Raiders could take another Ohio State cornerback in first round

Updated April 22, 2018 - 11:56 am

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Raiders drafted a cornerback from Ohio State in the first round last year.

On Thursday, they could again.

Denzel Ward is widely regarded as the top cornerback in the NFL draft. If available at the No. 10 pick, the Raiders might be tempted to couple him with former college teammate Gareon Conley.

Ward wouldn’t be the first offseason addition at the position but arguably would be the most meaningful. Since mid-March, the Raiders have signed cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Shareece Wright and Leon Hall.

Those acquisitions share one key characteristic: Their contracts are of one-year length.

Conley is under contract for at least three more seasons. If drafted, Ward would sign a four-year deal with a fifth-year team option. That offers more long-term stability at corner while providing the Raiders with an intriguing starting trio among Conley, Melvin and Ward.

Elsewhere in the secondary, Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson also signed one-year deals this offseason at safety. Both project as veteran stop-gaps for the Raiders.

The team drafted Obi Melifonwu in the 2017 second round and Karl Joseph in the 2016 first round. Melifonwu struggled mightily with his health as a rookie, undergoing knee and hip surgeries after an ankle ailment sidelined him for much of training camp.

Joseph, while fairly healthy, has yet to make a significant impact. His development might benefit from the new coaching staff.

Given the recent Melifonwu and Joseph picks, it seems unlikely the Raiders would draft a safety so early again.

That said, former Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is of note. While expected to be taken before the No. 10 selection, the Raiders know all about him. Their new secondary coach, Derrick Ansley, coached the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs the past two seasons. This could prove relevant should Fitzpatrick surprisingly fall.

Top defensive backs in draft

■ Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama, 6 feet, 204 pounds: Do-everything safety. Employable in slot or as dime linebacker in sub-packages. Four of nine career interceptions were returned for scores.

■ Denzel Ward, Ohio State, 5-11, 183: Projects as best cover corner in draft. Elite speed showcased at combine with 4.32 40-yard dash. Top-notch ball awareness.

■ Jaire Alexander, Louisville, 5-10, 196: Missed half of 2017 season to leg and hand injuries. Strong in press coverage. Ball hawk regarded for instincts.

■ Mike Hughes, Central Florida, 5-10, 189: Disappointed at combine with 4.53-second time in 40-yard dash. Transferred from North Carolina after fraternity-house incident, which prompted a suspension.

■ Derwin James, Florida State, 6-2, 215: Jack-of-all-trades safety. Could benefit from more focused positional usage in NFL. Had 84 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a blocked kick in 2017.

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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