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Raiders, in need of a safety, could find one at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — After striking out on free agent safety Damarious Randall last year and watching Johnathan Abram struggle in what was his first full season at strong safety, the Raiders are expected to try to upgrade the back end of their defense this offseason.

That’s why they are giving a careful look at safety prospects at the Senior Bowl this week. TCU’s Trevon Moehrig is generally considered the top safety in the draft, but as an underclassman, he is not in Mobile this week. The same is the case for Oregon’s Jevon Holland, USC’s Talanoa Hufanga and Texas’ Caden Sterns.

That said, there are intriguing safety prospects in Alabama this week who could represent tremendous value beyond the first round of the draft. And keep in mind, potential free-agent safety targets John Johnson of the Rams, Justin Simmons of the Broncos (third round) and Marcus Maye of the Jets (second round) were all uncovered on the second day of their drafts.

Here are some players who have created a buzz this week in Mobile:

Richie Grant, Central Florida

No safety has helped himself more this week than Grant, a three-year starter who finished his career with 10 interceptions. Grant has been stellar in pass coverage, particularly in one-on-one drills in which he’s shown ability in press coverage.

That is an important development as Grant’s coverage range as a deep safety is well known, as is his tenacity and toughness to play closer to the line of scrimmage as a box safety. By showing he can defend one-on-one, it adds to his versatility as a potential slot defender.

Grant is a likely Day Two pick, although his stock is rising.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse

If the name sounds familiar to Raiders fans, it’s because he’s the younger brother of 2017 Raiders second-round pick Obi Melifonwu. Big brother’s stay with the Raiders lasted just one year, with his inability to stay on the field because of injuries costing him his job.

That should not be held against Ifeatu Melifonwu, who is technically listed as a cornerback but whose 6-3, 215-pound frame has scouts projecting a move to safety.

By playing cornerback for the Orangemen at a high level, Melifonwu is already a pass defender whose quickness, fluidity and awareness has been on full display this week. He’s also a willing and punishing tackler, which makes the move back to safety in the NFL a safe bet.

Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State

If the Raiders have concerns about Abram, they could look to draft someone to push him or eventually replace him. Nasirildeen played just two games in 2020 while coming off a serious knee injury in 2019, so the Senior Bowl and draft evaluation process the next two months will be critical.

He’s shown in Mobile he is back at full strength, and he’s been flying all over the field in run support and as a better-than-advertised pass defender. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Nasirildeen is an imposing physical specimen who has plenty of upside after playing so few games last year. But the 101 tackles he had in 2019 and the 91 in 2018 are proof he is a productive playmaker.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore onTwitter.

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