11 most important Oakland Raiders defensive players in 2017

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Photo via Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 – CB David Amerson

Oakland struggled to limit great quarterbacks last season in part because of their often lacking cornerback corps. Raiders cornerback David Amerson had an impressive 2016 campaign but had a slight drop off in 2017.

With many tall and broad wide receivers on Oakland’s schedule, Amerson has the perfect tools to match up against them. He just needs to become more consistent with his play.

No. 4 – CB Gareon Conley

Oakland repeatedly got burned by smaller wide receivers, including New England Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and needs a cornerback to match up with that type of player.

Enter Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley.

Conley is expected to take over in the slot and will most likely be given the task of guys like Cooks.

Conley has all the talent in the world and could become a shutdown corner. If he can help in the slot, then Oakland will have fixed one of their biggest issues from 2016.

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Photo via Stew Milne/Associated Press

No. 3 – S Obi Melifonwu

This fall, many pundits will select the Raiders to play New England in the AFC championship game. Therefore, Oakland is going to need to match up well against the Patriots, or they will be in for a long night.

Raiders safety Obi Melifonwu is one of the most athletically gifted rookies in a long time in the NFL. As such, he can play nickel, safety, and linebacker.

When Oakland faces the Patriots, he will probably be matched up against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Melifonwu matches up perfectly as he has the size at 6-foot-4, but also the 4.40 speed.

To beat New England, one must stop Gronkowski. Melifonwu will have to do that if Oakland wants to head to the Super Bowl in 2018.

No. 2 – MLB Cory James/Marquel Lee

Raiders linebackers Cory James and Marquel Lee are the two main competitors for the starting inside linebacker position, and the winner will get this spot.

It is well-known that Oakland’s largest weakness is in the middle of the defense. They struggled to stop the run last year and often struggled to cover tight ends, a middle linebacker’s assignments.

Therefore, they will need vast improvements at the position in 2017, but it might be difficult as the expected starter will either be a second-year player or a rookie.

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No. 1 – DE Khalil Mack

If the 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year isn’t playing at that level for all of next season, then it won’t matter what other moves Oakland made in the offseason, the team will be toast.

Mack won games by himself last season by forcing clutch turnovers. Every time a game was close, it was Mack forcing a fumble, sacking the quarterback or putting pressure on the quarterback leading to a turnover.

Without Mack, the defense would be amongst the worst in NFL history.

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