One position the Las Vegas Raiders have aggressively tried to upgrade these past two seasons is cornerback. They’ve had so much turnover in the unit that their 2019 Week 1 starting cornerbacks are no longer with the team. Moreover, the group is mostly filled with first and second-year players. Could that be the Silver and Black’s Achilles heel in 2020?
There’s a complete turnaround inside the Raiders cornerback unit
Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley were the Raiders starting cornerbacks in 2018. While Worley joined the Raiders in head coach Jon Gruden’s first year back with the team, former general manager Reggie McKenzie picked Conley. Thus, Gruden had no attachment to him and ended up trading him to the Houston Texans for a 2020 third-round pick. Worley would follow suit and was not re-signed after the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, rookie Trayvon Mullen took over Conley’s spot once the Raiders released the Ohio State product. Mullen wasn’t the only first-year cornerback the Silver and Black drafted in 2019. They also selected Isaiah Johnson in the fourth round and later inked Keisean Nixon as an undrafted free agent. The three are back with the team in 2020 and they’ll welcome back another batch of young cornerbacks.
The Raiders drafted Damon Arnette in the first round of this year’s draft. They would later pick Amik Robertson in the fourth. Between those two and all returning cornerbacks, the Raiders now have five first or second-season players. Slot Lamarcus Joyner and Nevin Lawson are the only players in the Raiders cornerback room with more than two accrued seasons.
Could the youth at cornerback hinder the defense as a whole?
Maybe, the Raiders cornerback room, especially the rookies, will likely go through the growing pains that come with adjusting to the NFL. Back in college, they could rely on their physical prowess, but that won’t just cut it at the pro level. Players are faster and stronger. Also, collegiate schemes are nothing compared to the complexity of NFL game planning. Moreover, Nixon and Johnson hardly play in 2019, so it’s uncertain how much they have improved since their rookie campaign.
As physical and intense as practices go, it’s not the same for NFL players to go against their teammates than playing against opposing teams. The Raiders’ Week 1 matchup against the Carolina Panthers will give us a more clear idea of where the Raiders’ young corners stand in their development. Then again, the fact the Silver and Black parted ways with veteran Prince Amukamara should be an encouraging sign.
Even if Amukamara was a bit better than Arnette or the rest of the bunch, the Raiders already knew what the veteran’s ceiling is. There was no point in keeping him if playing him meant hindering the youngsters’ growth. The Silver and Black must trust their young cornerbacks enough to let Amukamara go. They will soon find enough if they made the right decision.
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