With the Raiders disappointing season in the books, let us look at how the defensive rookie class performed. Almost all the draftees were expected to contribute and a few were expected to start. The class clearly fell short of the lofty goals established by fans and coaches alike.
By far the most controversial pick of the first round due to the legal concerns that popped just a few days before the draft. Gareon Conley was in many ways expected to be the savior of the defensive backfield from day one. With good size, top end speed, and a nose for the ball, coaches penciled him in as a starter. Then a mysterious shin injury clipped his wings early in mini-camp and then finally grounded him mid-way through the season. His success or should determine this grading of this draft class.
Obi Melifonwu’s role is not clear for the Raiders now as he spent the majority of the season on Injured Reserve. When he did return to the field, it was out of position at Cornerback against Tom Brady and the Patriot buzz saw. Obi projects as a Kam Chancellor like physical freak who still has a lot of learning to do about the position. Expect for he and Karl Joseph to take over as Strong and Free Safety respectively next season.
With as many issues as the defense had overall, coaches hoped Eddie Vanderdoes and a finally healthy Mario Edwards Jr. would form a formidable tandem. In short, that was not what happened. Vanderdoes struggled at times with the size and strength of NFL offensive linemen. Still despite his struggles, he did show some promise, particularly in the Tennessee Titans game where he notched a few hurries. His next step will be consistently getting a push against the run, and gap integrity against the pass.
To date Marquel Lee’s pick has been a complete whiff on Reggie McKenzie’s part, but that may not entirely be Lee’s fault. Early in the summer program, Lee received the green dot over veteran free agents. By the second week, it was clear that he was not ready for the responsibility. Lee failed with play diagnosis, late to the play itself. By season’s end, he played more special teams snaps than actual defensive snaps.
After weeks of banging pots and pans for him, fans saw Shalom Luani versus the Bills. To be fair, the performance was terrible all the way around. Be that as it may, Luani slowly rebounded after returning to the bench again. Luani grasped what Ken Norton Jr. was asking of him. Yet, he did not get enough snaps to make a name for himself. Next season, fans can hope that he asserts himself as a nickleback. o
Treyvon Hester worked his way into a rotational role on the defensive line. Although unspectacular, he held up well. He finds himself squarely in a developmental role and maybe even a replacement for Justin Ellis in the middle.
Before anything else, many did not expect Nicholas Morrow to see the field. His playing time spoke to lack of depth at linebacker. With that said, Morrow more than held his own. While he may never be elite, he could evolve into solid player. He initially struggled with diagnosing plays and often being a step late. However many of the issues he faced also fall on the scheme. Morrow found himself chasing uncovered running backs and tight ends on coverage busts that were not his fault. This season served as a valuable learning experience for him. In addition, the Raiders would do well to turn him into a super-sub.
Like Morrow, no one expected Xavier Woodson-Luster to see the field. Unlike Morrow, teams picked on him immediately. While you can appreciate the effort, it was clear that he just was not ready for the big leagues.