We’re watching Oakland Raiders rebuild again because head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t like general manager Reggie McKenzie’s rebuild. He blamed the Khalil Mack trade on McKenzie drafts after 2014.
“We’re trying to hit on the draft,” Gruden said back in September. “We’re trying to draft and develop. Obviously the last three draft classes we haven’t got a lot of production out of yet. I don’t think there’s anybody left from the ‘13 draft. The ‘15, ‘16, ‘17 [classes], not much production at all. With that being said, you have to fill holes.”
Obviously, Gruden didn’t think highly of what McKenzie did early in the draft the last couple of years either. Second round picks from the previous three drafts are gone since Gruden took over, with Jihad Ward traded, and Mario Edwards Jr and Obi Melifonwu both released.
Among the few players remaining are 2016 1st-round pick Karl Joseph and 2017 1st-round pick Gareon Conley. Early this season, they didn’t get a lot of snaps and were said to be on the trading block.
At times earlier in the season both Conley and Joseph found themselves getting fewer snaps than their defensive back counterparts. But after watching the Raiders’ secondary get torched, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther began giving the two DB’s more snaps, with positive results.
Since Joseph became a starter in Week 10, the Raiders have given up 204 yards per game against the pass in the last 4 games compared to 237 yards per game in the first 8 games. Rather than getting into all the different quarterbacks the Raiders faced, we can judge how the Raiders defense improved against the pass against one elite QB over two games.
In the first meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers without Joseph, Philip Rivers threw for 339 yards, two TD’s and no interceptions. In the second game — Joseph’s first start — Rivers threw for 223 yards, two TD’s and an INT. He’s also been a tone-setter with his big hits in the running and passing game. Guenther has been impressed.
“He’s done good,” Guenther said of Joseph. “He’s just really understood all the different techniques and schemes. The different adjustments we have to make based upon formations. He adds some juice for us back there. Both in the run and the pass. He’s done really good. Hopefully he keeps on getting better.”
Gareon Conley looks like he’s becoming what McKenzie hoped when he made him the team’s top pick in 2017. He’s been the Raiders best corner all year but Guenther is just starting to treat him like it.
“Just his technique and his understanding of leverage in coverage, both off and in press, and understanding where the ball is supposed to go based on the coverage,” Guenther said of Conley’s improvement. “It’s kind of how the quarterback is taught to look at it. If this guy is running this way and there is a safety there, there’s a good chance the quarterback is not going to that side of the field. When you have a tough down or an easy down, he’s come a long way, in that way.”
Through Week 12, Conley has allowed a passer rating of 66.1 to rank sixth among 119 CBs that have played 100-plus snaps in coverage according to Pro Football Focus. He’s also forced an incompletion on 28 percent of his targets when defending outside receivers in 2018 to rank third.
There was a time before the trade deadline that it looked like Conley and Joseph could be traded. But there were no takers and the Raiders starters at the time weren’t playing well. That gave them the opportunity to show what they have and so far they have played well and improved a shoddy Raiders’ pass defense.
In Week 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes at QB, Tyreek Hill at receiver and Travis Kelce at tight end, they played well again. Mahomes had 295 yards passing on the day, which is better than his average of 324 yards per game. And speedster Tyreek Hill was held to one catch for 13 yards with no deep balls on the day.
Neither Joseph nor Conley allowed much as Joseph kept everything in front of him and Conley was stick in man-to-man coverage. Marcus Gilchrist and Daryl Worley took the brunt of the beating Kelce gave the Raiders. Joseph just missed getting to a touchdown pass and Conley had a potential interception in the end zone go right through his hands. It looks like they have bright futures.
“I’m just trying to get better every game, every week, every practice,” Joseph after the game. “Just keep growing as a player. I’m starting to establish myself more as a role in the defense. Just have to keep building on it. Everything is about wins in this league. We just have to keep getting better, build on this. I think this was a stepping stone for us, a building block for the defense to see we can play with one of the top offenses in the league. We have to grow from it.”
So would you say Joseph and Conley are acquitting themselves after a rough beginnings to their careers?
Do these two now have futures in the Silver and Black?
This poll is closed
Yes, both have earned the right to remain long term
Yes, Conley has, but not Joseph
Yes, Joseph has, but jury is still out on Conley
No, neither have earned it yet. Need to see more.