After the Philadelphia Eagles took care of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the NFL offseason *officially *began.
While the Oakland Raiders finished 2017 with a disappointing 6-10 record, there is once again an air of optimism around the Silver and Black. 2018 will be an interesting year, no doubt about it, but with a few weeks before the onset of free agency, let’s take a look back at the play of the team’s safeties last season.
*Keith McGill II who is technically listed as a defensive back is also included in this review.
*Overview: *Well, here’s the good news; over the final six weeks of the season, the Raiders defense – the secondary in particular – played an improved brand of football, allowing opposing quarterbacks on average just 221 passing yards per game. If you take out the incredible outing Philip Rivers had against the Raiders in the regular season finale – revisionist history, I know – the Silver and Black didn’t allow a quarterback to throw for more than 243 yards over the final month or so of the season.
Now, the bad news.
After the team’s safeties (and defensive backs) secured nine interceptions in 2016, that number slipped to just two last year, as Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph secured just one pick apiece last year for the Raiders defense.
It’s important to note that a defense isn’t defined by how many takeaways it has, but there’s no question that going 11 weeks without an interception isn’t ideal.
Nelson and Joseph were the team’s primary safeties in 2017, as Nelson started all 16 games, and Joseph started, and played in, all but one regular season game, and both were productive, finishing the year with 71 and 61 tackles respectively.
Rookie safety Shalom Luani played in all 16 games in 2017, primarily on special teams, and Erik Harris – a special teams ace in his own right – played in every game save one.
Veteran defensive back Keith McGill II also appeared in 13 games, both on special teams, and in the defensive rotation.
The Silver and Black invested heavily in the future of their secondary in 2017, using their first two draft picks on cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu.
However, Conley played just two games, while Melifownu made only five appearances, finishing his rookie season with five tackles.
*The Number To Know: *Sixteen.
The number of games veteran safety Reggie Nelson started in 2017, joining just defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin as the only Raiders defenders to start every contest.
*Going Forward: *The big question for this group headed into 2018 is this; will there be a changing of the guard next year?
Reggie Nelson, who as we said earlier started all 16 games last year, is set to become a free agent at the start of the league year, so I’ll be interested to see what General Manager Reggie McKenzie does with the 11-year veteran.
Nelson has been a consistent presence on the back end of the Raiders secondary since he arrived in Oakland in 2016, but as they say, Father Time is undefeated, and the former Florida Gator will turn 35 at the start of this year’s regular season.
Keith McGill II will also become a free agent next month, and special teams ace Erik Harris will be an exclusive-right free agent, so there is a chance that the team’s safeties look very different in 2018.
That being said, in 2018, I think all eyes are going to be on Obi Melifonwu.
The athletic safety appeared in just five games last year before getting placed on the Reserve/Injured list, and unfortunately didn’t make much of an impact in his rookie campaign.
The Silver and Black selected the former UConn Husky to add some depth and be a playmaker on the back end, but for my myriad reasons that just wasn’t the case in 2017.
Headed into 2018, Melifonwu will be healthy, so his development is going to be one of the most intriguing storylines on the Raiders this season.
*MVP Of The Position Group: *Karl Joseph gave him a run for his money, but I have to go with Reggie Nelson. Yes, I understand that No. 27 had just a single interception in 2017, but he was the definition of consistent for the Raiders, starting all 16 games in what turned out to be a disappointing season. While the team’s defense no doubt had its ebbs and flows, having a veteran like Nelson who was able to go day in and day out was a bright spot for the group.
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