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Raiders Made Much-Needed Upgrades On Defense In 2017 NFL Draft

The 2017 NFL Draft featured the deepest pool of talent in recent years and certainly did not disappoint in terms of excitement.

There were plenty of surprises during the three-day period in Philadelphia, Penn. which saw many playoff-hopeful teams get better in both the short-term and long-term.

The Oakland Raiders came away with nine selections, further improving at key positions while adding valuable depth to the organization.

Let’s look back at the Raiders’ selections and see how they fit in the team’s plans going forward.

Owning the 24th overall pick, the Raiders caught a huge break in the first round as an abundance of offensive players were selected earlier than expected. This enabled star Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, who was projected as a top-15 pick, to fall into Oakland’s lap.

Conley, 22 years old in June, allowed a 13.6 passer rating as a junior last season — the lowest mark among all NCAA defensive backs according to Pro Football Focus. He will instantly upgrade a cornerbacks unit that underperformed in 2016 and fills in nicely at the nickel position.

There’s no denying that Conley is talented, but his legal troubles off the field were a large factor for his drop in round one.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie felt confident enough to select Conley despite his rape allegations just days before the draft, and a ruling on his case will be determined over the coming weeks.

The Raiders ultimately chose him over Alabama middle linebacker Reuben Foster, who, like Conley, was supposed to be selected much earlier in the first round. Shoulder concerns led to Foster’s fall, though the San Francisco 49ers eventually drafted him with the 31st overall pick.

Both Conley and Foster come with their own kind of baggage and will be closely compared to each other during the early years of their respective careers.

Whether or not the Raiders made the right decision with Conley remains to be seen, but if he’s cleared from any wrongdoing, he figures to be a cornerstone in Oakland’s secondary for the next decade and more.

In the second round, the Raiders nabbed another potential first round talent with pick 56 in Obi Melifonwu. The hybrid safety from the University of Connecticut saw his stock rise during the combine when he registered an impressive 4.40 mark in the 40-yard dash, along with a staggering 11’9” broad jump.

Melifonwu is a natural safety but also took snaps as a cornerback and linebacker in college, making him one of the more versatile players in the draft. His 6’4” size especially allows him to matchup with tight ends, which will be a welcome sight for the Raiders who struggled in that department over recent seasons.

In the third round, the Raiders addressed their defensive line with University of California, Los Angeles defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.

Vanderdoes battled with injuries last season but performed at an elite level in 2015, grading out as one of the best run stoppers in college football. The Raiders are banking on the Auburn, Calif. native to return to that level and bolster what was a relatively weak position for the team in recent years.

Though the Raiders have arguably the strongest offensive line in the AFC, the team selected Florida tackle David Sharpe with the 129th overall pick (fourth round).

The 6’8” lineman will presumably compete for the wide open right tackle job during training camp and certainly has a size advantage among fellow teammates. Early scouting reports indicate that Sharpe needs to improve his run blocking skills but is well advanced in the pass blocking department.

In the fifth round, the Raiders finally addressed their biggest defensive hole with Wake Forest middle linebacker Marquel Lee.

Lee, a physical force, eclipsed 100 tackles twice during his four years of college ball. While his run stopping skills are impressive, the 21-year old needs to show improvement in pass coverage.

Already owning two picks in the seventh round, the Raiders flipped their sixth round selection to the Seattle Seahawks and acquired two additional picks in the final round — pushing their total to four.

Since being named general manager in 2012, McKenzie has shown a tendency of finding gems in the later rounds; The Raiders hope that this year’s selections in Washington State defensive back Shalom Luani, Alabama State offensive tackle Jylan Ware, North Carolina running back Elijah Hood and Toledo defensive tackle Treyvon Hester are the latest prospects to prove that notion correct.

Notable undrafted free agent signings for the Raiders include Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher, Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas and Mississippi defensive lineman Fadol Brown.