ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Raiders’ secondary had its problems in 2018.
A weekly carousel in playing time, where a starter one week could be relegated to special teams the next, drove cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie into a brief, early retirement. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was the top investment in free agency. His scheme discomfort unraveled that union.
Injuries struck some places.
Inexperience or lack of speed impacted others.
As the NFL draft approaches, the defense could use better play from its secondary. But spending an early draft pick or two on a defensive back is unlikely the solution.
To help their back end, the Raiders must upgrade their front seven. For that reason, it would surprise if they invest in a safety or cornerback before the draft’s third day. The front office proactively addressed the secondary during free agency to enable itself to devote more draft attention to an area of greater underlying concern.
The Raiders totaled an NFL-low 146 quarterback pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
No other defense had fewer than 231.
If need be, the Raiders could line up in the secondary today.
At cornerback, Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley and Nevin Lawson are set to compete for two starting jobs, with Lamarcus Joyner poised to handle the nickel role. Worley signed a one-year, $3.095 million contract, as the club took no chances, placing an aggressive second-round tender on its restricted free agent.
Worley is coming off shoulder surgery for a torn labrum. Lawson, who started 54 games the past four seasons for the Detroit Lions, signed a one-year deal worth up to $3.05 million.
Joyner arrived on a four-year, $42 million contract.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden is especially high on him.
“You know when I was at Tampa, I coached a guy named Ronde Barber, and he might have been perhaps my favorite player I’ve ever coached,” Gruden said last month at the NFL’s annual meetings. “He wasn’t the biggest guy, he wasn’t the fastest guy, but when he put the helmet on, something happened to that guy. And Joyner to me is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Ronde as a slot corner.
“I think he’s the best. I think he’s got a chance to really be dynamic in there. His leadership, when you meet Lamarcus Joyner, trust me, he’ll be your favorite guy you’ve met in a while. There’s something about this guy that’s special, and I think the Rams would tell you that. That’s why he is a franchise player, but his ability in the slot is rare.”
Nick Nelson is part of the remaining group.
The 2018 fourth-round pick must exhibit growth in his development to fend off competition and make the roster.
At safety, Karl Joseph, Curtis Riley, Erik Harris and Jordan Richards provide a blend of experience on defense and special teams. Riley and Richards are new additions who could see playing time that exceeds the modest salaries in their one-year contracts. Neither is scheduled to reach $900,000 in earnings this season.
Riley and Richards started 16 and 12 games last season for the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, respectively.
Along with adding them, the Raiders re-signed Harris to a two-year, $5 million extension.
This week, there’s no need for a splash draft pick in the secondary. Should the Raiders create waves in the front seven, however, the resulting spatters would be welcome for a unit asked to hold coverage too long, too often in 2018.
Top defensive backs in NFL draft
— S Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State
— CB Byron Murphy, Washington
— CB Rock Ya-Sin, Temple
— CB Deandre Baker, Georgia
— CB Greedy Williams, Louisiana State