From the outset, it would appear the Oakland Raiders secondary has improved. Charbroiled cornerbacks David Amerson and Sean Smith are gone and the Rashaan Melvin and 2017 1st-round pick Gareon Conley have taken their places.
There has also been a lot of talk about Marcus Gilchrist, Daryl Worley and Leon Hall competing to be the slot corner. The one name missing from that was 2018 4th-round pick Nick Nelson.
The nation’s leader in passes defended with 21 in 2017 is a potential steal as the NFL Draft Advisory Board gave him a 2nd-round grade before a meniscus injury sustained in a private workout with the Detroit Lions made him available in the fourth. He was on schedule to be ready for training camp but still a few NFL executives took him off their boards altogether. But now that he’s healthy and moving well in training camp, it’s time to watch out for him.
It’s hard for receivers to get separation on him so he contests darn-near everything, which is why he broke up so many passes last year. But the best thing about him is his physicality and aggressiveness. It got him in trouble a little at Wisconsin with pass interference penalties but he can learn how to keep his aggression within the rules.
He allowed just 37.7 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed for just 327 yards in 69 targets in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also had him with a 23.2 percent playmaker index, which was No. 10 among all draft eligible CB.
Nelson has now participated in six days of camp, including the pre-camp warm-up and the Raiders like where Nelson is at this point.
“Well Nick, he’s been doing a lot of studying in the offseason,” Guenther said after day three. “Obviously, came out the first couple of days, just getting the rust off a little bit. He’s doing a good job for us the last couple of days, being out there in full practice. He’s playing some nickel and outside corner for us. He’s been doing good. Right where we want him to be.”
Veteran teammate Marcus Gilchrist is seeing the bulk of the first team reps at nickel corner according to Levi Damien. Gilchrist sees promise in Nelson as well.
“You can just tell by the way he diagnoses plays that he has an understanding of being able to play the game,” Gilchrist said of Nelson.
“It’s tough to come in this league and play in the nickel position with all of the different things you that you have to be able to read and have to be able to cover and have to be in in the run fits.”
If he is indeed where the Raiders want him to be, Nelson is in the hunt to be the No. 1 Nickel corner, making this an interesting competition.