Years of subpar cornerback play defined the Las Vegas Raiders cornerback position. Free-agent acquisitions such as Sean Smith and David Amerson never panned out. Likewise, the team missed on draft picks DJ Hayden and Gareon Conley. However, the Silver and Black finally appear to have something to build off.
Last season, the Raiders selected 2019 second-round draft pick, Trayvon Mullen. This year, they signed Prince Amukamara in free agency and drafted Damon Arnette with the 19th overall pick. With 11 cornerbacks on the roster, expect the newly added competition to improve this young position this season.
Worley and Mullen played moderately well in 2019. Nonetheless, when they played bad, opposing defenses burned them badly. Ted Nguyen of The Athletic noted that according to Sharp Football Stats, the Raiders ranked second to last in allowing explosive plays of 15 yards or more in 2019.
“The most frequent cause of the explosive plays was cornerbacks just getting beat. Bad cornerback play accounted for 22 percent of explosive plays starting from Week 8.”
Currently, Mullen and Amukamara are penciled in at the starting positions. The Raiders are expecting Arnette to be a part-time player with the intention of eventually taking over the starting job. With Nevin Lawson suspended for the first game of the season, Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon will likely battle for the main backup job.
Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock raved about Johnson and Nixon late last season only to turn around and spend a first-round draft pick on a cornerback and acquire another through free agency. Keep in mind, Amukamara, a nine-year veteran, joins because of scheme fit and to lead a young cornerback group that averages 24 years of age.
Trayvon Mullen is currently the only Raiders cornerback with a defined role
After trading Gareon Conley midway through the season, Mullen was thrown into a starting role. The Clemson product struggled at times but showed promise as the season went on. He ended the 2019 season on a high note, and allowed four receptions and 52 yards against receiver Courtland Sutton.
Mullen is a physical cornerback, and he’s versatile enough to play off-coverage. He has the strength to jam wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid to make open-field tackles. After spending the offseason training with former wide receiver Chad Johnson, the Raiders expect Mullen to make a big jump in year two.
Doing releases from goal line to goal line with Trayvon Mullen tomorrow morning & that makes me happy because i get to wake my feet up 🙏🏿
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) February 17, 2020
Amukamara won’t wow anyone but will bring stability to the position
According to PFF, Amukamara was the fifth-rated cornerback in man-coverage in 2019. Although he won’t shut down opposing wide receivers, he will play competently enough not to embarrass himself. He’s aware of what he brings to the table and points to the tape.
I’m one of, if not the best, corners in press, man-to-man coverage in the league and I have the tape to show that, which is why I’m saying that so boldly.
Damon Arnette is under pressure to perform
Although Arnette was drafted 19th overall, the expectation isn’t for him to start opposite of Mullen this upcoming season. According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. Rather, the Raiders expect him to gradually seize the job without losing the sense of urgency.
“Arnette had better push Amukamara pretty quickly or else No. 19 was too high for Arnette. “
Arnette’s high draft pick status was justified by his experience in press man-coverage, team need, and on-the-field toughness. He’s similar to Mullen in the sense that he’s not afraid to advance down the field to make a tackle. He’s spent the offseason working out with several of his teammates, including Johnathan Abram, Amik Robertson and Damarious Randall in Las Vegas with trainer Deon Hodges.
Iron sharpens iron
With the additions of Nelson Agholor, Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, and the offseason improvement of Zay Jones, training will be more competitive, and the Raiders young cornerbacks should improve with more compelling practices.
— Hoku (@hokucurnan) July 9, 2020
The Raiders improved their standing in the AFC West, but they weren’t the only team to do so. The Chiefs receivers consist of track stars Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and one of the best tight ends in the NFL, Travis Kelce. The Broncos added Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to a wide receivers corps that already features Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant, a player that many expect to make a big jump in his sophomore year.
Although the Chiefs are the Super Bowl Champions, the division is wide open for now. That’s why is so important for the Raiders to field a successful cornerback group.
You May Also Like: Should Raiders legendary cornerback Lester Hayes be considered a cheater?
Top Photo: Jeff Haynes/Associated Press