After a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Oakland Raiders are going to need to step up if they want to return to the playoffs again. While it must be a group effort, there are some players who need to raise their own individual game if the Silver & Black want to have a successful year. Obviously, there are the big names like Derek Carr or Amari Cooper, but let’s take a deeper look at some smaller names that need to up their level of play.
It’s already going to be tough for Roberts this season since the receiving group became more populated during the offseason with the additions of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant. There is uncertainty regarding if he’ll even make the 53 man roster as the aforementioned Bryant and Nelson along with Amari Cooper all above Roberts on the depth chart. Roberts is currently battling Ryan Switzer for the fourth receiver spot. This would be a demotion of years past for Roberts. Switzer also is a special teams threat, which bolsters his chances of making the active roster.
Another factor hurting Roberts was his disappointing 2017 season. While the entire receiving corps was at fault for a surprising number of drops last year, Roberts stood out among the group. Although not alone, Roberts had countless drops, and it’s hard not to remember his disastrous first half against the New England Patriots in Mexico last year, where he killed the offense’s momentum.
However, with all that being said, Roberts has talent. After all, it was his talent that launched him from the practice squad to the active roster just a few short seasons ago. It’s this same talent that helped the Silver and Black come away victorious so many times in clutch situations. Hopefully, the addition of these new receivers serves as a wake-up call to Roberts, and he can get back on track this year.
It’s hard to fault a player for missing time due to an injury, but it’s still disappointing nonetheless. That’s how Raider Nation felt last season when their first-round pick missed 15 games with shin splints. In the one game Conley did play, against the Jets, he looked excellent. Missing Conley ended up being a huge loss for the defense and it showed with poor play from the secondary.
Conley still has the talent to be a lock-down corner this year. He did miss the last two practices this spring with a groin injury but Gruden claims he’ll be ready for training camp. The first step to making an impact on the field is getting on the field for Conley.
It is encouraging that Conley was a standout talent this spring. Last year, in 53 snaps as a rookie, he gave up just four catches for 35 yards. That kind of production is absolutely vital to the success of the Raiders defense. It would be a huge gain to have him on the field this year, and just as big of a loss if he can’t be.
Obi has been a peculiar case for the Raiders so far. Drafted in the second round last year, he was put on the IR quickly after suffering a knee injury. He would return just to be set up for failure by several awful coaching decisions. He didn’t seem completely healthy and was positioned terribly. Subsequently, in a Week 11 matchup last season, Tom Brady had his way with Obi and the rest of the Raider defense. It almost seemed like the coaches broke Obi physically and mentally that game.
He doesn’t seem to be appreciated too much by the current staff either. Gruden was critical about him missing time early in camp, and he hasn’t gotten many opportunities since joining practice again. Even with Marcus Gilchrist not practicing recently, Melifonwu was still playing with the third team defense. Special teams stand out Erik Harris and undrafted rookie free agent Dallin Leavitt were getting reps before him.
“Only he can stand in his way, to be honest with you”, said Reggie Nelson about Obi and his progress. Reggie is right. The only way Obi can help himself get extra reps, and some more respect from the coaching staff is by performing well on the field. It’s something this defense could really use. If anybody needs a bounce-back season, it’s Obi Melifonwu.
Seth Roberts, Gareon Conley, and Obi Melifonwu are three players who have to step up this year if the team wants to be successful. While they’re not big names outside of the Raiders’ fan base, they’re vital to the team’s success. It’s time for them to lead the way. Raider Nation, Ramble on in the comments, which three players would you like to see step up this season?