Gareon Conley. Sean Smith. Dexter McDonald. Antonio Hamilton.
If that group doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of wide receivers, it’s no surprise. Those four are the current corners on the Oakland Raiders’ roster. The only fear they’re instilling is in Raider Nation. And if the Raiders jettison Smith, the remaining Three Amigos is a cluster-you-know-what.
Outside of Conley, there’s little faith placed upon McDonald (a seventh-round pick who showed early promise) and Hamilton (an undrafted free agent who had a moment or two). Conley is being looked upon as a CB1, a shutdown starter out on an island. The early returns were good. His stride-for-stride coverage, leap and pass deflection against the New York Jets allowed Raider Nation to pump its collective chest out in pride.
But a nagging lower-leg injury shut the first-round pick out of Ohio State’s season down. Suffice it to say, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, head coach Jon Gruden, and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther need to corner the market at the position. McKenzie’s sacks-and-picks philosophy isn’t going to wane under Gruden and Guenther. It will only intensify. The Raiders are installing a defense where cover corners are a must. Defensive backs who shadow and harass receivers, true harriers of the quarterback.
Conley has that potential, Smith too perhaps. McDonald and Hamilton, however, do not.
The Raiders would be best served by acquiring more talent that relegates McDonald and Ham to deep reserve spots or even pushes them off the roster completely. There are several options via free agency and the draft.
Here’s a glance at some who would fortify a beleaguered Raiders secondary:
- Trumaine Johnson: The 28-year-old checks all the boxes you want for a press-man corner: Size (6-foot-2), ballhawk and aggressiveness (18 career picks). But the former Ram will come with a hefty price tag, one that several teams will be more than happy to meet.
- Aaron Colvin: The 26-year-old was sticky in coverage and didn’t allow a single touchdown this past season. Don’t let his lack of picks fool you (zero interceptions in four years), he’s an expert slot cover machine.
- Malcolm Butler: Reunite West Alabama teammates Butler and Seth Roberts in Oakland? Why not? Like Johnson, Butler’s price will be high but the 28-year-old has the game to back up the check (eight career INTs and 44 passes defensed, including one very important pick against the Seahawks).
- Rashaan Melvin: Another 28-year-old who fits the size bill at 6-2 and is aggressive. Snared three picks with 13 pass deflections for the Colts this past season. Those three interceptions are his career total in five seasons.
- Others: TJ Carrie; Kyle Fuller; Patrick Robinson; E.J. Gaines; Nickell Robey-Coleman
- Denzel Ward: How interesting would it be if the Raiders nab the CB who took over Conley’s job at Ohio State? Like his predecessor, Ward showed off his coverage chops and has the speed to boot.
- Josh Jackson: Ballhawk he is, tackler he is not. The Iowa Hawkeye checks off the size and speed box and the former wide receiver attacks the ball. Plays the ball, not the man. That is a skill many corners in the NFL are missing.
- Jaire Alexander: Medical concerns are apparent, but when he is on the field, his coverage skills are unquestioned. If he maintains a clean bill of health, the Louisville product is a lockdown corner with excellent speed.
- Donte Jackson: Not as well built as other prospects, but has elite closing speed and is a gambler. This LSU Tiger Can cover the slot and bounce outside thanks to outstanding athleticism.
- Others: Isaiah Oliver (Colorado); Holton Hill (Texas); Kameron Kelly (San Diego St.); Kevin Tolliver II (LSU); Deion Harris (North Dakota)