At this point of the season last year, the Raiders’ defensive backs appeared lost. The Raiders’ first round pick Gareon Conley was injured. With no timetable for his return, opposing receivers tore through the secondary. The Raiders played “Big 12 football”. They hoped that a shaky Derek Carr could produce more points than their defense would allow. In that case, the season-long results were nothing above abysmal.
However, this year is already shaping in to a fresh start for the Raider’s secondary. Up 12 spots to #11 in the ranks of opponent passing yards per game from this point last season, the Raiders have clearly made changes. Possibly the most significant change in the Raiders’ secondary this offseason could be Rashaan Melvin.
While the addition of one cornerback typically will not significantly improve the overall defense of a team, it can certainly help take pressure off the cornerback opposite him, which in this case is another notable cornerback in Gareon Conley. Although Conley is listed as the lead cornerback, Melvin has a case. He recorded the Raiders’ first interception of the season when he made a touchdown saving pick in Week 2. To some franchises, this would be just another interception. Yet, for the Raiders, this interception came ten weeks earlier than their first interception in 2017. An interception in Week 2 shows Melvin is on pace for eight interceptions this season.
This season, Melvin has been the Raiders’ redeeming feature of sorts. Coming off his best season in 2017, Melvin has kept, if not improved, his level of play and was able to hold Case Keenum to a 19.2-passer rating when targeted, which was second best in the league in Week 2. Melvin also allowed only four receptions on 10 pass attempts. If Melvin can keep this up, and maybe teach Conley a few things, the Raiders could find themselves with one of the best cornerback combinations in the league.
Looking ahead, Melvin and the Raiders have two winnable, but also must-win, games ahead of them. In the next two weeks, the Raiders face the Dolphins in Miami and the Browns in Oakland respectively. In these games, Melvin will see Ryan Tannehill and Tyrod Taylor. Tannehill has thrown for less than 400 yards this season, but boasts an impressive 72% completion rate.
After his impressive performance in Week 2, Melvin will most likely guard Miami’s leading wide receiver, Danny Amendola. Most known for his play with the Patriots, Amendola is small, shifty, and easy to lose in crossing routes. Despite being the team’s receiving leader, Amendola tallied only eight catches this season. In addition, among starting quarterbacks, Tannehill owns one of the lowest pass attempts per game averages. However, the Dolphins may call for Tannehill to throw more if they trail. While he may have his hands full, Melvin should be able to keep up with and shut down the catalyst of the Miami Dolphins’ passing game.
In Week 4, Melvin should square off against Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor netted almost 450 yards this season, he connected on a 53% completion rate. Also, he only threw two touchdowns.
Landry ranks in the top 15 receivers in the league in receiving yards. Howveer, he only ranks in the top 30 in YPC. Like guarding Amendola, Melvin will find himself cagainst short passing routes and will have to make tackles quickly to prevent Landry from using his impressive speed to turn a five-yard comeback into a 60-yard touchdown. If Melvin can keep Landry in front of him, he can slow down Tyrod Taylor’s pass progressions. Hopefully, this could allow even the most disappointing pass rushes to apply pressure.