Raiders could complete secondary makeover in NFL draft

Raiders could complete secondary makeover in NFL draft

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 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 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 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 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 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 7

Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season


Five new Raiders with something to prove in 2018 season

The Raiders are taking some time off during the dead period of the NFL offseason. Even early bird Jon Gruden is slapping the snooze button these days, spending some quality time with family before training camp cranks up later this month.

Coaches and players are still finding time for work, sometimes while they’re on vacation. The Raiders want to hit the ground running this preseason, with many motivated to show well in silver and black. That’s especially true for a large class of new Raiders, many of whom hope to silence detractors.

Here are five newcomers with plenty to prove in 2018:

5. CB Rashaan Melvin

Lists like this are normally reserved for guys coming off injuries or down years. Melvin doesn’t fit that mold. The 28-year old had his best year in 2017, often shutting down top receivers as Indy’s top cornerback. He allowed a paltry 60.3 passer rating when targeted, with three picks, 10 passes defensed and just two touchdowns allowed.

Those stats didn’t produce a robust free-agent market. Melvin ended up signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Oakland, and is now working to show he’s not a one-year wonder and can stay healthy for 16 games. An ovation-worthy encore would surely earn a long-term, bigger-money deal.

Melvin made his motivation clear on Twitter a few weeks back.

4. WR Jordy Nelson

Nelson had a down year in 2017. It started well, with six touchdowns in the first four games he played. Then all-world Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down, and things hit the skids. He averaged just 9.1 yards per reception, and didn’t score after that early flurry.

That led some to say Nelson lost a step at age 32 he would not recover. The Packers asked him to take a massive pay cut, and ended up releasing him in March. The Raiders swooped in quickly with a two-year deal and plenty of guaranteed money.

Nelson has been praised for his attention to detail and position-group leadership, and will fit into the starting lineup with Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant. He had four straight 1,000-yard seasons prior to last year. His worth won’t be defined by a monster statistical year. Reliability, leadership and red-zone performance will show if Nelson’s still got it.

3. RB Doug Martin

The veteran rusher has had an uneven career. Excellent production has come in spurts, with dominance in 2012 and 2015. The last 1,400-plus yard season was followed by two seasons of 2.9 yards per carry, which led Tampa Bay to cut his this winter.

He met Gruden for lunch at a Florida golf course, and the exchange convinced Gruden the 29-year old was ready to work and prove he had plenty left in the tank. His work was praised during the offseason program, though practice in pads and preseason play will offer stronger evidence of 2018 effectiveness. Showing well in camp could lead to an increased role behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Gruden likes using multiple backs in his offense, and could make steady contributions in the run game.

2. MLB Derrick Johnson

The longtime Kansas City Chief was let go by the team that drafted him in 2005, but it was not the end of his NFL journey. Some thought he’d call it a career at age 35, especially after suffering an Achilles’ tendon tear in Dec. 2016, but he found a new home in Oakland and a strong bond with Gruden. The Raiders need stability in the middle, and Johnson will provide on-field leadership. There’s no doubt about that.

Johnson must prove capable of being a three-down linebacker effective against the run and pass. Marquel Lee is available should the Raiders require a platoon, but Johnson doesn’t want that. The Raiders need his expertise inside at all times.

1. Head coach Jon Gruden

Gruden isn’t a newcomer, but it’s been nearly two decades since he roamed the silver and black sidelines. He hasn’t coached since 2008, but returned to the Raiders in January after nine years in the broadcast booth.

Gruden has said several times he has something to prove to his critics. That might be a self-motivational tool. There aren’t many in the East Bay, where the fan base as rallied behind him and players have loved the intensity and passion he brings to practice and meetings.

Some assume his old school tendencies and his “bringing it back to 1998” comment this offseason implies he is resistant to change or offensive innovation. That’s not the case, not by a long shot. We’ll see lots modern offense Gruden studied as an ESPN broadcaster and in his downtime at his Tampa offices, with new wrinkles unveiled as game plans dictate.

Gruden has made a solid impression in his return to coaching but, as it always is in his line of work, effectiveness will be determined by wins and losses. He won’t be graded off one-year alone, especially without solid roster depth, but Gruden wants to start fast and re-establish Raiders winning ways.

Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape


Raiders CB Gareon Conley files countersuit against woman who accused him of rape

Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley has filed a lawsuit against the woman who accused him of rape in April 2017.

A Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges stemming from an incident in Cleveland less than a month before the 2017 NFL Draft.

Conley deemed the allegations false at the time, and maintained his innocence throughout the process.

His accuser filed a civil suit against Conley on April 6, 2017, seeking $25,000 in damages.

Conley has chosen to file a counter lawsuit, seeking compensation for damage to his reputation, draft stock and endorsement opportunities.

According to court documents obtained by TMZ, he lost an endorsement deal with Nike because of the accusation. He reiterated his innocence in court filings, saying he turned down his accusers advances.

The Ohio State product was considered a top 15 talent heading into the draft, but was ultimately selected No. 24 overall by the Raiders despite the rape accusation.

He missed most of his rookie season with a shin injury that required surgery. He was cleared for full football activity this spring.