Raiders Searching for Right Mix in Revamped Secondary

lamarcus joyner oakland raiders defensive backs

The multitude of moves during the offseason means a more competitive and tighter secondary unit moving into the 2019 season

The Raiders secondary in 2018 was largely ineffective due to a non-existent pass rush along with an inability to make plays in the secondary. It’s that very reason why head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have retooled the team’s secondary personnel this off-season in hope of vast improvement. What has been considered a weakness for many in Oakland has significant potential to be a strength headed into 2019.

In 2018, cornerback Gareon Conley showed that he could be a top-notch player at his position and will be expected to improve on his sophomore season. Opposite Conley was Daryl Worley, who was solid, if not unspectacular. He made a few major errors that led to touchdowns, but the coaches love his size and length. He will be pushed and possibly overtaken by second-round rookie Trayvon Mullen.

Gareon Conley is expected to build on his sophomore campaign. Photo: Raiders.com

Mullen has all the tools necessary to succeed in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme and, given his draft position, will be expected to contribute early. None of the aforementioned players, however, have spent much, if any time in the slot. Hence, this is where the projections for the secondary get somewhat murky.

In free agency, the first defensive player signed by the Raiders was former Los Angeles Rams defensive back LaMarcus Joyner. Joyner is a jack of all trades defensive back having spent his first two seasons in the NFL as a slot corner, while his last two seasons have been as a deep safety. Initial indications are that the Raiders intend to line Joyner up as a safety in base packages while bringing him down into the slot in sub-packages.

Erik Harris impressed the coaching staff last season. Photo: Raiders.com

Other possibilities to play in the slot include sophomore corner Nick Nelson and possibly former Lions corner Nevin Lawson. Despite Lawson’s small frame, he has spent most of his career on the outside. The Raiders drafted rookie Isaiah Johnson with a fourth-round pick though he is more suited to playing on the outside and is a considerable project headed into his first year.

Assuming Joyner gets the bulk of the snaps in the slot, he will have to be replaced up top. Safety is arguably the Raiders deepest position. In addition to Joyner, Karl Joseph, Erik Harris, and free agent signings Curtis Riley and Jordan Richards, all played considerable snaps as starters last year. The Raiders also added first round thumper Johnathan Abram in the draft. Abram is likely to start as a strong safety in base sets, though it leaves for an intriguing battle for the final major safety role when Joyner moves down to the slot.

For the first time in a long time, the Raiders have significant competition across the entire secondary. This can only result in improved performance come the season.

Hayden Nadolny

Harris at this stage appears to be the front runner given his significant improvement as the 2018 season went on resulting in him starting late in the year. Joseph appears to be on the outs given the drafting of Abram, but it’s been long thought that Joseph could flourish playing as a deep safety as opposed to in the box. Riley and Richards were signed as free agents and will compete for a role, though their best chance of making the roster would be on special teams.

For the first time in a long time, the Raiders have significant competition across the entire secondary. This can only result in improved performance come the season.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has stated that coverage is more valuable than a pass rush and it certainly seems that the Raiders, with all their investment into the secondary, tend to agree with that philosophy.