The Raiders selected safety Shalom Luani with the 221st pick in the 7th round of this year’s draft. If his performance Saturday’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals is any indication, the Raiders have another late round steal on their hands.
The 6 foot, 200-pound rookie out of Washington State was everywhere in Saturday’s game. He played special teams, in-the-box safety, 2-deep safety, and single high safety. He showed the ability to stop the run as well as play deep coverage like in this play from the second quarter.
Playing deep on this Man-2 coverage, Luani has perfect position on this seam route. This should have been an interception and the cherry on top of a very impressive performance.
Even though he did not make the catch, simply being in the right place is an upgrade to the Raiders safety play at times last season. Watching him live, he really stood out on the field, I’m sure the Raiders coaching staff noticed him as well. With 5 tackles, a pass defense that should have been an INT, and a fumble recovery, it would be hard not to.
Most 7th round players can expect to get their start playing on special teams. Special teams is one of those areas that great play only really shows up on tape and tend to lack the fan fare that comes with playing other positions. Luani will certainly play on special teams, though he found a way to make a big play there as well.
Already down 14-0, Raiders returner Jaydon Mickens fumbled on the kickoff return. Luani was there to snag the fumble recovery that could have given the Cardinals a first down in the Raiders red zone. Some players just have a knack for ending up around the football, Luani looks like one of them.
The most impressive part of Luani’s game wasn’t simply how fast he looked on the field but the power he brought with it. It’s not uncommon for a rookie to lack some “pop” until they have spent some time in a professional strength and conditioning program. Luani doesn’t seem to have that issue.
Take a look at the pre-snap movement before this great run stop. The Raiders were playing a lot more 2-deep safety looks in this game than they did last season. They were also disguising their single high looks with 2-deep looks like they did here.
Having a safety like Luani that can play in the box or in deep coverage allows greater flexibility in coverage disguise as the offense doesn’t know which safety will drop deep. They Raiders coaching staff being able to rotate either safety into the box also opens blitz opportunities from either side of the defense.
Luani’s reaction and closing speed really stood out. He was possibly the best player on the Raiders defense in this game.
Look how fast he recognizes and closes on this draw play. It cannot be understated that a rookie in his first game action doesn’t typically show this level of awareness. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has once again shown his prowess for finding good players in the later rounds.
With three more preseason games left, Luani has plenty of opportunities to push for playing time in the Raiders defense. He is off to a great start and needs to follow up this performance with another one this Saturday against the Rams. If he keeps this up, the Raiders may just have to find ways to get him on the field this season.