The 2019 Raiders secondary left much to be desired. A combination of youth and inexperience made for trying times on the back end of the Silver and Black’s defense. As Trayvon Mullen looks to build upon his strong rookie campaign, the team’s front office will seek to acquire additional talent at the position.
As free agency begins in less than two week’s time, the cornerback market is ripe with talent. It would be in the team’s best interest to fully commit to signing at least two veteran free agents at the youthful position.
Winds of Secondary Change
Whenever a team elects to trade a starter midway through the season, the position the individual traded plays is inevitably impacted. Last season, the Raiders traded former first-round pick Gareon Conley, to the Texans for a 2020 third-round draft selection. The nail in the coffin for the corner was his final performance with the team, when he allowed a perfect 158.3 passer rating against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Plays such as this, cemented his fate with the organization:
Kumerow took Gareon Conley’s job with this route pic.twitter.com/CFU3FzTp70
— Brandon Carwile (@PackerScribe) October 24, 2019
With Conley’s departure, the Raiders were left with three rookies and veterans Nevin Lawson, and Daryl Worley. In conjunction, the five of them allowed a 60% completion rate in 2019. As the first line of aerial defense, they are serviceable, but assistance is needed if the defense wants to improve in 2020. Since Worley isn’t being offered a contract extension, the Raiders are in need of two more cornerbacks and free agency offers five proven players that could immediately step in and make an impact for the Silver and Black.
1. Byron Jones
At the top of the cornerback market sits Jones. The 27-year old is the big fish at his position in this year’s free agency. The former University of Connecticut cornerback was voted second team All-Pro two seasons ago and 2019 was not bad by any means, as he was targeted in coverage just 64 times as teams completed 53.1 percent of passes thrown his way, good enough to rank in the top 20 among all NFL corners. Moreover, he only allowed 6.2 yards per reception. After the catch, he only whiffed on 2.5% of his tackles; a number that will peak the interest of head coach Jon Gruden, who loves physical defensive backs.
The footage below is his zero receptions allowed matchup against All-Pro Saints wide receiver, Michael Thomas in 2018. When utilized correctly, the 6’0” 205 pound corner is a tough matchup for even the best receivers in the league. The Raiders have the liquidity to make a big splash to start off their free agency, there is no reason why they cannot acquire one of the best defenders in the league.
2. James Bradberry
Coming in at number two on the list is Bradberry. The cornerback with the most one-on-one success versus Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones is a physical specimen. The footage below illustrates how much faith the Panthers had in Bradberry, as they often left him in man coverage against Jones with no safety help.
— Coach Sway (@swayrun21) March 3, 2020
At 6’1” and 212 pounds, Bradberry is another physical corner that has the ability to play press against the league’s best recivers with confidence. While his accolades won’t stand out like Byron Jones’, the 26-year old was without a doubt one of the best coverage corners in 2019. When targeted, opposing quarterbacks only garnered a 70.1% passer rating; good enough for top 20 placement in the NFL. His size and confidence will ultimately make him corner two on the Raiders free agent board. Should Las Vegas front office pair him with the likes of Byron Jones and Trayvon Mullen in Las Vegas, it would make for a physically imposing group.
3. Jimmy Smith
Third on the free agent cornerback market is Smith, who has battled injuries throughout his 9-year tenure with the Ravens. In fact, he has only managed to play a full 16-game season twice in his career. When healthy in 2019, Smith was stingy in coverage and allowed a 56% completion rating. In addition opposing quarterbacks could only muster a 67.8 passer rating. The selling point for the Raiders front office you may ask? The theme of big and physical corners continues with the veteran’s 6’2” 210 pound frame. He can effectively perform in press coverage and also only missed on 3.2% of his tackles last season. Nonetheless, at 31 years old, Smith is on the tail end of his career and should not be relied upon as a starter given his injury history. Respect is due to him though, as he was the man that shutdown receiver Michael Crabtree on the San Francisco 49ers last offensive play in Super Bowl XLVII. The California native knows what it takes to perform on the biggest stage in the biggest moment. His contribution, ultimately sealed a Baltimore championship.
Despite injuries, his leadership is invaluable and would be a selling point for a youthful team moving into Las Vegas.
4. Chris Harris Jr.
At four on the list is Harris Jr. He would be higher on the list if he wasn’t coming off one of his worst seasons. Last season, opposing quarterbacks had a lofty 112.1 passer rating. It is evident that Harris Jr. has lost a step, but similar to Smith, he would provide direction for a youthful cornerback group. Respect is due to him also, as he is the other veteran on this list to be a part of a Super Bowl winning team. The 2020 season is on the horizon and it is possible that he could find the fountain of youth in the desert. Aside from his on field performance, his knowledge and wisdom of the game would still be a welcome part of a Raiders organization that is seeking contention.
5. Josh Norman
Rounding out the top five, is former Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who has slowly seen a fall from grace since his days with Carolina. A signing of him would strictly be for veteran depth and not a starting spot as he allowed a 67.4% completion rating and opposing quarterbacks had a 129 passer rating throwing his way in 2019. As a role player, Norman does have experience and could potentially regain better form with a change of scenery for a low price. With that being said, if the Raiders want a worthy corner, the top 2 players on this list must be a priority.
Free agency is fully upon us and as we speak, players are preparing themselves for offers to relocate to a new home. For the Raiders, a new home has been built in Las Vegas. Allegiant Stadium has been built with millions of dollars, and it is time for the team to exhaust some of their salary cap space to make Sin City a top destination in the future starting now. The need at the cornerback position is dire, as drafting a young corner would only contribute to the youthful growing pains that the team is enduring at the position.
You May Also Like: Two EDGE Prospects Raiders Could Steal
The top four players on this list provide relief, and there is no reason whatsoever why the team cannot sign the top two. If the Silver and Black wants to become movers and shakers for years to come in Las Vegas, they need to start shelling top dollar to proven and borderline elite talent.