The Oakland Raiders have high expectations this year, but New England Patriots are still out there. A few experts that gave the Raiders the best chance to beat the Patriots in the playoffs last year. But that was before QB Derek Carr broke his leg and we all know what happened from there.
Now, Carr is all rehabbed and ready to go with a fat new contract to go out and prove he’s worth. And the experts are giving the Raiders the best chance to beat the Patriots in the playoffs this year. Of course, that’s all contingent on Carr and other key players staying healthy long enough.
And to me, 2017 2nd-round pick Obi Melifonwu will be a huge factor into the Raiders chances. At 6’4″, 225 pounds, Melifonwu is a solid tackler and has the physicality to be an in-the-box SS. He’s also a freak athlete, running a 4.40 40 and posting a 11’9″ broad jump and a 44-inch vertical leap.
And to go with it, he has fluid hips and feet from his days as a CB starting out at UConn. Somehow, the Raiders were able to get this gem in Round 2 after taking CB Gareon Conley in Round 1. Conley is arguably the best CB from this draft class and Melifonwu is arguably the best SS.
The Raiders run Cover-1/Cover-3, press-bail coverage so Melifonwu fits perfectly at SS for them. And they need to improve on leading the NFL in pass plays over 20 yards given up in 2016. A good portion of those were given up by CBs to fast WRs and the Patriots just got Brandin Cooks this offseason.
That’s why the Raiders drafted Conley plus they improved their interior D-line to rush Tom Brady. But of course, the Patriots still have TE Rob Gronkowski, one of the most prolific TEs in the NFL. He’s too big for secondary guys and too fast for LBs so the NFL hasn’t been able to stop him.
But Melifonwu’s unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to shut down TEs. Gronk and other athletic TEs have never seen an answer for them quite like Melifonwu. Kam Chancellor gives them enough fits with his size, physicality and coverage skills.
But again, to go with his size, Melifonwu has CB movement skills and that blazing 4.40 40 speed. So it will be difficult for these athletic TEs to run away from or catch the ball over Melifonwu. The Oakland Raiders are actually built to beat the Patriots and many different ways now.
But stopping Gronkowski is the most important one!
Just win, baby!