The Las Vegas Raiders’ secondary has been a sore spot in recent seasons. Nevertheless, with the final roster cuts over, we have clarity and an understanding of the direction of the position. With the Week 1 clash against the Los Angeles Chargers just days away, let’s recap the position group one last time before the regular season.
Trayvon Mullen and Darius Phillips are now gone
Starting with those that won’t be around, fourth-year player Trayvon Mullen was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. In what can only be called a surprising move, general manager Dave Ziegler parted ways with one of the team’s promising players. To be fair, though, that talent only showed up in flashes, and Mullen’s health had consistently been an issue. Along with Mullen’s trade, the team also moved on from Darius Phillips following an underwhelming preseason.
Looking back, Mullen earned a starting role during his rookie year and started most games when healthy, totaling 31 starts. However, injuries played a huge role in Mullen being traded for a conditional seventh-round pick. Missing a majority of training camp allowed for the regime to see other guys shine, making Mullen expendable. In fact, it only helped to cement the regime’s faith in their newer cornerbacks, but more on that later.
In addition to missing time, Mullen had not shown himself to be more than an above-average cornerback in the league. For his five games played last year, he got a 61.7 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Phillips, on the other hand, was healthy throughout camp but didn’t do enough to stick with the roster. He seemed primed to compete with fellow free agent signing Anthony Averett for playing time. However, unlike Averett, Phillips struggled to claim a role. While both moves were a bit surprising, Phillips’ being cut wasn’t too shocking if you’ve been paying attention to the cornerback competition during camp. What eventually did Phillips in were his struggles during the preseason. Even though he had a good game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (four tackles), he didn’t keep it up for the rest of the season. As proof, he only had one tackle against the Miami Dolphins.
Sam Webb and Amik Robertson impressed enough to retain spots on the Raiders’ roster
Undrafted free agent (UDFA) signing Sam Webb overcame the obstacles a UDFA faces to make the final cuts. Alas, here he is, backing up Nate Hobbs ahead of the Chargers game. The decision to keep Webb wasn’t without some intrigue. The Raiders, after all, went with a rookie over proven players such as Mullen and Phillips.
However, Webb played well during camp and is already earning high praise from teammates. That bodes well as he finds his place throughout the season. So, while Webb isn’t a finished product that comes with a high pedigree, it’ll be interesting to see his development.
As for Amik Robertson, he’s entering his third season after being drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round of the 2020 draft out of Louisiana Tech. He has two starts to his name so far, but he could see a jump in playing time from his first two seasons under Patrick Graham.
While both corners are young, they’re in different places in their careers. For Webb, he’ll be allowed to make mistakes, with the focus being on his development. With Robertson, he enters a potential make-or-break year, and if he can’t provide valuable snaps, he may be on a new team next season.
A look at the starting cornerbacks
While the Raiders’ cornerbacks struggled to remain healthy, there wasn’t much of a shakeup save for Mullen’s trade. Rock Ya-Sin was brought in to replace Casey Hayward, so there wasn’t much of a change in his role as he was always going to be a starter. The same thing could be said for Hobbs, though many felt he was going to resume his duties as the nickel corner.
The biggest surprise was indeed Averett. Despite a solid 2021 season with the Baltimore Ravens, it was expected he’d be a rotational depth piece. Instead, he’s going to get thrown out there opposite of Hobbs and Ya-Sin. In Averett’s defense, he started 14 games last season. So, it’s not like a raw prospect is being sent out there. The questions will begin to creep in if Averett struggles and Mullen flourishes. For now, the cornerback group is set, and they’re going to get tested right out of the gate against an imposing Chargers’ offense, led by Justin Herbert and featuring weapons such as Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Joshua Palmer.
*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal