Raiders' McKenzie Believes Luani is a ‘Playmaker'

Washington State safety, a seventh-round pick, has shown a nose for the football in his brief time with the Raiders since being drafted

It’s unlikely that Shalom Luani will win a starting job in training camp when the Raiders report later this month.

In fact, Luani, a seventh-round pick out of Washington State, wasn’t even the team’s top pick at safety in this recent draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie chose Obi Melifonwu five rounds earlier. And, after offseason workouts, Luani goes into camp behind both Karl Joseph and Keith McGill at strong safety. Melifonwu is competing with Reggie Nelson at free safety.

And yet, Luani has a quality that McKenzie loves.

“That guy is a playmaker,” McKenzie said after the draft. “You can look at one quarter of football and you know he loves the game. He’s very aware as a football player. You can tell he’s a student of the game.”

Luani, a 6-foot, 205-pounder, started two seasons at Washington State and showed a talent for being around the football. He was in on 90 tackles as a junior and 67 as a senior, including a combined 11.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He had four interceptions each year, including one returned for a touchdown.

The knock on Luani is that he has poor tackling skills. The former soccer player in American Samoa is a terrific athlete who scored a goal for his national team in a soccer win over Tonga, but will need to become a much better tackler to earn a spot on the roster as a special teamer and backup at safety.

But in offseason workouts since being drafted, Luani has performed well. Eddie Paskall of noted recently that Luani’s potential as a big hitter seems high.

“Granted the team hasn’t once put the pads on since Luani came to town, but throughout rookie mini-camp and the offseason workout program, the stocky safety has shown a nose for the football,” he wrote.

In full-squad workouts in June, Luani was impressive on one particular day, wrote Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group. Luani intercepted a pass by Connor Cook and then batted down a pass by Derek Carr intended for Amari Cooper in the end zone.

“It’s just me knowing my assignment and knowing what to do on the field when you’re out there,” Luani told Durkin later. “Just got to show the coaches that you can do the work and make the plays.”

Luani says he’s just grateful for the opportunity he now has to make this team.

“I’m just glad he (McKenzie) decided to draft me,” Luani told Durkin. “I owe it to the organization and my family here, so I’ve got to work my butt off.”

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