The Oakland Raiders defense was hands down the worst part of the team in 2016. While the offense and special teams units were among the best in the league, the defense was among the worst. As a result, the Raiders created a new assistant head coach position for defense and brought in John Pagano to help on the coaching side of things. On the player side, the Raiders added seven new defensive players between free agency and the NFL Draft.
But even with the new additions, Raiders fans are left wondering if it will be enough and what the defense is even going to look like. On Thursday, general manager Reggie McKenzie went on 95.7 The Game and among the many tidbits he gave was a hint at how the Raiders plan on playing defense in 2017.
We just knew we needed some depth and we needed to play matchup football, so we made sure we were able to do that. I feel like we got some really good players at those positions, at both safety and corner, we feel like this is a passing league and we need to be able to cover.
Anyone who watched the Raiders closely last season knows exactly what Reggie McKenzie is talking about when he mentions matchup football. While there were plenty of problems with the defense, two kinds of players in particular caused serious problems for Oakland: Tight ends and shifty wide receivers (think Brandin Cooks).
The first two draft picks by the Raiders were secondary players who are not guaranteed to be starters in year one. Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu are at positions where there are assumed starters in David Amerson, Sean Smith, Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson.
But McKenzie seems to have confirmed what most of us theorized already: Even if they don’t start, Conley and Melifonwu will play a big role on defense. Because as it just so happens, Conley and Melifonwu are the perfect matchups for tight ends and shifty wide receivers.
I’ve already made jokes about Melifonwu playing the “tight end assassin” position this season and it appears that Conley will join him in the special assignments unit as a “shifty wide receiver assassin.”
It’s not clear how often those two will be on the field but with the NFL moving more and more into a passing league where defenses play more often than not in their sub packages, there will be plenty of opportunities for them to get o the field as key matchup pieces for the Raiders.