Norton: Raiders secondary improved; Joseph a 'pack of dynamite'


Norton: Raiders secondary improved; Joseph a 'pack of dynamite'

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. believes this year’s unit is more talented than last year’s collection. That’s especially true in the secondary, where the Raiders spent significant capital this offseason.

Sean Smith got $38 million to anchor one cornerback spot. Reggie Nelson got $8.5 million to play free safety. Strong safety Karl Joseph was acquired with the No. 14 overall pick and should start in a secondary with three new pieces over a year ago.

David Amerson is lone returner, and he was a waiver claim after getting cut by Washington.

“We see a real good backfield,” Norton said. “We’re improving. We’re coaching better. They’re playing better. We want to make sure we add our rush, combined with our coverage. Those two are connected and they work together. They’re doing a fantastic job of understanding what we have.

“We have guys that can cover and we have guys that can rush. That should work out to be pretty good for us.”

The secondary should be better than a collection of last year’s parts. Right now, however, that’s an academic pursuit. The Raiders starting secondary has been missing during OTAs.

Nelson hasn’t practiced in an OTA open to the press due to injury, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be active during this week’s mandatory minicamp.

We know Joseph will be on the sideline, recovering from ACL surgery. He’s due back in training camp, and should earn a starting spot over veteran returner Nate Allen.

Norton is excited about Joseph’s ability, which has been lauded by many following his draft selection.

“You see in the film, the guy is explosive,” Norton said. “He loves ball. He’s around the football a lot. He’s a pack of dynamite. He’s a really good football player. The more good football players you get on the team, the better you get. Anytime you have a first-round draft pick, you expect an impact player. We expect him to be that.”

Norton expects his backups will want to push for starting spots. That includes DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie, players with starting experience now fighting for expanded roles. Neiko Thorpe is also in the mix, and could be a player for the pivotal role in the slot.

Carrie has a proper skill set to play inside, though Hayden has taken significant snaps there during OTAs.

“Roles are good, but at the same time, it’s competition,” Norton said. “There’s no spot that’s already given. It’s a matter of competing. Coming out here every day and working really hard to show what you have. We’ve surrounded all the players with really good football players. They can look to the side, look around the room, they see every day guys showing up, playing and competing. It’s important that the group sees their growth, how they’re improving every day, and knowing the tools that we have.”

Raiders must 'hit some home runs' in NFL Draft, get more from previous classes

Raiders must 'hit some home runs' in NFL Draft, get more from previous classes

Reggie McKenzie has made some excellent draft picks. The Raiders general manager built a young foundation through amateur selection, including prominent players at vital positions.

Franchise quarterback Derek Carr, elite edge rusher Khalil Mack, stout guard Gabe Jackson and dynamic receiver Amari Cooper have all heard their name called on draft day.

One problem: Those guys have been given contract extensions or will get one soon.

In other words, it’s been a while since McKenzie struck gold.

The 2014 draft class is his signature, an elite collection among the NFL’s best over the last decade. Then he nabbed Cooper in 2015. And not much since then.

2016 first-round Karl Joseph is a consistent starter, and that’s the nicest thing you can say about anyone drafted recently.

Only three members of the 2015 class remain on the roster. The 2016 group includes defensive lineman Jihad Ward, edge rusher Shilique Calhoun and quarterback Connor Cook, taken in round 2-4, respectively, who haven’t made significant contributions.

Last year’s crop was decimated by injury, with the top three draft picks all undergoing major surgery their rookie year.

It didn’t take new head coach Jon Gruden long to acknowledge that. He said at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Raiders need more from their last three draft classes, singling Cooper out as that group’s only impact player.

Building depth and top quality through the draft is vital on a Raiders squad with so much money going to Carr right now and Mack in the near future. They can’t afford to swing and miss so often.

The Raiders need to hit a home run in this week’s 2018 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday evening. They must also mine more from guys already here. The jury’s still out on these young players, but they must show better posthaste.

“I’m not closing the book on last year’s draft of two years ago draft,” Gruden said Tuesday. “Our job is to develop players. That’s what coaches are here to do. We’re not here to draft people and sign the contracts and do all that stuff necessarily. We’re here to develop the players that are in the building. We need to do a better job getting more out of those three classes.

“At the same time, we have to hit some home runs in this draft. We have to get some players that can come in and help us.”

The Raiders have 11 selections, starting with the No. 10 overall pick. They have plenty of roster needs and must start filling them now.

Insufficient recent returns, however, won’t add urgency to this year’s proceedings. Each year is independent, with an opportunity to find impact players.

“What we want to do is just bring in some good players, really good football players,” McKenzie said last week. “We’re not going to beat up on some of these guys who physically were not able to get out there and play. Hopefully some of these guys from the past drafts, we can get them out there, keep them healthy and see what they can do. Hopefully this is the year. Even the guys we draft this year, we have no idea if they can make it through OTAs or training camp and preseason healthy. You just hope and pray they can be there for us and see what they can do during the season. We’re hopeful that we can stay healthy and let the guys play.”

