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Assessing the value of Marcus Gilchrist to Raiders according to those who know him best

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Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Among the free agent signings this offseason was journeyman safety, Marcus Gilchrist who came on board with a one-year deal. Exactly how much he has to offer the team is unknown. To gauge his potential value as an addition, we start by asking those who have covered him for his last two teams, the Texans and Jets.

He started his career in San Diego at cornerback, but had transitioned to safety by his fourth season there. Then he went on to play for the Jets, where he spent two seasons, starting all 29 games in which he appeared, mostly at the free safety spot.

What exactly the team’s plans for him at this time are not known. Either because he doesn’t yet know, he’s not making it known, or they’re literally leaving it open to fit him where they like.

“I’m just going to play wherever is needed,” Gilchrist said over conference call shortly after signing. “I think it’s one of my attributes that I played a lot of positions both in college and in the pros. Wherever I’m needed, wherever I can help the team best is I guess that’s where I’ll be.”

His first season in New York in 2015 was statistically his best as an NFL player, putting up a career bests in interceptions (3), passes defended (7), and combined tackles (82). He was playing primarily free safety, with some strong safety as well.

Here is John Butchko from SB Nation Jets blog Gang Green Nation on Gilchrist’s time in New York.

Gilchrist was a 2015 free agent signing. He was more or less steady his first season, but his second season was ugly. It felt like the Jets were allowing a long touchdown every week, and Gilchrist’s limitations in coverage and inconsistent angles were exposed.

That second season he played only at free safety. That season was shortened to 13 games due to injury. It was also statistically one of his worst seasons.

Last season he spent with the Texans, appearing in all 16 games, and starting 13 at the strong safety position. Here is Tim McHale from SB Nation Texans blog, Battle Red Blog had to say about Gilchrist’s performance last season.

He looked passable at times for the Texans last season, but no one’s going to confuse him with an above-average NFL safety. Again, if he’s providing veteran depth, I like the addition. But the Raiders likely can do considerably better than Gilchrist when it comes to identifying starting-caliber safety play.

What you see are a lot of common themes with Gilchrist. Pro Football Focus echoes these descriptions of Gilchrist’s play in many ways. They refer to him as a ‘mid-tier’ player who would make for excellent depth, just as McHale said. And they note that Gilchrist is much better against the run than he is in coverage, which would lend itself more to that of a strong safety.

While Gilchrist is a fairly sure tackler, he isn’t a big hitter. He had 19 tackles against the run last season with just 3 run stops and 2 missed tackles according to PFF. He tends to avoid going for the big hit and instead wrapping up to protect from the big play. As the Athletic’s Ted Nguyen describes it, he uses the “alligator roll” technique in his tackles, adding:

Gilchrist consistently takes excellent angles to the ball and can tackle in the box and in the open field. His reliable tackling should help the Raiders limit explosive plays.

He had this to say about his coverage work last season.

Gilchrist doesn’t have great range, nor is he going to gamble to try to make interceptions, but again he’s rarely caught of position. He’s going to do his job and won’t blow coverages or give up anything easy.

Where Gilchrist does is best work in coverage is on tight ends. The former cornerback does much better shadowing a receiver as a strong safety than protecting deep as a free safety. Which is why, you see a Jets writer say he got beat a lot (a team with which he played free safety) and then you see someone like Nguyen look at Gilchrist’s Texans tape (where he played strong safety) and say essentially the opposite.

He’s 29 years of age, with 82 career starts in 7 NFL seasons. Aside from the 34-year-old Reggie Nelson, Gilchrist is the most experienced safety on the Raiders roster by quite a bit. Which should make the coaching staff a lot more confident should Obi Melifonwu not develop as quickly as they would like.

That’s a valuable thing.