The Oakland Raiders may have the steal of the 2017 NFL Draft in second-round pick Obi Melifonwu. He was projected as a mid to late first-round pick but fell all the way to the late second round. And it is possible that he ends up better than the safeties that went before him in the first round.
At 6’4″, 225 pounds and running a 4.40 40 with cornerback hips, Melifonwu is the most gifted. So the Raiders will use him at strong safety in the box and to cover those big, athletic tight ends. That means 2016 first-round strong safety Karl Joseph can move back to his more natural free safety position.
The Raiders also drafted Shalom Luani, another safety, in the seventh round, for depth. So of course, 2016 starting free safety Reggie Nelson, who has lost a step, has been put on notice. But the 33-year-old still wants to play football and isn’t ready to give that job up to anyone just yet.
He told the Raiders’ website per NBC Bay Area:
“You [have to] fight with all these young guys. When they get drafted, your job is already in jeopardy. It’s up to you go keep doing the little things right, and competing. Coach Jack [Del Rio] always preaches here. He wants to see competing. That’s it. He wants to compete, and you’ll get your fair shot. If you beat him out, you beat him out.
“It’s all about doing your job, and keep doing the little things, and at the same time, bringing along the guy next to you, because if something happens to you, you don’t want to skip a beat at all. You can’t be too selfish in this league.”
That all sounds good but it’s going to be tough keeping Joseph out of his natural position of free safety. And Melifonwu is necessary for covering guys like Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. The Raiders can also use more salary cap room to get quarterback Derek Carr signed to an extension.
So barring injury, I don’t see where Nelson be around long.