Raiders Insider Scott Bair's first-round NFL Mock Draft

Raiders Insider Scott Bair's first-round NFL Mock Draft

The NFL Draft is almost here. It kicks off Thursday evening, bringing an end to speculation and suggestion and guessing what teams will do in an unpredictable enterprise. That won’t stop us from forecasting what will happen next.

A run on quarterbacks would be beneficial to the Raiders at No. 10 overall, and the 49ers just beforehand at No. 9. The Silver and Black will have some quality options, especially on defense when they’re put on the clock. The 49ers have similar needs and could take one of their guys, but a good player is expected to fall into the Raiders’ lap.

Here’s my one and only (solo) mock draft. Feel free to bookmark this page and ridicule me mercilessly over missing on so many. P.S. No trades. That just makes things complicated.

Check out my seven-round Raiders mock draft right here. I tackle the whole league below:

1, Cleveland: QB Sam Darnold, USC
Ignore all the reports of the Browns taking anyone else. That’s all smoke. Darnold’s the guy in Cleveland.

2, N.Y. Giants: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The best running back in some time doesn’t last long. The Giants still have Eli at the helm.

3, N.Y. Jets: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield has his fans. His personality will play well in the Big Apple.

4, Cleveland: DE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
Myles Garrett off one edge. Chubb off the other. Yikes.

5, Denver: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Elway and Allen. One big, strong, confident quarterback selects another.

6, Indianapolis: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Colts need everything except a quarterback, and even that’s a maybe until we see Andrew Luck play again. Indy goes with the draft’s best cover corner.

7, Tampa Bay: S Derwin James
The Bucs secondary needs a major upgrade. James is a tone setter at the safety spot.

8, Chicago: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Nelson reunites with a former Notre Dame position coach in Chicago. More protection for Mitch(ell) Trubisky. Match made in heaven.

9, 49ERS: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The uncertainty surrounding Reuben Foster forces the 49ers to take a plug-and-play interior linebacker. If Foster returns, that pair could be dominant. If he doesn’t the 49ers still have a leader in the middle. .

10, RAIDERS: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Silver and Black get a do-it-all defensive back who shores up several deficiencies. He’ll be a long-term fixture in the Raiders secondary.

11, Miami: DT Vita Vea, Washington
The Dolphins let Ndamukong Suh go this offseason, and draft his replacement. Vea’s far cheaper, super effective and much less of a headache.

12, Buffalo: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Bills get the top quarterback they were looking for. In real life, they’ll probably have to trade up to get him. That isn’t allowed here, and Rosen falls to a team that needs him bad.

13, Washington: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Edmunds can do so much so well. Washington’s thrilled to pair him with Zach Brown on the inside, and let him rush the passer off the edge in sub packages. Dude has serious potential.

14, Green Bay: DE Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
Davenport’s a freak, and could provide the defensive pressure Green Bay has sorely missed. Aaron Rodgers can’t outscore everybody.

15, Arizona: QB Lamar Jackson, Lousiville
Cardinals need a quarterback. They get a playmaker who can sling it.

16, Baltimore: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The Ravens need receiver help, even with Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead in the mix for multiple years.

17, L.A. Chargers: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Chargers need a long-term solution at tackle, especially over two injury-prone veterans. McGlinchey’s the steady presence they’re looking for.

18, Seattle: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
The Seahawks like athletes creating pressure. The Seahawks get a talented one who can get after the quarterback.

19, Dallas: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
Receiver is a pressing need with Dez Bryant recently cut.

20, Detroit: DT Taven Bryan, Florida
The Lions need an improved run defense and an interior pass rush. Bryan can handle both requirements.

21, Cincinnati: C/G James Daniels, Iowa
Bengals need help on the interior offensive line. Daniels fits in a center and guard, but is the draft’s best middle man.

22, Buffalo: OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
The Bills and their new quarterback Josh Rosen need protection up front after losing starting guards. Wynn should step right in and start.

23, New England: T Kolton Miller, UCLA
Miller’s a near consensus pick to become a Patriot. Who am I to argue? The Bruins could be a standout left tackle.

24, Carolina: CB Mike Hughes, Central Florida
Hughes has prototypical NFL size, and could be the consistent outside cornerback the Panthers need.

25, Tennessee: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
The Titans need an interior linebacker and get one of this draft’s best.

26, Atlanta: DT De’Ron Payne, Alabama
He’s an automatic upgrade on run defense, with some pass-rush ability. Fills a major need.

27, New Orleans: TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
The Saints need a dynamic tight end pretty bad. Drew Brees gets another weapon.

28, Pittsburgh: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Evans is a thumper. Perfect fit in Pittsburgh. He can play inside, and rush the passer.

29, Jacksonville: WR Cortland Sutton, SMU
The Jaguars add a pass catcher after losing Allen Robinson in free agency.

30, Minnesota: G Will Hernandez, Texas-El Paso
The aggressive, physical interior lineman to led a line in need of significant help.

31, New England: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
The Patriots need coverage help. Alexander can provide that outside or in the slot.

32, Philadelphia: RB Derrius Guece, LSU
A powerful runner with great speed, vision and balance. He’s tough to take down.