Taking a look at the Pro Football Focus grades of the notable free agent signings the Oakland Raiders made on defense this offseason.
Jon Gruden, Reggie McKenzie and the Oakland Raiders have been active players in free agency to this point. Not only did they release multiple players from the 2017 roster, including Sean Smith and David Amerson, but they also have been busy re-signing some of their own such as Justin Ellis and Reggie Nelson.
As is the case every year, the Raiders also lost several key contributors — most notably TJ Carrie and Denico Autry. Gruden has made it abundantly clear that the defensive side of the ball lacks the talent the Raiders need to get back to the playoffs. At the start of the free agency period, McKenzie was in a bit of a precarious position based on the fact that the team was not flush with cash to go after signing high-end free agents in the past, as well as the extension of Derek Carr. Not to mention the looming extension for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack.
Rather than tossing ridiculous amounts of money at players like Trumaine Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, although fan favorites, McKenzie has taken a more patient and budget-friendly approach. On the defensive side of the ball alone, REggie has been able to fill holes and add depth with players at a good value.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable players added, their Pro Football Focus grades from 2017, and what they can offer to the Raiders in 2018.
Tahir Whitehead – 79.6
Whitehead, 27, is coming off a very strong 2017 season where he ranked 25th at his position according to Pro Football Focus. His strength is against the run, where he earned an 87.6. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will look to take full advantage of Whitehead’s versatility to play inside and outside linebacker. In 2017, Whitehead led the Detroit Lions in tackles with 110.
An area where Whitehead struggles is in pass coverage. In 2017, he graded out at only 45.5. The Raiders have been plagued in recent years by not having a linebacker who can cover.Whitehead may not solve that problem but he surely is an upgrade to the linebacker room regardless.
At the moment, NaVorro Bowman is still unsigned but all indications are that their is mutual interest. If Bowman is back in the mix, Whitehead will move to the outside. Whitehead’s three-year contract is worth a little more than six million dollars annually.
Rashaan Melvin – 85.7
The signing of Rashaan Melvin could turn out to be the steal of free agency. Melvin, 28, is coming off a career year with the Indianapolis Colts. Melvin’s grade of 85.7 in 2017 ranked him 17th among cornerbacks.
Consider for a moment that the two marquee names at cornerback that were available in this free agent market were Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler, who were both paid much, much more than Melvin.
According to Pro Football Focus, Butler ranked 51st and Johnson 68th at the position in 2017. Both received contracts that were more than double the size of Melvin’s. McKenzie and Gruden deserve much praise for not getting into a bidding war, and rather they spent time looking deeper into the free agency pool and finding good value at a premium position.
Melvin has shutdown corner ability and will immediately step into the Raiders number one cornerback role. Rashaan has also not been shy on social media about his excitement to be a member of the Raiders. It should also be noted that motivation should be a huge factor for Melvin, as his contract is only a one year deal and he will most certainly be seeking a long term deal at seasons end.
Tank Carradine – 78.1
In 2017, Carradine graded out at 78.1 overall. If you take a closer look at his grade you will see his strength is in run defense, where he earned a grade of 82.6 versus 71.8 in pass rush. Carradine spent time on injured reserve last season with a high ankle sprain but was effective when he returned.
The former 2013 second-round pick has only 5.5 career sacks but can be a force against the run in early downs. Carradine is capable of playing multiple positions along the line which should make it easier for him to find time in the defensive line rotation.
Marcus Gilchrist – 77.2
Another one of the handful of additions made to the secondary, Marcus Gilchrist was brought in to add some competition and depth at the position. In Week 14 of the 2016 season, Gilchrist ruptured his patellar tendon and was cut in the offseason by the New York Jets. Despite coming off the knee injury in 2017, Gilchrist signed with the Houston Texans and was serviceable, starting in 13 games.
Gilchrist earned a 77.2 overall in 2017, and what is encouraging for the Raiders defense is that he graded out with a 76.6 in pass coverage. Karl Joseph (56.2) and Reggie Nelson (44.7) both struggled badly in coverage in 2017. It’s possible Gilchrist could carve out a big-time role in the secondary if he can continue to be productive in coverage.