Raiders

Raiders' Gareon Conley carted off after collision with Johnathan Abram

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AP

Raiders' Gareon Conley carted off after collision with Johnathan Abram

OAKLAND -- There was a scary scene Monday night during the third quarter of the Raiders' NFL season opener against the Denver Broncos. 

With the Raiders leading 14-3, Broncos running back Royce Freeman took off on a long run down the right sideline at the Coliseum. Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley attempted to drag him down from behind, and rookie safety Johnathan Abram came in to finish off the tackle, lowering his head and tagging Freeman.

Once Abram hit Freeman, though, his leg swung around and hit Conley in the head, appearing to push the cornerback's head down. 

https://twitter.com/dieter/status/1171276669908205568

Conley laid on the ground for several minutes before a cart was brought out.

After the game, Raiders coach Jon Gruden provided an update on Conley to reporters, and he believes the cornerback will be OK.

[RELATED: Raiders fans rip 'Antonio Clown' throughout opener]

Conley gave a thumbs up to the crowd after he was strapped to the board and taken off the field. 

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

NFL draft rumors: Raiders expected to take defensive tackle in Round 1

The Raiders stocked up in free agency, spending big to fix a defense that was leaky at best in 2019.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock now must turn their attention to hitting another home run in the NFL draft. With the No. 12 and No. 19 overall picks, most expect the Raiders, who have glaring needs at wide receiver and cornerback, to address those holes in some manner with their first two picks. That might not be where Gruden and Mayock are planning to go, though.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported Friday, citing league sources, that most around the league expect the Silver and Black to draft a top wide receiver with the No. 12 pick, but their second pick on a "middle-of-the-field" defender since the Raiders would like to make an upgrade at defensive tackle.

The middle of the field was a massive problem for the Raiders' defense in 2019. But they went out and added defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to lead the unit. They also lucked into signing safety Damarious Randall, upgrading the middle of the field at all three levels.

However, the Raiders do still need some help in the middle of their defensive line. Collins is young and thrives beating double teams, but he only signed a one-year deal. Maurice Hurst had a nice 2019 but he still needs to improve and Johnathan Hankins, while great against the run, doesn't move the needle rushing the passer.

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If the Raiders do want to draft a defensive tackle -- it might not be the best use of a first-round pick -- there are a few elite talents they could look at.

Derrick Brown leads this year's defensive tackle class. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound Auburn product might be the most complete defensive tackle to enter the draft since Aaron Donald. He has powerful hands, an unreal motor and can play in odd and even fronts. He's a Day 1 plug-and-play starter with All-Pro potential. Brown is expected to be a top-10 pick so the likelihood of him donning and Silver and Black is low.

Second on the list is South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Gamecock is an elite pass-rusher with all the tools and the strength of a bull. He has a great first step and unreal explosiveness. Kinlaw might be a shade below Brown but he appears to have Pro Bowler written all over him. He could be available for the Raiders at No. 12, but it's doubtful he slips to No. 19.

The next two players are end of Day 1-beginning of Day 2 guys, which means the Raiders must be sure they can contribute right away to take them at No. 19 or must trade down to make the pick lineup with the talent.

Next up is TCU's Ross Blacklock, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound load who has all the goods to be a star at the NFL level. Blacklock has the size, length, power and athleticism to be a dynamic playmaker at the NFL level. While some evaluators believe it might take him some time to adjust to the NFL game, he has all the tools you want in a three-down interior defensive lineman.

The last high-end interior defensive lineman is Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore. The rare defensive tackle that is defined by his speed, the 6-foot-2, 302-pound Gallimore has all the looks of a Day 1 NFL starter who can collapse the pocket and put the quarterback on his heels. His quickness, motor and power are traits that leap off the tape.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Now a middle-of-the-field defender could mean a safety like Alabama's Xavier McKinney, which would mean the Raiders would shift Randall to corner where they have a huge hole after Eli Apple's contract couldn't get finalized.

If Kinlaw or Brown falls to the Raiders, Gruden and Mayock should snap them up. Both would be a powerful inside presence who could open up rushing lanes for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby.

But if both are off the board and corner like Florida's C.J. Henderson or even LSU's Kristian Fulton still are available, it might be wise to address to cornerback need first and see if a defensive tackle like Davon Hamilton,  Raekwon Davis or Justin Madubuike falls to them in the third round.

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

General manager Mike Mayock has been candid about the Raiders’ defensive deficiencies, especially in a press conference at the NFL scouting combine.

