Oakland Raiders 2017 Position Battles: Safeties

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Our position battle series rolls on today as we take a look at the safeties on the Oakland Raiders roster.

Both Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson are back for another season in Silver and Black, and joining that duo will be former UConn Husky Obi Melifonwu, who General Manager Reggie McKenzie selected in the second round (No. 56 overall) of this year's draft.

Defensive Backs Coach Rod Woodson will once again have a talented group to work with in 2017, so now that training camp is inching closer and closer, let's take a look at this year's safeties, and see which players are ones that you need to keep an eye on.

*Also included in this position battle are Shalom Luani and Keith McGill II, the two players listed as defensive backs on the roster.

Anthony Cioffi

2016 Recap (WITH RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS: 63 Tackles, Two Interceptions, Four Passes Defensed)

After beginning his college career as a cornerback, Cioffi played his final two seasons as a Scarlet Knight at safety, leading the team with 63 tackles during his senior campaign.

That ability to play multiple positions will likely serve him well as he tries to carve a role out for himself on an NFL roster, and just like other guys towards the bottom half of the roster, being able to contribute on special teams will also be critical in his bid to make the roster.

Rickey Jefferson

2016 Recap (WITH LSU TIGERS: 23 Tackles, One Interception, One Pass Defensed)

While Jefferson appeared in just five games for the Tigers in 2016, he was productive during the time he was actually on the field.

Playing in the SEC, Jefferson went against some of the best talent in the nation each Saturday, and that will hopefully benefit him throughout training camp and the preseason.

The former prep star is quite the athlete, and I'll be looking forward to seeing him throw the pads on and get to work in Napa.

Karl Joseph

2016 Recap (76 Tackles, One Interception, Six Passes Defensed, One Fumble Recovery)

Although Joseph missed the final four games of the 2016 regular season dealing with a lingering toe injury, the big-hitting safety put together a solid rookie outing for the Silver and Black.

His 76 tackles led all Raiders rookies, and his six passes defensed were good for fourth-best on the team as well.

Now headed into his second professional season, Joseph enters 2017 with the benefit of a full Offseason Workout Program under his belt – something he wasn't fortunate enough to have last year – as well as a whole year in Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s system.

Throughout his rookie season, Joseph flashed his explosiveness, and he certainly turned into a legitimate playmaker by season's end, but now, headed into 2017 he'll be looked at to deliver those types of performances more consistently.

And No. 42 certainly has the pedigree to do just that.

Shalom Luani

2016 Recap (WITH WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS: 68 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles For Loss, Two Sacks, Four Interceptions, Six Passes Defensed, One Forced Fumble)

General Manager Reggie McKenzie selected the former Washington State dynamo in the seventh round (No. 221 overall) of this year's draft, and truth be told, he's one of the young players on the roster I'm looking forward to seeing the most.

Luani not only has an intriguing backstory, but he flashed some big-play ability throughout the Offseason Workout Program as well.

There's always a few under-the-radar players that end up making a big impact come the regular season, and I think Luani has the intangibles to be one of those guys.

Keith McGill II

2016 Recap (16 Tackles, One Pass Defensed)

McGill appeared in all 16 games for the Raiders in 2016, the first time he achieved such a feat in his career, and while he was a major contributor on special teams, he did see two starts on defense as well.

The rangy safety will likely see a majority of his reps come on special teams once again in 2017, but if last year taught us anything, it's that a player's role can change in an instant.

Marcus McWilson

2016 Recap (WITH KENTUCKY WILDCATS: 69 Tackles, 4.5 Tackles For Loss, One Interception, One Touchdown)

McWilson improved statistically each of the four seasons he was a Wildcat.

While he does only have four interceptions to his name, McWilson proved to be a sure tackler during his time at Kentucky, and he'll have to show Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his staff that he's capable of consistently making plays throughout training camp.

Also, make sure to watch McWilson to see how effective he is on the Raiders special teams units.

Obi Melifonwu

2016 Recap (WITH UCONN HUSKIES: 128 Tackles, Two Tackles For Loss, Four Interceptions, One Fumble Recovery)

Melifonwu put together a strong career at UConn, but his real coming out party was at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The freakishly-athletic safety dominated the combine, simple as that, as he blew away NFL personnel, and media alike with his outstanding performances in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, and vertical jump.

At times in 2016, the Silver and Black had trouble shutting down the opposing tight end, and while the purveying thought is that Melifonwu was brought in to do just that, I'm excited to see what else he brings to the table.

Melifonwu enjoyed a strong Offseason Workout Program, but we really can't get an accurate reading of him as a player until the pads come in at training camp.

Reggie Nelson

2016 Recap (86 Tackles, Five Interceptions, Two Fumble Recoveries. Pro Bowl Selection)

Father Time may be coming knocking, but Reggie Nelson keeps refusing to answer the door.

2016 was Nelson's 10th season in the NFL, but the veteran safety showed no signs of slowing down, finishing the year with a team-high five interceptions and an invitation to the Pro Bowl.

While Nelson is no doubt closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he's expected to once again see major time on the back end of the Raiders defense in 2017. Even though he's well aware that he's being asked to groom a young crop of safeties, don't think for a second that he's going to cede any of his snaps.

Nelson is a talented safety – even at 33 years old – and his veteran presence both on and off the field is invaluable.

Storyline To Follow:

How big of a step forward does Karl Joseph take?

While the addition of Obi Melifonwu is understandably resulting in a lot of excitement – as it should – I'm looking forward to seeing how Joseph progresses in his second NFL season.

Let's not forget that Joseph missed nearly all of last year's Offseason Workout Program as he recovered from an ACL injury, and that time on the field is crucial for any rookie getting ready for his first NFL season.

Now, Joseph is healthy, as well as a year wiser, and I think 2017 could spell big things for No. 42.

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