Oakland Raiders' Position Battles: Safeties

We're headed back to the defensive side of the football for today's Position Battle, as we're focused on the Oakland Raiders' safeties.

While many of the players from 2017 are back in the mix – we see you Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson – there are also a few, new guys you should be watching as well.

Yes, there are some new faces, but unlike some of the other areas on the roster, the core of the position group remains in tow from last year.

We're now in the final few days before the first players start arriving in Napa for training camp; let's take a look at the safeties who will be battling it out for a roster spot on the Raiders' roster in 2018.

*Shaquille Richardson and Tevin Mitchel, who are both listed as defensive backs, are included in this Position Battle.

Familiar Faces:

Erik Harris

Karl Joseph

Shalom Luani

Obi Melifonwu

Tevin Mitchell

Reggie Nelson

New Guys:

Marcus Gilchrist

Dallin Leavitt

Shaquille Richardson

Overview: Like we said earlier, the bones of the Raiders safety group are still intact from last year; both Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph, who combined started every game save one in 2017, are both back, as is Obi Melifonwu.

Special teams ace Erik Harris – who has earned the early praise of Head Coach Jon Gruden – is also back in the fold, along with Shalom Luani.

Really, the only departure in the group is Keith McGill II, but his spot on the roster has been essentially been taken by Marcus Gilchrist who was signed with the Silver and Black in free agency.

While Gilchrist is technically listed as a safety, he really is a versatile player, so expect to see him lining up all around Paul Guenther's defense.

A handful of young defensive backs round out the position group; a position group that won't be lacking intrigue once we get to Napa.

Battle to Watch:

Eddie Paskal: Will anyone unseat Reggie Nelson as the Raiders starting free safety?

Now headed into his 12th NFL season, the former Florida Gator has been the Silver and Black's primary free safety for the past two seasons, but I'll be watching closely to see if any player beats him out for the right to that job.

Nelson is familiar with Paul Guenther from their time together in Cincinnati, so he'll assuredly have a good understanding of the Raiders' defensive scheme this year, but as they say, the NFL is a young man's game, and that's no shot at No. 27 either.

Look, I've learned to not bet against Reggie Nelson, but I'll be excited to see which of these young fellas push him over the next month or so.

Kyle Martin: As we get closer to Training Camp, the more I continue to think about how Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther will use the safeties. We've heard much about cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin potentially lining up together, but it's a mystery who could be slotted next to Karl Joseph.

The team added Dallin Leavitt (Undrafted Free Agent) and Marcus Gilchrist this offseason, but I think Gilchrist will make a case to start. Reggie Nelson is still in the fold, and a savvy veteran in the league, which is why I anticipate a battle between these two. Nelson has a foot in the door after serving in Guenther's defense during their Cincinnati Bengals days, and has some familiarity with Guenther's language and terminology. Gilchrist, however, has recorded an interception in each of the last five seasons, and seems eager to start.

On paper, it's hard to determine who should start, but thankfully decisions aren't made on stats alone. Each offer veteran leadership – an important characteristic given the amount of youth on defense – but I'm interested in seeing who takes ownership of the starting spot.

Reviewing the Oakland Raiders safeties going into 2018 Training Camp.

Storyline to Follow:

EP: The development of Obi Melifonwu is going to be one of the biggest storylines for the 2018 Raiders.

Look, the former UConn Huskie has all the physical tools in the world to be a top-flight safety, but health-wise, Melifonwu just wasn't able to stay on the field during his rookie season.

When all was said and done, Melifonwu appeared in just five games, totaling five tackles in total.

Those numbers won't get it done in his sophomore campaign, and I'm really going to be keyed in how he gets better during training camp.

As versatile as he is, having a healthy Obi Melifonwu would be a huge benefit for the Raiders defense as a whole.

KM: Last year, General Manager Reggie McKenzie wanted to address the need for cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL draft, so what did he do? He selected cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round, and safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round.

Conley and Melifonwu boasted high athletic skillsets with major upside, but their rookie seasons were riddled with injuries, keeping them from any action on the field. In Year Two, they'll be asked to contribute in a big way, primarily Obi Melifonwu.

During a press conference following practice earlier this offseason, Gruden said Melifonwu didn't look anywhere close to being ready, but he's shown some progression since then. Expectations are high for the former University of Connecticut Husky, we'll see if he rises to the occasion during Training Camp.

Keep an Eye on…

EP: Just hear me out, Dallin Leavitt is my guy on this one.

Every year, without fail, one or two undrafted guys make a big impression in training camp and end up making the 53-man roster of the practice squad.

Leavitt had a really nice start to the Offseason Workout Program, and rode that momentum through Minicamp, so I'm going to be excited to see if he can keep it up during training camp.

The Utah State-product showed a real nose for the football in his first few months as a Raider, and even though he's going to have to fight for snaps in Napa, he's a guy you should be watching closely.

KM: Erik Harris.

This is one guy on the entire roster that doesn't get enough credit. Harris joined the Raiders last season during the middle of the year, and immediately made an impact on special teams. Under a new coaching staff, Harris has made a positive impression on his new head coach, with Gruden noting No. 25 as one of the players that's stood out to him.

Harris isn't just making plays on special teams, he's deflecting passes, and hauling in interceptions. He's had a solid showing this offseason, and I think he'll carry this momentum into Training Camp.

MORE POSITION BATTLES:

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