The Raiders could use a true center field-type safety like Utah’s Marcus Williams both for depth and the future.
The Raiders need bodies at the safety position..
The roster shows just two true safeties in starters Reggie Nelson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and last year’s first-round pick Karl Joseph.
After that, there’s guys like Keith McGill, who the Raiders converted to the position last year, and T.J. Carrie, who dabbled in 2015 when the Raiders were thin.
While Nate Allen never lived up to his initial lucrative deal he signed in 2015 (the Raiders ended up cutting him after one year and re-signing him to a cheaper deal), he was a valuable veteran to have around last year when Joseph dealt with a late-season toe injury. He signed this off-season with the Miami Dolphins.
The Raiders also lost Brynden Trawick to the Tennessee Titans. While he was always primarily a special teams player for the Raiders last season, he looked pretty good late in the year when getting defensive snaps.
Make no bones about it, the Raiders need to add players here. Nelson may have been a Pro Bowler last year with a knack for creating turnovers, but he also struggled to be in position on deep balls and is in the final year of his contract. A true centerfield that’s almost always in the right position — think of what the one-armed Charles Woodson was able to do in the final year of his career — is paramount to Ken Norton Jr.’s defense that places a great emphasis on never getting beat deep.
The top two players at this spot would require a very un-Reggie McKenzie-like maneuver by trading up, but the Raiders will definitely be looking at others players in the first few rounds who can help that secondary.
The Top Five
1. Malik Hooker, Ohio State (6-1, 206) — Instincts and athleticism make Hooker a classic single deep safety. A natural reader of quarterbacks who plays with the kind of anticipation that allows Hooker to compensate for average speed. Had 74 tackles and intercepted seven passes as a redshirt sophomore in 2016. Run defense is still developing, although he can jar the ball loose.
2. Jamal Adams, LSU (6-0, 214) — Shows no hesitation as a hitter and looks to be a step in and start player in the box as a strong safety. A take charge leader in the secondary whose physicality raises the play of those around him. Can handle coverage against tight ends in middle of the field. Committed no penalties in 2016 season. As a true freshman had 21 special teams tackles.
3. Budda Baker, Washington (5-10, 195) — Former Washington high school sprint champion has the speed and range to be a center fielder on defense and is athletic enough for coverage in the slot. Plays with enthusiasm and heart, but frame does not always allow requisite force, so may be prone to physical issues.
4. Jabril Peppers, Michigan (5-11, 213) — Not really a true defensive back but not a linebacker either, Peppers is best described as simply a football player. Played as more of a linebacker at Michigan, but sideline-to-sideline range has scouts believing he can be a safety despite having just one interception. An excellent blitzer who could be a force on special teams as a return specialist.
5. Marcus Williams, Utah (6-1, 202) — A true center fielder with good instincts, range and ball skills. Created 18 turnovers over the last three seasons (11 interceptions, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries). Not a big hitter but reliable in the last line of defense in terms of getting ball carriers on the ground. Reported knee injury which cost Williams two games in 2016 was closely examined.
Keep an eye on: Obi Melifonwu, UConn (6-4, 224) — Has the kind of size that makes height-weight projection scouts drool. Has so many tools some fear he may be over-drafted. Was a sure tackler and had four interceptions but is not a natural in terms of ball skills. Coverage from deep safety was spotty.
Others: Marcus Maye, Florida (6-0, 207), Josh Jones, North Carolina State (6-1, 220), Desmond King, Iowa (5-10, 201), Eddie Jackson, Alabama (6-0, 201), Delano Hill, Michigan (6-1, 216).
Depth chart: Reggie Nelson (5-11, 210), Karl Joseph (5-10, 205), Keith McGill III (6-3, 211).
Last five drafted: Karl Joseph (first round, West Virginia, 2016), Keith McGill III (fourth round, Utah, 2014), Jonathan Dowling (seventh round, Western Kentucky, 2014), Steve Brown (seventh round, Michigan, 2010), Mike Mitchell (second round, Ohio, 2009).