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Raiders relied too heavily on rookies to improve secondary and are paying the price

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NFL: New York Jets at Oakland Raiders Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Raiders had one of the league’s worst pass defense, allowing over 257 yards per game. Now they find themselves right back where they were (253 yards per game). Only this time with any interceptions to offset the yards allowed. A big part of the problem has been their top two draft picks who have not been available.

Their 1st round pick CB Gareon Conley played only 2 games before being shut down for the season. Obi Melifonwu, their 2nd round pick safety, was injured prior to the start of the season and was on Injured Reserve until making his first appearance in week 9.

“Two of our top prospects missed the first half of the year largely,” said Del Rio Monday. “[Gareon] Conley missed it and Obi [Melifonwu] is now back. Getting him caught up obviously. He played a bunch yesterday and will continue to play. Those are guys we’re counting on heavily and they were hurt. That’s part of our game. That’s part of the National Football League. We don’t make that as an excuse, but that is an issue that has been an issue. Our secondary hasn’t played as well as it needs to. We’re just going to keep working at it. That’s what you can do and what we will do. Continue to refine how we do things, what we’re doing and are ability to do it at a higher level.”

While it’s understandable to rely on a high pick to contribute, it shouldn’t be the end of the game plan.

Needless to say the Raiders have not gotten a return on either of those two investments this season. Conley malingered on the roster all the way until after week 10 before being shut down with a mystery shin injury that required surgery. Depending on how you view the situation he was either so good they took a chance or the other CB’s so horrendous they took a chance he could eventually play.

The one game Conley played completely healthy he looked like he has elite corner potential. The problem is it was one game and it’s hard to tell because the following game he re-injured his shins and never touched the field again. He made plays on the ball that the Raiders just haven’t seen from their corners in years in that short amount of time.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen and the Raiders have been playing with only 3 CB’s with starter David Amerson out with a foot injury for multiple weeks. The Raiders solution was to start their rookie safety Melifonwu at CB against Tom Brady in only his 2nd game. The results were as expected, he was torched deep by Brandin Cooks thanks to coaches setting him up for failure.

Del Rio said Monday that Obi is in the plans for more time at CB going forward. This could be a terrible idea and could stunt his growth as a safety.

The Raiders don’t have a lot of options at this juncture. The trade deadline has long passed and all that’s left are street free agents; guys that aren’t playing on teams already for a reason. Then again, when your CB’s are dead last in the league you bring people in. Coming off a bye the Raiders didn’t bring anyone in or even elevate CB Breon Borders from the practice squad.

Both rookies have flashed their talent showing why the team was relying on them so heavily. Problem is they were hurt and you can’t just bank on two injured rookies the way the team did. Either other guys have to step up or you make moves to bring in guys, neither of those things happened and that’s inexcusable for a team with Super Bowl talent.

It’s evident that the coaching and scheme are as much a part of the problem with this defense as the talent is. DJ Hayden was horrendous when playing for Oakland, he went to Detroit and has become a very good corner in less than 1 year. Coaching matters and the Raiders just don’t seem to have coaches that can get the most out of their players and the result is a 4-6 record.

If the Raiders want to get the most out of Obi and Gareon they are going to need to overhaul this coaching staff and the scheme. The coaches simply aren’t getting the most out of their players and they continue to make poor personnel decisions.

Editor’s note: Levi Damien contributed to this article.