The Oakland Raiders banked a lot on their secondary improving through the addition of their first two draft picks: Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu. But as we head into the third preseason game of the year, the two have yet to see any game action and Conley has yet to start practicing. Melifonwu has hit the practice field but has been limited for the most part.
Because of that, it’s hard to see either player having much of an impact on the team early in the season.
Before the injuries sidelined him, Conley was a guy that most were penning in as a starter in the nickel corner position at the very least. Many went right ahead and penned him in at a starting outside corner position. The most realistic view, however, was that Conley was likely going to be moved around, following whoever the shifty, speedy receiver on the other team is. The Raiders have big physical corners in David Amerson and Sean Smith but they need someone with more athleticism to cover guys like Brandin Cooks, who burned the Raiders badly last year.
Meanwhile, Obi Melifonwu wasn’t seen as a day one starter by most, but he was seen as a day one contributor. The Raiders addressed their problems guarding shifty receivers with Conley and attacked their issues with covering tight ends through Melifonwu. With the continued move towards three and four wide receiver sets in the NFL, teams spend far more time in their sub packages than base packages these days. And when in the nickel or dime, Melifonwu was a guy the Raiders could use as a S/LB hybrid who could cover tight ends and also offer run support while playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Most NFL teams expect their first and second round picks to have an impact in year one and the Raiders were no different. The problem is, with neither getting any reps during training camp, it’s highly unlikely they will be ready to see playing time by the start of the season.
Conley was seen as one of the most NFL ready corners in a draft class that was stacked with great talent at the corner position. That’s a major reason why many saw him as a day one starter despite the fact that corners often have a more difficult time transitioning to the NFL game than many other positions. But without any reps in training camp or the first two preseason games, Conley will need to get healthy and on the field in at least one of the last two preseason games if he hopes to be a starter on day one.
Luckily for him, Sean Smith has been so bad, Conley won’t have to do a whole lot more than just get on the field and be healthy in order to get significant playing time or even a starter role in week one.
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