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Bigger Raiders draft need on defense: cornerback, safety, or linebacker?

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It goes without saying that edge rusher is easily the biggest need on this Raiders team. Since that is well established, let’s move on to what the next biggest need on the defense.

With the exception of Lamarcus Joyner the Raiders’ free agent additions on defense all the instant impact signings came on offense with Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, and Tyrell Williams.

Joyner has experience at both safety and cornerback, rumors have it he will be the primary nickel corner.

Gareon Conley was finally able to stay healthy and after a slow start showed some promise down the stretch. Rashaan Melvin opted to sign with the Lions after a disappointing year in Oakland where he found himself on the bench and in the coaches dog house. And just this week Daryl Worley was re-signed.

Luckily for Raider fans the Reggie Nelson era is over at safety and Marcus Gilchrist was also not brought back for a second season. Last season the Raiders had arguably the worst safety play in the league.

The revolving door at middle linebacker continued last season. It seems like an eternity since the last time the Raiders had a reliable linebacker in the middle.

Much like on offense, even after some additions in free agency there are still some holes that need to be filled through the draft in order to improve a defense that gave up a league high 29.2 points a game.

What is the bigger need on defense?


In today’s NFL if you want to compete on defense you need two things, a guy that can get after the quarterback and a cornerback that can be put out on an island and lock his man up. Right now the Raiders have neither.

Gareon Conley is the closest thing on the current roster to a shutdown corner. Early in his career he has had trouble staying healthy. Last season he played in 15 games, making 14 starts.

Daryl Worley had an up and down season last year but coaches showed confidence in him by signing him to a second round tender.

Rounding out the group is second year man Nick Nelson, newly acquired Nevin Lawson, and Montrel Meander.

Speaking to the media last week, Gruden shared his thoughts on the group of corners.

“I think you need five corners,” Gruden said. “I think you gotta have five because they do get banged up. It is a very difficult position to play and sometimes you want to play three or four at a time.”

Some of the latest mock drafts have the top corners falling to the end of round one.


Lamarcus Joyner is listed as a safety but all indications are that he will spend the majority of his time as the nickel corner. With the volume of passing in the league, most teams are spending a higher percentage of snaps with five defensive backs on the field.

Karl Joseph another former first round pick that has yet to live up to his draft selection looked like his days in silver and black were limited as the trade deadline approached last season.

Joseph was not dealt and showed some signs of life in the second half of the season. He is in line for a starting job heading into the 2019. Erik Harris, a favorite of coach Gruden was rewarded with two year contract this offseason.

Harris is the bigger bodied safety on the back end and his role will most likely be to cover opposing tight ends.

Other options include free agent addition Curtis Riley and practice squad players Tevin Mitchell and Dallin Leavitt. Yuck.


On paper the group looks much improved with the additions of Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall but if you take a closer look you will see plenty of causes for concern.

Both Burfict and Marshall have had good years in the past, but it’s safe to say their best years are behind them. Injuries have taken a toll and it’s hard to count on either for a full 16 games.

Marquel Lee looked to make big jump from his rookie year to year two, still he is not the answer in the middle. He still has deficiencies in coverage. That leaves Tahir Whitehead, Nicholas Morrow, and Jason Cabinda as your next best options.

Cabinda is the guy to keep an eye on. The Raiders obviously saw something in him during training camp to sign him to the practice squad. He eventually made his way up to the active roster and made appearances in 10 games with three starts.

It would be nice to find the long term solution at middle linebacker in this years draft.


What is the bigger need on defense?

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Also see: Bigger draft need on offense: Running back, tight end, or guard?