Raiders defensive backs engaged in an interception drill during some of the offseason program’s on-field work, and the volley aimed at Gareon Conley sailed pretty high.
Last year’s first-round pick jumped up and caught it at full stretch, an action captured by a Raiders team photographer and posted on social media.
Conley, full stretch (photo: Raiders) pic.twitter.com/uxOnpkJz7U— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) May 9, 2018
That sight, and head coach Jon Gruden’s statement that Conley’s ever-so-close to full clearance following shin surgery allowed Raider Nation to dream about the Ohio State product featuring prominently in the Silver and Black secondary.
That didn’t happen much last year, when a shin injury suffered during the 2017 minicamp stole most of Conley’s rookie season.
Conley’s a natural cover man, and Raiders brass believes he can be a standout member of a revamped cornerback corps.
They’ve overhauled the position group before, several times in fact. Results have been lackluster.
There’s a real chance for better this season. On paper, anyway.
We haven’t seen much of the 2018 Raiders this offseason, save stretching and individual drills on two occasions. We don’t have much to go on during this quiet time in the NFL calendar, but the talent’s there.
This position group should look much different in 2018, with a chance to show far better results.
Conley should be a feature member of the cornerback corps, and still might not be the No. 1 guy. Rashaan Melvin should take that mantle, and is comfortable covering top receivers.
The 28-year old is coming off a career year, and will be supremely motivated playing on a one-year, prove-it deal. Opposing passers had a 60.3 quarterback rating a paltry 52.3 completion percentage when targeting Melvin’s man.
Those numbers would offer a vast upgrade over last year’s cornerback corps, which featured Sean Smith, TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and an oft-injured David Amerson.
Unlike last year, the Raiders have some injury insurance. Daryl Worley will provide help, maybe more than that, in his first season in silver and black. The 23-year old has started 25 games in two professional seasons, with a career 94.8 passer rating against him.
Off-field concerns make him a wild card. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI and for resisting arrest, which got him released by Philadelphia. The NFL could impose a suspension for the incident, which is still working through the legal process.
The combination of Conley, Melvin and Worley is an on-paper upgrade over the Raiders’ 2017 crew.
“We think Rashaan Melvin can be a really good player,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said on April 24. “We think Conley can be a really good player if healthy. We have a lot of competition right now behind him, and usually that breeds success.”
The Raiders added another corner in fourth-round pick Nick Nelson, a Wisconsin product recovering from meniscus surgery. He should be ready by training camp, and could help fill a void in the slot created by TJ Carrie’s departure.
Gruden wanted Carrie back, but Cleveland lured him away with significant funds. None of the three main cornerbacks have played much in the slot – Conley can play anywhere – but safety Marcus Gilchrist has the versatility and prowess to play there.
Veteran Leon Hall has experience there and in coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme, from their time together in Cincinnati.
Nelson can play inside and out, meaning competition for slot options snaps should be stiff.
If Melvin reprises last year’s form and a healthy Conley can realize potential, the Raiders cornerback corps could be much better in 2018.