The Eclectic Eleven. That’s about as good a name as any for the group of Las Vegas Raiders cornerbacks. That’s the 11 cornerbacks on the 90-man roster. And there’s chatter and belief that Silver and Black should add more to that mix.
Poppycock! I say. There’s no need for more cornerbacks, dance with what brung ya’ Raiders. Layman’s terms: Las Vegas should dance with the group they have. Now, I’m not obtuse, if cut-down days arrive and there’s a high-quality veteran there for the taking, by all means, the Raiders should and will take a gander. But 11 is enough to figure it out.
The 11 (alphabetical order & age): Anthony Averett (27); Bryce Cosby (23); Nate Hobbs (23); Chris Jones (26); Cre’Von LeBlanc (27); Trayvon Mullen Jr. (24); Darius Phillips (27); Amik Robertson (23); Stanford Samuels III (23); Sam Webb (24); Rock Ya-Sin (26).
Raiders: The Opportunity Is There
Competition is the constant theme as the Raiders embark on a new era led by general manager Dave Ziegler, head coach Josh McDaniels, and the new coaching staff. It’s a new philosophy that comes with a new scheme and accompanying terminology within the confines of Raiders HQ in Henderson. No matter status — incumbents like Mullen Jr., Hobbs, Robertson, or veterans like Averett, Jones, LeBlanc, Phillips, Ya-Sin, or youngsters like Cosby, Samuels III, Webb — it’s a brand new experience. And that means opportunities are there to win not only starting spots but get snaps in a rotation.
“The good thing about being here is whether you are a veteran [or] a new guy, the first thing we’re preaching is competition,” Raiders defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Jason Simmons said during his post-mandatory minicamp press conference two weeks ago. “It is good to have veteran guys in there that have done it before, but everybody knows whether you’ve played in the league before or fresh out of college, this is going to be an opportunity because this is a new scheme for everybody.
“It’s a very unique situation where we are young, but it’s fresh for everybody even if you are a veteran or a new guy. Competition is what we’re trying to breed in the room.”
A Clean Slate For Several Raiders
“It’s going to be clean slate, fresh start. I’m really not as much worried about what they’ve done as much as what we can do going forward. I think that’s the fairest way for us to approach every player,” McDaniels said all the way back in late-March regarding his Raiders.
That’s excellent news for incumbents and veterans alike, especially Robertson. Mullen, Averett, Ya-Sin have to prove things too, but not as much as Robertson. The three aforementioned corners have enjoyed NFL success at points in their career. Robertson, not so much. He’s floundered heavily since being a fourth-round pick (139th overall) out of Louisiana Tech in 2020. He’s far from the ballhawk and tenacious cover corner he was in college that he’s shown in the pros. Yes, he’s small at five-foot-eight and 187 pounds, but the league has seen successful corners at that height before. It’s hand placement, technique, footwork and determination that made all the difference. Robertson must capture all four traits if he’s to remain a Raider.
“Oh, man. You know what, Amik is a guy that shows a lot of versatility. You know, we know he’s a guy that can move inside, outside, the whole nine,” Simmons said of Robertson. “The thing that I’ve been most impressed about is how receptive he is to coaching. I’m really excited to coach him. And the way he’s able to take the coaching and then show it on the field. So, I’m excited to continue to work with him.”
The (Early) Favorites
Hobbs has the nickel/slot corner spot firmly in his grasp after a solid rookie season. He’s a fifth-round revelation that took to inside duties seamlessly — despite playing primarily on the outside in college at Illinois. Mullen Jr. was expected to be a favorite but offseason surgery hindered his availability leaving snaps wide open for Ya-Sin, Averett, Robertson and even Hobbs on the perimeter.
Ya-Sin is the one to watch in this group as he comes with plenty of starting experience and snaps. He played in 29 starts, 41 games total, and 1,992 career snaps as he arrived via trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
“He is a pro’s pro. I love the way he prepares,” Simmons said of Ya-Sin. “You can tell he’s a guy that loves the game and a guy that wants to get better. So I’ve really been impressed with him from that standpoint. He’s another guy that’s a sponge. He wants as much as you can get him. And he’s able to take that information and process it.”
Averett provides the speediest option at cornerback with his timed 40-yard dash of 4.36. He played well for the injury-decimated Baltimore Ravens secondary snaring three interceptions and 11 passes defensed last season.
Training camp in July will sort out the cornerback hierarchy and who sticks and who goes. It’ll be a very interesting position group to keep an eye on as the Raiders work on prepping for the 2022 campaign.
Competition Breeds Excellence
Ziegler is big on the Raiders mantra of “Commitment to Excellence.” He and McDaniels are a unified front, in that regard. The new era Raiders will achieve excellence through constant and consistent competition — at least that’s the plan under Ziegler and McDaniels.
So no spots will be handed out — they’ll be earned. (But, there are some spots that aren’t up for debate such as Derek Carr at QB1, Davante Adams at WR1, Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones as the starting edge rusher combo, and Tre’Von Moehrig as FS1. But they’ll compete nonetheless.
“It’s been a learning process. It’s been a good process,” Ziegler told Raiders.com. “I think when you look at the roster, what we’ve tried to do – and we talked about this from the beginning – is try to build competition throughout the roster. And I think we’ve done that. When you look at the roster, there’s a lot of guys competing for spots, and that was the idea. We wanted to build a competitive roster where everyone felt they were being pushed to earn a spot and be their best. And I think we’ve done that through free agency, through the draft and through college free agency.”
The Raiders made their free agency splash and drafted their prospects. Now it’s about seeing what they have in the roster they’ve built. See if the Eclectic Eleven can be dwindled down to the Fab Five (or Sinister Six if Vegas ends up keeping six corners on the 53-man roster).
Dance with what brung ya’, Raiders.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman