Starters: Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph
Backups: Marcus Gilchrist, Erik Harris, Obi Melifonwu, Shalom Luani, Dallin Leavitt, Tevin Mitchell
Nelson returns on a one-year deal after having started every game for the Raiders the past two seasons. After the season he had in 2017, it can be difficult to remember he made the Pro Bowl in 2016 with 5 interceptions. He had just one interception and 5 passed defended last season. You can put it on coaching if you like. But he is also 35 years old and has lost a step.
Joseph has earned some praise this offseason for being around the ball a lot. That’s a refreshing change after a disappointing second season. Entering his third NFL season, the team will be looking for him to take the next step and prove his 14th overall pick draft value as a versatile safety.
Second year safety Obi Melifonwu also carries the hopes of a rebound this season. He’s not off to a good start. He hasn’t seen the field much this offseason, first recovering from injury and then just not earning more reps. He has a lot of work to do to get in Jon Gruden’s good graces. And he barely saw the field on defense last season, so there’s little to suggest he’ll rise to the challenge.
Erik Harris flew under the radar last year. He didn’t have the press from training camp because he signed just prior to the start of the season. Then he played exclusively on special teams. But come minicamp, he was seeing some good work with the second team and made a nice looking interception as well. Gruden gushed about him which is as much a message for Melifonwu as anything.
A standout offseason for Shalom Luani didn’t yield much playing time on defense come the season. When he was, he had a major eye violation that led to a long touchdown. Rookie mistakes. But he’s a solid special teams guy and could potentially contribute at safety should he be called upon.
Leavitt and Mitchell have a tough battle to show their worth. And it will likely come on special teams.
Melifonwu was supposed to team up with Karl Joseph to be the team’s long term answers at safety. That hasn’t happened yet. Paul Guenther says he can re-wire Reggie Nelson at age 35 to get him back to playing well. We’ll see. There’s optimism Joseph will finally put it together. Again, we’ll see. They love Gilchrist and if he is what they hope he is, he could be a starting safety or the nickelback. Even if he never made it as a wise man. Harris, Luani and the undrafted rookies are all question marks as well.
What condition do you think the Raiders safety position is in?
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