid, veteran presence for the entirety of the Raiders secondary, and as a wise man once said, the best ability is availability, and the versatile safety was available for the entirety of 2018.

Cheers, Mr. Gilchrist.

Going Forward:

Of the four safeties that finished the year on the 53-man roster, just Karl Joseph is technically under contract for 2019.

Marcus Gilchrist is an unrestricted free agent – as is Reggie Nelson – Erik Harris is a restricted free agent, and Dallin Leavitt is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Raiders are the only team who are free to negotiate with him.

Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock will certainly have some decisions to make across the roster in the coming months, and which players reside in the safeties room in 2019 is going to be one of them.

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