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How Nick Nelson fits with the Oakland Raiders

A Q&A with Silver and Black Pride

NCAA Football: Maryland at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The first Wisconsin player selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, cornerback Nick Nelson found a professional football home with the Oakland Raiders.

The fourth-round draft pick now finds himself with the AFC West organization as part of Jon Gruden’s first class as a returning head coach. How Nelson, who led the nation in pass break-ups last season, is utilized by the Raiders’ defense after recovering from his meniscus injury will be something to watch.

To help us break down Nelson’s opportunities in Oakland, we reached out to Silver and Black Pride’s Levi Damien. The interview below was edited slightly for clarity.

How do you feel about Gruden’s first draft as head coach (again), and what are your thoughts on the Nelson pick overall?

Levi: I am simultaneously skeptical and intrigued by this draft. The Raiders reached for several picks, didn’t get enough in compensation for trading down in the first round, made an inexplicable trade up to get Brandon Parker out of North Carolina A&T in the third round, and added a lot of players with injury and character-issue history. As far as the Nelson pick, I think it was a solid pick in the fourth round. He dropped on some boards due to his meniscus tear and dropped completely off other boards. But he should recover fine from it and be available this season, and his talent suggests he was a day-two pick. Still have to wonder about that zero-interception thing, though.

Does Nelson fill a need at cornerback for the Raiders, and how will the coaching staff utilize him?

Cornerback was very much a need this offseason. They completely overhauled their cornerback unit, cutting Sean Smith and David Amerson and letting T.J. Carrie leave in free agency. That being said, they made enough moves pre-draft to allow them to get by this season should a guy they like not be available in the draft. Last year’s top pick, Gareon Conley, is returning from his shin injury that had him out nearly all of last season. They added Rashaan Melvin on a one-year deal to start opposite him and then brought in four other corners to compete for the nickel/slot corner job. Nelson makes four competing for that job. Nelson is also the only one of the additions with multiple years ahead on his deal, so he is also an investment in the future.

Who will Nelson have to compete against to earn reps in training camp and playing time on the field?

The primary group of cornerbacks with whom Nelson will be competing for three to four spots on the roster are Antonio Hamilton, Dexter McDonald, Shareece Wright, Leon Hall, Senquez Golson, and Daryl Worley. There are three other corners who may or may not have been brought in to play safety. If they play cornerback, that’s 12 guys for 5-to-6 spots. I would expect one or more of these guys to be cut pretty soon. That’s a lot of corners, even for an offseason roster.

Nelson returned punts for Wisconsin last year, including taking one 50 yards for a touchdown against Michigan. Do the Raiders have a need in that third phase of the game?

Oh yes. Most definitely. They had running back Jalen Richard at punt returner last season and he led the league in fumbles. Seven of his eight fumbles last season were as a return man, either muffing the punt or fumbling it on the return. And he didn’t average much, either. Nelson’s punt-return abilities will raise his value considerably, though after the draft, they traded for Cowboys wide receiver/return specialist Ryan Switzer and added Griff Whalen this offseason, so there is now some competition for that job.

“Way too early” thoughts here: Do you see Nelson potentially contributing after returning from injury, and what could be some significant factors that could influence that?

He will have that opportunity. Most of the guys the Raiders brought in, they’re taking a chance on. Hall and Wright are both veterans getting a last shot playing for coaches who know them from previous stops. Golson and Worley are recent former high draft picks that didn’t work out, whether it be injury or off-the-field problems. And Hamilton and McDonald have just been hanging around the roster bubble for a few years, so not much is expected of them. Nelson will have plenty of opportunity to beat any and all of them out for playing time. In fact, I’m sure they’d like that to happen. But he will have an uphill climb with the others getting a shot to prove themselves this offseason before Nelson takes the field in training camp.

2018 NFL Draft Badgers tracker

Player Position Team Draft Selection/UDFA Draft Pick/Signing Story Scouting Report Interview
Player Position Team Draft Selection/UDFA Draft Pick/Signing Story Scouting Report Interview
Nick Nelson CB Oakland Raiders Round 4, Pick 10 (No. 110 overall) Read Here Read Here
Troy Fumagalli TE Denver Broncos Round 5, Pick 19 (No. 156 overall) Read Here Read Here
Natrell Jamerson S New Orleans Saints Round 5, Pick 27 (No. 164 overall) Read Here Read Here Read Here
Jack Cichy LB Tampa Bay Buccaneers Round 6, Pick 28 (No. 202 overall) Read Here Read Here Read Here
Leon Jacobs LB Jacksonville Jaguars Round 7, Pick 12 (No. 230 overall) Read Here Read Here
Garret Dooley LB Minnesota Vikings UDFA Read Here Read Here
Alec James DL Arizona Cardinals UDFA Read Here Read Here
Austin Ramesh FB Arizona Cardinals UDFA Read Here Read Here Read Here
Conor Sheehy DL Green Bay Packers UDFA Read Here Read Here
Derrick Tindal CB Read Here
Joe Ferguson S Green Bay Packers Tryout Read Here
Lubern Figaro CB Cleveland Browns Tryout Read Here Read Here