In the NFL great safeties are a luxury and teams with two great safeties are few and far between. Great safetie tandems are a QB's worst nightmare...Well, maybe second worst behind the second coming of Lawrence Taylor.
Great safety play usually dictates dominant defensive play. Last year the three teams with the most productive safeties were Tennessee (11 INTs and 153 tackles), Baltimore (10 INTs 110 tackles) and Pittsburgh (8 INTs 160 tackles). All three boasted top defenses in 2008 and combined for a 36-12 record.
With names like Troy Palamalu, Ed Reed, and Michael Griffin the play of the safeties undoubtedly had something to do with these teams' success.
Last year Raiders strong-safety Gibril Wilson led all safeties with 129 tackles and he now leads the Miami Dolphins in tackles. Many fans think that letting him go was a mistake. But don't worry his replacement is doing just fine.
Currently the Raiders second year strong-safety Tyvon Branch is on pace to match Gibril Wilson's 2008 total tackles. After only ten games Branch has 81 tackles under his belt this season, as well as two forced fumbles and a sack.
If the Raiders were to eventually develop a dominant safety tandem, Branch would be the center- piece. He had ridiculous combine numbers including the second fastest 40 time in the 2008 combine behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson. Branch also has experience returning kicks as well as playing both safety positions and corner.
So who will be Tyvon Branch's side-kick and partner in crime in the Raiders safety tandem? Right now it's between hard-hitting rookie Michael Mitchell, fourth year player Michael Huff, while current starting FS Hiram Eugene would be the under-dog.
Right now Michael Huff who seems to be resurecting his career and shedding the title of "bust" is leading the pack. So far in ten games backing up Hiram Eugene he has 39 tackles and three INTs and nine passes defended. Though he is very solid in pass coverage his only downfall is his lack of tackling ability, hence why Eugene starts over him. If he can develop his tackling he has the potential to be great.
Next is controversial second round draft pick Michael Mitchell. So far this year he has been hampered by injuries and used sparingly making most of his tackles on special teams.
So far this year he has only been used in sure running situations and in the Raiders wolverine package, which is a nickel package that uses a third safety near the line of scrimmage. The rookie still has a few questions surrounding him before we can proclaim him as the next Jack Tatum. Like is he durable enough for the NFL and can he keep up in coverage.
Then there's the Raiders starting free-safety Hiram Eugene. Though he doesn't have Huffs flashy speed and skills or Mitchell's hard-hitting when he is on the field he seems to get the job done. Though he is the most experienced of the bunch, in my opinion he has the least potential based on lack of pure physical ability. Also at 29, he is the oldest safety on the Raiders roster.
Which of these players, if any, has the potential to be part of the next great safety tandem on the Raiders. I would like to know what you think Raider Nation.