With the quarterbacks now in the rearview mirror, our Position Battle series soldiers in with our first look at the defensive side of the football – the Oakland Raiders cornerbacks.
While the Raiders trio of signal-callers stayed the same from 2017 to 2018, that rule doesn’t carry over to the cornerbacks, a group that had an incredible amount of turnover the past several months.
Let’s take a look at the Silver and Black’s corners, and see which players are poised for breakout 2018 campaigns.
Nick Nelson (rookie)
Change was the name of the game this offseason for the Raiders cornerbacks.
David Amerson is a Kansas City Chief, and T.J. Carrie got paid this offseason by the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
Sean Smith? He’s gone too.
The departure of that trio marked a fundamental shift in how the Raiders secondary was constructed, and it also meant that some new faces would have to be inserted into the mix.
Just for reference, with the trio of Amerson, Carrie and Smith, out of the mix, with eight appearances to his name, Antonio Hamilton was the returning Raider who played the most a year ago.
So, what do you need to do when most of your playmakers leave? You bring in new ones, and that’s exactly what General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Jon Gruden did, signing a plethora of guys throughout free agency.
And even though there are a ton of new cornerbacks on the roster, the one with the biggest expectations might be a familiar face, Gareon Conley.
While McKenzie was certainly busy addressing the group in free agency, he also added even more depth in the draft, picking up former Wisconsin Badger Nick Nelson in the fourth round (No. 110 overall).
Battle to Watch:
Eddie Paskal: It might seem kind of obvious, but I’m excited to see who the base cornerbacks are in Paul Guenther’s defense this year.
Now, the way the NFL is in 2018, teams don’t spend a ton of time in their base defense, but nevertheless, I’m fired up to see who earns the nod as the Raiders top two guys.
One would figure that a healthy Gareon Conley would likely figure into one of those two spots, but anything can happen once we get to training camp.
Rashaan Melvin arrives in Oakland as a player with his best days ahead of him, but let’s also not forget about Leon Hall and Daryl Worley too.
Let the games begin.
Kyle Martin: Aside from Gareon Conley, the spot opposite from him is up for the taking. The defensive line appears to be set in stone in terms of who will line up against opposing offensive lines, but the secondary will be fun to watch during Training Camp.
Rashaan Melvin is 28 years old and coming off his best NFL season. In Indianapolis, the former Colt racked up three interceptions, 13 passes defensed, and 36 tackles a season ago. Many assume he’ll be the one to slide into the second base cornerback position, but anything is possible. In Daryl Worley’s two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, he tallied three interceptions, 19 passes defensed, two sacks, and 150 tackles. I think the battle will eventually come down to these two.
Storyline to Follow:
EP: Really, I think all eyes are going to be on Gareon Conley this year, and for good reason too. In the super limited time we saw the former Ohio State Buckeye on the field during his rookie year, Conley very much looked the part of a top-tier cornerback – you guys remember that pass breakup against the New York Jets?
Anyways, potential and all that good stuff doesn’t shut down the opposing team’s number one wideout, and with Conley – who’s now rocking No. 21 by the way – healthy heading into training camp, all eyes will be on him and his development.
We’ve heard time and time again that Conley has all the tools to be a true, No. 1 cornerback, and now headed into Year 2, it sure sounds like that’s going to be the expectation.
2018 is a big year for Conley, and I’m optimistic at how he’ll respond.
KM: I agree with Eddie on this one, Conley is the future of the Raiders cornerbacks group, and the spotlight will be on him during his sophomore campaign. The injuries the former first-round pick suffered during his rookie season kept him sidelined the majority of the year, but his highlight play in Week 2 against the New York Jets was all a lot of fans, and myself, needed to see in terms of his potential.
While that may have been enough in his rookie season, Gruden has stressed the fact he needs his prized first-round pick on the field. If the defense wants to take a step forward in 2018, Conley needs to be a big part of that.
Keep an Eye on…
EP: I think Conley’s the easy pick here, but I’m going to go with a different guy, Daryl Worley.
Hear me out; Worley joins the Silver and Black with something to prove, and with a lot of people focused on the development of Gareon Conley, and the expectation surrounding Rashaan Melvin, I think it gives Worley a chance to quietly work on his craft, and go about his business.
Originally selected in the third round (No. 77 overall) of the 2016 Draft by the Carolina Panthers, talent has never been the issue for Worley, and it sure sounds like a clean slate, in a new city, will be big for the former West Virginia Mountaineer.
We see time and time again the importance of having multiple, quality cornerbacks that can play at the same time, so Worley is my guy to keep an eye on.
KM: The veterans.
So much is being made about the younger guys, and for good reason, but keep an eye on the veteran players. Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie made it a point of emphasis to acquire veteran, experienced talent this offseason. Players that have seen it all in the NFL, and they’ll play an important role in not only the development of the younger players, but leading the way throughout the season.
Rashaan Melvin is coming off a career-year in Indianapolis, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall have played in Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme before, and their role on defense will be important in the months leading up to the regular season.
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