The Raiders have used significant draft capital on defensive backs. Karl Joseph was their 2016 first-round pick. Gareon Conley was last year’s first-rounder, followed by safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round.
DJ Hayden got drafted No. 12 overall in 2013, but didn’t stick. Neither did Sean Smith or David Amerson, who were cut during the life of big-money contracts.
That has led to yet another secondary overhaul. Safety Marcus Gilchrist and cornerback Rashaan Melvin signed one-year deals in free agency, and will join Conley and Joseph in the starting lineup.
That doesn’t mean another secondary makeover is complete. The Raiders need a solid No. 3 cornerback and a starter for the future. A safety isn’t out of the question, even with Gilchrist and Joseph atop a depth chart that includes Melifonwu and veteran Reggie Nelson.
Top options could be available with the No. 10 overall pick, guys who could help right away. Let’s take a look at some possible impact players in the secondary:
CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
-- Ward is the best cover man in this draft. It’s hard to find anyone able to argue that. He isn’t that big (5-11, 183), but is agile and quick, technically savvy and an excellent route reader. He can make plays on the ball, and is rarely out of position. He doesn’t have great length and won’t jam receivers up at the line, but is a top talent in this draft, regardless of position. The Raiders drafted an Ohio State cornerback first last year (Conley), but that will have zero bearing on this year’s pick. Ward would join Conley and Melvin to form the Raiders’ cornerback corps in the Reggie McKenzie era. He and Conley could be a long-term solution at a spot where the Raiders have struggled to find stability.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 1
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
-- The former member of the Crimson Tide is a do-it-all defensive back expected to go early in this draft. The Raiders might not be on the clock long if he’s available at No. 10 overall. This dynamic playmaker can cover the slot, play deep safety or even a sub package linebacker, solving several points of weakness with one roster spot. He’s a tone-setter and an excellent chess piece for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley, who also coached him at Alabama last year and might be his champion in Alameda.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 1
CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
-- The Raiders could use a slot cornerback. Conley could play there and has the talent to switch inside and out, but having someone comfortable playing inside would be of benefit with slot receivers so prominent in today’s game. The former Cardinal is solid playing inside, armed with excellent speed and short-area quickness. He’s also a solid tackler and run defender, and can handle the two-way go from the slot. He’s highly touted, yet still might last until the latter portions of the first round. He might be an option should the Raiders trade down, or trade back into the first. It’s highly unlikely, yet possible he makes it to the second if teams are wary of his relatively slight frame.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 1-2
CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
Oliver is built like an NFL outside cornerback, with the length and range to play physical at the line of scrimmage. He can play man or zone coverage, with solid ball skills and deep speed. Analysts say he could use some development time, and the Raiders could give him that with Conley and Melvin already in the fray.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 2
CB Holton Hill, Texas
-- Hill’s a big guy at 6-3, 200 pounds, but has decent speed for his size. He might fall down in the draft after getting suspended last year for violating Texas’ team rules, and he might be a steal because of that. The Raiders would have to be convinced maturity issues aren’t a concern anymore, because that stuff won’t fly in Jon Gruden’s locker room. Analysts say he must continue to develop technically, but could be a proper fit for the Raiders coverage scheme.
Projected rounds (per NFL.com): 4-5
CB Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech
-- Scouts seem to be scared off by his rail-thin frame and inability to add bulk, but the dude can cover. He can play well in off coverage, with solid closing speed to make plays on the ball. He’s sticky against receivers of all sizes, and regularly made plays on the ball. He could be an early contributor found late in this draft.
Projected round (per NFL.com): 7