Pegging what the Raiders plan will be at safety can be difficult. They need depth at both free safety and strong safety and a future starter as well.
Last year they spent their top pick on Karl Joseph at 14 overall. He currently mans the strong safety the bulk of the time, but would be better suited to move to free safety. That’s the spot Reggie Nelson occupies.
Nelson signed a two-year deal prior to last season and his five interceptions earned him another trip to the Pro Bowl. Overall, however, the secondary was a mess for the Raiders last season, and in times like this few players are safe from being replaced.
Even if Nelson sticks around, the Raiders will need a future starter. They also lost both Nate Allen and Brynden Trawick this offseason so they must replace the depth and special teams work they provided. For that reason, I absolutely expect the Raiders to address the safety position in this draft. The only question is how soon.
Obi Melifonwu, UConn — Round 1-2
There are bigger needs to look at in the first round than safety. But if there were a safety in this draft that would have the Raiders even considering taking him in the first round, it’s Melifonwu. He is the closest thing this draft has to a Kam Chancellor type safety, except with superior speed and coverage ability.
This 6-4, 224-pounder fits well as a strong safety and matches up well with tight ends due to his length and man-coverage abilities. He also spent a good amount of time at free safety at UConn. He is an incredible athlete, running a 4.40 40-yard dash, a 44-inch vertical, and 11’9” broad jump – all tops among safeties at the combine.
He doesn’t shy from contact either. Along with his 107 combined tackles (83 solo), 20 were run stops. Though overall, he gives up far too many catches. On 35 targets last season, he gave up 25 catches while intercepting 4 passes and knocking down two.
Josh Jones, NC State — Round 2-3
As a freshman at NC State, Jones played some linebacker as well as strong safety. Last season, he played a good deal of free safety as well. His tackle numbers have gone up each season as well as his tackles for loss culminating in 109 tackles last season and 4.0 tackles for loss. Though his coverage number went down in 2015, they bounced back last season to 3 interceptions and 11 passes defended. He upped his stock by running a 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine.
Delano Hill, Michigan — Round 5
Hill didn’t really break out until his senior season, starting all 13 games, putting up 3 interceptions and 6 passes defended along with 52 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He is a hard-hitting, solid tackler, missing just four tackles last season according to Pro Football Focus figures. Hill had decent number in coverage, giving up 22 catches on 39 targets (56%) and his 4.47 40 and 6.96 3-cone show he has plenty of speed and lateral agility.
Nathan Gerry, Nebraska — Round 6
A model of consistency at Nebraska as a starter the past three seasons. He averaged about 80 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, and 11 passes defended over the past three years. He was often playing the deep middle, but his tackling and run defense translate best at strong safety. Missed tackles were an issue for him his first two seasons as a starter, but he cleaned up his technique as a senior and nearly cut his missed tackle numbers in half last season. Gerry does his best work in zone, where he is a seek and destroy type tackler.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville — Round 7
At 6-4, 217, he has great size, but his 4.68 40-yard dash is not too good. He originally signed with Georgia as a five-star recruit. But after several drug related violations, he was dismissed and transferred to Louisville. Round 7 is where Reggie McKenzie takes a chance on talented players with character concerns.