What will the Oakland Raiders secondary look like in 2019?

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18: Gareon Conley #21 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates an interception with Maurice Hurst #73 in the first half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on November 18, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18: Gareon Conley #21 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates an interception with Maurice Hurst #73 in the first half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on November 18, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Raiders secondary is considered by many to be the team’s Achilles heel. However, 2019 may be the year that this dismal unit turns the corner and becomes the unit they were always meant to be.

2018 was a bad year for the Oakland Raiders. A lackluster offense and a porous defense resulted in a dismal 4-12 record. While Derek Carr and company did their best to keep the team in games, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s unit failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

Head coach Jon Gruden and first-year general manager Mike Mayock have made a concerted effort this offseason to fill the holes and stop the leaks. However, it’s the work of their predecessors that may prove most valuable in the end.

A Secondary in Need of Help

At the close of last season, the Oakland Raiders secondary was ranked 31st overall by Pro Football Focus. And while individuals in the unit looked better in the latter half of the season, the group as a whole left much to be desired.

The franchise has spent the last few years gathering quality pieces to return their defensive backfield to greatness, but as of now, nothing has worked.

Training camps open at the end of the month and the Raiders will have at their disposal three first-round picks in their defensive backfield. Karl Joseph (2016), Gareon Conley (2017), and rookie Johnathan Abram (2019) will be the foundation on which the Raiders rebuild their secondary.

Karl Joseph, Safety

The hard-hitting safety out of West Virginia came aboard with the expectation that he would revive the vintage Raider mystique and swagger in the defensive secondary.

Names like Jack Tatum and George Atkinson are synonymous with Raiders football, and their style of play is legendary. Raider Nation believed that the selection of Joseph was the beginning of something great. Unfortunately, it didn’t come right away, but there were hints of greatness in his play — enough to keep the hope alive.

Joseph’s career got off to a slow start, but in 2018 his play improved and he now looks to be the player the Raiders hoped he would be. His aggressive style has been a welcomed addition to a unit in need of playmakers.

Coming off a breakout year, Joseph’s hard work and leadership will be on full display this season. He will be playing for his team and himself as the Raiders chose not to pick up Joseph’s fifth-year option this offseason.

However, he may be one good year away from remaining a Raider for the foreseeable future.

Gareon Conley, Cornerback

Drafted in 2017 out of Ohio State, Conley’s career couldn’t have started worse. Considered by many experts to be a top talent, he slipped to the 24th overall pick due to rape allegations and ultimately played just two games his rookie season due to injury.

2018 was a much better year for Conley. A slow start to the season resulted in the benching of the former Buckeye and proved to be enough to motivate the second-year defensive back.

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Conley proved to be the best corner on the Raiders roster with three interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — and 15 pass deflections. His late surge in production is an example of his continuing progression.

A talented defensive back with the ability to cover the best wideouts in the NFL, Conley will look to build on his late-season success in 2019.

Johnathan Abram, Safety

Abram is the newest member of the Raiders secondary and has already made an impression on coaches and players alike. A first-round pick out of Mississippi State, Abram — like Joseph — was brought on to be an enforcer.

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Built to play near the line of scrimmage, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound safety will patrol the middle of the field and help to curb both runs and passes on a full-time basis.

In his last season as a Bulldog, Abram put up 99 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and five pass deflections. His athletic ability and willingness to make contact makes him a perfect complement to Joseph and Conley.

A natural-born leader with a work ethic to match, Abram will be a welcomed addition to the new-look Raiders secondary.

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A Young Nucleus

The Raiders are set up for the long haul in their defensive backfield. Joseph, Conley, and Abram are young, talented football players who know the value of hard work.

They’re leaders, charged with turning a bad situation around. In a division that is home to both Philip Rivers and Patrick Mahomes, an excellent defensive secondary will make or break any team, especially one with a history of being generous against the pass.

The Raiders are aware of their faults and have put in the effort to ensure that they stay competitive for years to come.

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2019 will no doubt be a banner year for a secondary on the rise. With hard-hitting safeties and excellent cover-corners, the Oakland Raiders are well on their way to becoming a modern version of the legendary “Soul Patrol.”