He wasn’t just complaining about the problem. Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden executed an aggressive plan to fix it. The Raiders added several established veteran free agents, especially through the middle of the defense, to improve a unit that hasn’t been good enough in recent years.

The Silver and Black even came out ahead following a crazy Thursday where the Eli Apple deal dissolved and versatile defensive back Damarious Randall came aboard.

The Raiders are much more talented heading into the 2020 campaign, though an upgrade or two could complete what has been a solid offseason to this point.

Let’s take a look at the current state of the Raiders defense, an analysis that pairs well with Friday’s edition of the Raiders Insider podcast. You can find that below, on our NBC Sports Bay Area/California YouTube channel or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, check out our Josh Schrock’s ranking of the top 20 Raiders defensive players.

Here’s our positional breakdown, where they’re set and where the Raiders need some help.

Defensive end

Starters: Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell
Top reserves: Carl Nassib, Arden Key
State of the position: Crosby was a revelation last year, finishing second in defensive rookie of the year voting. He hit double-digit sacks and proved a far better run defender than people thought. Ferrell had some setbacks in his rookie season – he lost 15 pounds with the flu before midseason – and performed below expectations associated with his draft slot. He has vowed to be better in 2020 and has the work ethic required to make great leaps. Nassib’s a versatile weapon an upgrade over 2019 situational pass rusher Benson Mayowa, though he doesn’t come cheap. Nassib also is a solid run defender who can also operate as a stand-up rusher. Key has talent and bend but hasn’t performed well in games to this point.
Help wanted?: Another edge rusher couldn’t hurt, even if it’s just a situational player later in the NFL draft, but the group will be fine even without another impact player.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Johnathan Hankins, Maliek Collins
Top reserves: Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, Daniel Ross
State of the position: Collins makes the interior much, much better. He has the interior pass-rush ability lacking for the Silver and Black in recent seasons, which is vital to the success of Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme. Collins would’ve led the Raiders in quarterback pressures in 2019 and has excelled battling through double teams. He’ll help those around him, making the entire line better. Hankins is a solid run defender and Hurst will have a significant role in the rotation, especially in the sub-packages. Hall will be pushed by others in the group.
Help wanted?: Collins takes the edge off this need, but the Raiders could use one more piece to this puzzle. The former Dallas Cowboy is working on a one-year deal and Hankins has a season left on his deal, so adding another player would help the 2020 group and provide some help in future seasons.

Linebacker

Starters: MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, WLB Cory Littleton, SLB Marquel Lee
Top reserves: Nick Morrow, Kyle Wilber
State of the position: Adding Kwiatkoski and Littleton to the group makes linebacker a team strength. They should pair as three-down linebackers. Lee could man the strong side, but he comes off frequently for a defensive back. Morrow has experience at both interior spots and is a quality backup who could start at any linebacker position if required.
Help wanted?: The Raiders are set here in the short and long term, something unusual for a Raiders franchise that has struggled to find proper fits at the position.

Cornerback

Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner
Top reserves: Nevin Lawson, Keisean Nixon
State of the position: Mullen’s a long-term solution at one cornerback spot. Joyner’s solid in the slot, where the Raiders prefer him to play. Johnson’s still raw after losing much of his rookie year to a concussion and facial fracture suffered in the preseason. Lawson has tons of starting experience and Nixon is a valuable backup. All that said, the Raiders were looking for a top cornerback to start opposite Mullen and still don’t have that player. Eli Apple would’ve been the frontrunner to play outside, but his deal fell apart this week and he’s now back on the open market.
Help wanted?: The Raiders need a top cornerback in the draft. Like, really bad. They could and probably should use the No. 12 or 19 selection on a plug-and-play cornerback and complete the position group. They could use Randall there if nobody else seizes the job, but free safety seems like a better fit for him.

[RELATED: NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs]

Safeties

Starters: Johnathan Abram, Damarious Randall
Top reserves: Jeff Heath, Erik Harris
State of the position: If Randall ends up playing safety as expected, this group suddenly is stout. Abram has a lot to prove but has great potential as a physical tone-setter. Randall could free him to be aggressive with his ability at free safety, though he can move around and do a lot of things well. Heath and Harris have extensive starting experience and are solid reserves. They could fill in well in case of injury or if Randall’s needed at cornerback, where he spent the first three years of his NFL career.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could’ve used another safety before Randall arrived, Now that he’s committed to the Silver and Black, the position’s a great shape.