When the Raiders drafted Karl Joseph coming off an injury, fans collectively groaned. Though tantalizing as a Bob Sanders-esque Mighty Mouse patrolling the middle of the field, he was also another undersized injured defensive back.
Fans, still flinching at the mention of D.J. Hayden, wondered if McKenzie would ever draft a larger safety like Keanu Neal. Though Joseph did what he could to work back from injury, and the defense performed better when he played, his overall impact felt muted. McKenzie went with a dynamo at safety. Yet, the position still feels very thin.
The next season McKenzie bucked his prior trend in terms of size selecting the 6’1” Gareon Conley and 6’3” Obi Melifonwu. The Raiders knew, and still know, exactly what they were getting with Conley. Even as his injuries stole valuable playing time, McKenzie covers rangy corners.
With Obi, though the Raiders clearly took a chance on a player they hope would fit. During desperate times, the team even tried him as a cornerback. That season went horribly awry thanks in part to the lack of back end cohesion. As a result, opposing tight ends would regularly lose their defenders.
This is expected to be the season where the defensive backs expected to take a big step forward. If Karl Joseph will see Las Vegas, he needs to earn his trip this coming season. Currently, the Raiders would likely decline his option at his current pace.
Obi, on the other hand, may already be on his way out the door. The second-year safety struggled to find a position under Jack Del Rio. Due to his size, some consider him a potential linebacker/safety hybrid. However, right now, he appears just raw and injury prone. If the Raiders want their defense to take the next step they’have two options. Either draft a safety high or overpay in free agency.