The 2016 season was a wild one for the Oakland Raiders. They finally evolved from punchline to promising, and the future looks bright for the Silver and Black. However, now that the season is over, it’s time to reflect on the season that was. The Last Word On Pro Football Raiders department will be breaking down each position group over the next couple of weeks. Today, the topic of conversation is the safeties.
Oakland Raiders End of Season Evaluation: Safeties
The Group As A Whole
There’s nothing like teaming a first-round pick with a savvy free agent pick up to build excitement in a position group. Reggie Nelson led the NFL in interceptions last year, and Karl Joseph was a top 15 pick with a list of highlight reel hits to his name. On the other hand, Joseph was coming off a serious knee injury, and Nelson was 33 years old. Whilst these facts didn’t dampen enthusiasm, perhaps they should have. Truthfully, this group never lived up to the hype.
Perhaps the scheme was just wrong. Perhaps the secondary is still improving and shouldn’t be judged as a finished article. Whatever the reason, the overall play of the safeties wasn’t great. Too many big plays given up, and too few plays that changed the game in the Raiders favour. Whilst there were individual bright spots, overall this group needs to improve.
It’s fair to say Reggie was solid in his first season in silver and black. It’s never going to be easy when the man you’ve been brought in to replace is arguably the best to ever play the position, but Nelson did reasonably well. 4 of his 5 interceptions came with less than 2 minutes to play in a half, so he certainly helped close out games. 2 of those 5 also came with us leading by 8 or less, lending strength to this assessment.
Unfortunately, the tape shows a different story. Yes, he might have come up with 1 or 2 timely picks, but he was also beaten deep far too often. Jack Del Rio made a big deal about giving up too many big plays in his end of year review, and that could be read as a direct dig at Nelson.
It isn’t often you read that a pro-bowl safety might not be brought back, but I could easily see the Raiders cutting Nelson. He’s just not suited to the role he plays in Ken Norton Jr’s scheme, and at 33 there are better options out there.
Watch the tapes of his college production, and you can’t help but be excited. A super physical player with an almost unnatural instinct for the ball. Raider fans thought they were getting a hard-hitting, ball-hawking safety in the mould of Bryan Dawkins. Maybe they still are. Starting the season still recovering from the knee injury that ended his college career, he clearly took a while to get up to speed.
He didn’t start a game until week 3. When he did, it was clear he immediately shored up a creaky secondary that had given up huge plays in the first two weeks. Perhaps it’s unfair to want more than that from a rookie. After all, he clearly affected the games he played in, and made the Raiders better. At the same time, high draft picks need to deliver big plays, and there Joseph was lacking. It’s fair to expect more in year two.
Started playing regularly when Joseph was injured towards the end of the season, and proved a capable backup. Whilst he never looked like a full-time starter, he was comfortable playing both as a high safety and closer to the line. He’ll always see some snaps, and is a nice third piece to rotate in when needed. As long as he’s comfortable in that role, then it’s worth the Raiders keeping him around.
K McGill. Will surely be off the team, unless he can persuade Del Rio of his value on special teams. He was the starting safety in the first two games and has to carry his share of the blame for the defensive performances there. He also came in late in the year when Nate Allen was injured and performed woefully, beaten regularly in the pass game and tackling badly against the run.
TJ Carrie. Might have a future as a rotational player, but really has to improve his tackling. Has been on the team for a few years now, but expectations and talent levels are higher under Del Rio. Not sure Carrie will make the cut.
Brynden Trawick. Got on the field only because McGill was so bad, but took his chance, playing fast and aggressively. One of the few players to come out of the week 17 game against Denver with some credit, finding the interception that briefly looked like it might get the Raiders back in the game. With a good training camp, expect an expanded role next season.
Some bright signs amongst some very average play. Joseph looks like he can contribute, but needs to prove he can be a game-changer when needed. There are thoughts that Nelson might not return, and I would support that, if a decent free agent option is available. Allen is a good back up, and Trawick showed glimpses of potential. But overall, still much work to be done. C+.