Reggie McKenzie set the precedent. Remember DJ Hayden? After him came Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley. Sense the pattern? McKenzie, the Oakland Raiders general manager, is on a crusade to fix the troublesome secondary. Free-agent acquisitions have flopped. Draft picks can hit or miss, with Conley still a big fat question mark. Many will argue linebacker has been the bane of McKenzie’s existence as GM; however, defensive back is equally as troublesome.

Of course, new head coach and $100-million man Jon Gruden is the wild card here. He will have sway over the draft, just as Bill the Butcher had sway of Five Points in Gangs of New York.

Nevertheless, do not be shocked if another defensive back is taken at No. 9 or 10 in April’s draft.

Gruden’s handpicked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther oversaw a stout unit with the Cincinnati Bengals. Chucky characterized Guenther’s defense as a downhill go-get-’em type. That was in large part due to a solid set of DBs. Moreover, there’s an outstanding group of prospects to be had in the opening round, starting with…

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  • Minkah Fitzpatrick: The Alabama do-it-all is likely to be a top-five selection. Nevertheless, if this safety/cornerback hybrid falls in the Raiders’ lap, the team will be hard pressed to let him slip any further. A free safety who can drop down to corner to cover the slot, Fitzpatrick gives any team a moveable chess piece to combat offenses. Oakland’s new defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley is bringing a varied and intuitive coverage scheme to the Town. In addition, what better prospect to get that conveyed to the players than Fitzpatrick?
  • Derwin James: Not held in high regard amongst draftniks, James is an imposing tank of a safety that is a pure hard-hitting prospect. He is good in coverage and excels as an edge rusher — something no other defensive back in this draft class can offer. If Guenther seeks to produce a domineering defense in Oakland, James is the perfect enforcer to help make that happen. Joseph at free safety and James at strong safety gives Oakland two legitimate hit men on the back end. That is reminiscent of the glory days, no?
  • Josh Jackson: A former wide receiver who has made the successful conversion into a shutdown cornerback. Uses the wideout instincts to find, track, and make a play on the ball — something Raider DBs cannot do consistently. Regarded as the best pure cover man in the draft class, pairing Double J with Conley gives Oakland two press-man types — with good size, speed, and hands — at the islands. Adding a quality corner in the draft means the Raiders do not have to revert to the horrifically failed “Obi Melifonwu at CB” experiment.
  • Denzel Ward: Another Buckeye in the first round. With great footwork to go along with his speed and ball skills, opponents rarely beat Ward. He appears destined to continue Ohio State’s DBU U moniker. However, unlike his former Buckeye cohorts, Ward is significantly smaller. As the NFL continues to evolve into the land of giant wide receivers, this is the glaring knock on Ward.


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