Trayvon Mullen proved to be an indispensable asset to a struggling secondary last year. The second Clemson player selected by the Oakland Raiders last draft, more often than not, displayed traits of a shutdown cornerback throughout the season.
It is not often that a second round draft pick is the fourth selection of a team in a draft. Last year, the Raiders traded back from pick 35 to pick 40 with the Bills in efforts to acquire additional draft capital and still acquired their fourth man, Mullen. However, the 2019 College Football National Championship Game Defensive MVP consistently proved throughout his time at Clemson that he could’ve been selected in the first round.
In 801 "coverage snaps" in his three years at Clemson, Trayvon Mullen never allowed a touchdown.
— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) May 1, 2019
It is close to impossible not to a allow a single touchdown in four games, let alone a three year collegiate career, which is what Mullen did last season. It’s probable that his play was only surpassed by his confidence heading into his rookie campaign.
Trayvon Mullen says he's an elite prospect, thinks he's the best corner in this draft. "I'm aggressive, I play big, I play strong. I'm a tackle guy. I'm physical and I like to get after guys."
— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) April 27, 2019
Mullen said he was the best corner in the 2019 NFL draft, but did he live up to his own self proclaimed hype?
Related: Raiders in Review: Daryl Worley
A Rocky Start
Mullen’s self-trust may have taken a slight hit when he suffered a preseason injury that impacted his production throughout the first seven weeks of the season. In addition, Gareon Conley was still atop the cornerback depth chart with Daryl Worley, Lamarcus Joyner (nickel) and Nevin Lawson in the wings. The former Clemson cornerback found himself in quite a predicament while being buried in the depth chart and facing physical ailment.
The Perfect Opportunity
A golden opportunity arose, and it ultimately was the driving force behind Mullen gaining more playing time.
Coach Gruden: "We did trade cornerback Gareon Conley to the Houston Texans. … We wish Gareon the best."
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) October 21, 2019
The Raiders then traded Conley to the Texans in the same week they traveled to face them. Immediately, Mullen was thrown into the fire to prove himself midway through the 2019 season.
Raiders rookie CB Trayvon Mullen (@MullenIsland1) made his 1st NFL start, had a solid game. In man coverage, single high safety, 3rd & 2. Mullen travels with man in motion. Doesn't give up ground, reads break of WR, nearly comes up with pick 6. #Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/mCaX1soQIb
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) October 29, 2019
In his first career start, Mullen’s abilities were on full display, demonstrating the confidence he had prior to the season’s start. As reward, he played in 75% of the defensive snaps in his first significant action and became the starter the remainder of the season. Moving forward, he consistently built upon key fundamental qualities.
One of the strongest aspects of Mullen’s game was his physical play. He made it clear that he would fight to get to opposing receivers and bring them down with the same effort.
CB Trayvon Mullen (@MullenIsland1) has shown plenty of potential in coverage. This time, shows physicality working off block of WR then making strong tackle on this slot screen. Has all the tools to be a #1 CB in future.#Raidernation pic.twitter.com/6nwGLbNUkB
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) December 18, 2019
As you can see above, Mullen was willing and more than capable of fighting through blockers to make a successful open field tackle, where he only missed 9.4% of tackles. That percentage placed him in the top third of all defensive players in 2019.
CB Trayvon Mullen (@MullenIsland1) shows toughness that Gruden covets. Week after being taken off field on stretcher he was back in lineup. Playing press man, gets hands on WR Sutton, impedes the route, then stays on him to get pass defended. #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/BkACPpUrSm
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) December 31, 2019
While his open field tackling was top notch, he also pressed opposing receivers with the same tenacity. Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, but Mullen made light work of him on the play above.
While his physicality was admirable, his athleticism made him even more of a problem for the opposition.
Mullen showed he was unafraid to use size to his advantage. A more concerning ability for opposing receivers was that he paired his physical strength with the ability to move like a cheetah in any direction. Speaking of felines, the cornerback had his best performance of the season against the speed demon himself, Tyreek Hill. (Cheetah’s Twitter)
Rookie CB Trayvon Mullen (@MullenIsland1) continues to impress. 3rd down, lined up man to man against WR Tyreek Hill with no safety help. Keys on Mahomes's drop, uses proper footwork, and breaks quickly on this out route for pass break up. Going to be player.#Raidernation pic.twitter.com/Pudd9XVHBO
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) December 3, 2019
Mullen ran with Hill step for step on the out route with no safety help, and recorded the pass defense with ease. The rookie’s agility and speed was put on display throughout this game and it led to more difference making plays as the year progressed.
If Mullen’s uncanny aptitude to combine size with athleticism wasn’t enough, he put an exclamation point on his skill set with his playmaking prowess.
The INT gets overturned for DPI but Trayvon Mullen is another rookie that looks like he will be a very good player.
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) December 1, 2019
The play above did not count due to a questionable defensive pass interference penalty, but it is the principle that counts in the eyes of many. Mullen played this perfectly, as he turned his head and gained inside leverage all while making a play on the ball. While that effort did not count, this one did.
Taking 🍭 from the @Bengals
— All-American Bowl (@AABonNBC) November 18, 2019
This play ended the Bengals’ comeback hopes with a sound denial. Mullen’s athleticism, physicality, and ball skills all came together for the play of the game that resulted in a Raiders victory. Moving forward, Las Vegas will have a star cornerback as long as a few components are addressed.
The Future is Bright
Trayvon Mullen’s future is incredibly bright for the Raiders after his 2019 rookie campaign. However, there are two causes for concern. Due to his physical nature, he was called for three defensive holding and four defensive pass interference penalties.
4th & 10, final drive. I still can't believe @NFL officials threw a holding flag on CB Trayvon Mullen (@MullenIsland1). The WR isn't even running route, he is trying to set a pick, 4 yards down field. Mullen gets hands on WR but within 5 yards of LOS.#Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/cHX4HLU7NS
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 12, 2019
While some of the calls were questionable, like the one above, a little fine tuning and some nuanced fundamentals can assist the reduction of some penalty calls. The other factor that he can’t control is reckless teammates (Curtis Riley) that knocked him and placed him on a stretcher like in Week 16. All in all, Mullen has a very menacing game as a cornerback. The former college star is making a smooth and impactful NFL transition. The Las Vegas Raiders are on their way to potentially having a NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate moving forward with proper development.
After years of abysmal cornerback play, the Silver and Black would welcome a shutdown corner with open arms in 2020.
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