When the Raiders headed to Miami prior to the bye, I would have put money down that they were going to make a move to add a corner to the roster. My money was on activating a cornerback from the practice squad.
My reasoning was they were down to three cornerbacks. Gareon Conley, David Amerson, and Demetrius McCray were all injured, and they had sent Antonio Hamilton to injured reserve after week five. That left just TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald, and Sean Smith as the only corners on the roster.
They did make a move. They activated rookie safety Obi Melifonwu from injured reserve. That was expected. Head coach Jack Del Rio said they would be making that move. But he’s a safety, not a cornerback. And yet the Raiders were done.
They managed to survive the game in Miami without any of their cornerbacks getting injured, but it wasn’t pretty. Sean Smith has played sparingly for a while now for his lapses in coverage and McDonald was brutally bad against the Dolphins. It left the Raiders to do some soul searching during the bye week.
A week in, they finally gave up on Conley’s chances of getting healthy and put him on injured reserve. He had been occupying a roster spot this whole time that could have had a healthy corner in it. But, get this...
Instead of replacing Conley’s spot on the roster with a practice squad call up like intriguing undrafted rookie Breon Borders or signing a free agent, they activated Darius Latham from suspension. But that’s not all...
Come game time, Latham was inactive. So, Conley was gone and the team did nothing with his open roster spot.
Their answer was not only to play Melifonwu at cornerback, but to START him. Tom Brady went after him early and often and after 8 plays, Melifonwu was literally sucking thin air and needed to be taken out. Later in the game, he was assigned speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks and gave up a 64-yard touchdown.
After the game Del Rio was asked if starting Melfionwu was a move made out of desperation.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Del Rio responded. “We need more production. We’re willing to try just about anything, and we talked about being lean there and needing more production from that spot. He’s a talented kid, and it was probably asking a little too much. But we are going to roll those guys. We rolled our guys in the secondary tonight, and we’re going to do that. We have got to do that until somebody starts playing well enough to stay in there full-time.”
Melifonwu rotated with Sean Smith in the game, and as it happens, Tom Brady’s first incompletion — after starting the game 12 for 12 — was a deep ball in which Smith stayed with Cooks downfield. Granted a better throw would have probably still yielded a completion, but with the way Cooks roasted Smith in the season opener in 2016, that was a step up for certain.
If Del Rio is honestly looking to go with whomever is the lesser of the evils, the starters next week when the Broncos come to Oakland would be Sean Smith and TJ Carrie. In the meantime, either they will hope David Amerson is able to return from his foot injury, or actually consider adding an actual cornerback instead of plugging a rookie safety in at cornerback.