Nate Hobbs Amik Robertson Duke Shelley David Long Jakorian Bennett Dave Ziegler Raiders

The most underrated position group on the Raiders’ roster: the cornerback room

Heading into this year’s offseason, Raider Nation wanted nothing more than to see the Silver and Black revamp their defense – and for good reason. During the team’s ’22 season, the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense surrendered the fifth-most yards, seventh-most points and sixth-most first-downs. The lack of playmakers was evident as Patrick Graham‘s defense totaled the third-least sacks (27) and lowest number of turnovers league-wide (13). All fans wanted was for Dave Ziegler to fix a defense that they thought was ‘weak’ at every position; none more weak than cornerback.

Once free agency came around, most fans had their eyes on James Bradberry. Ziegler added Brandon Facyson, David Long Jr. and Duke Shelley to the roster, leaving Raider Nation disappointed. Weeks later, those same fans went into the 2023 NFL Draft with hopes of Devon Witherspoon or Christian Gonzalez, urging others that cornerback was the team’s biggest need. The Raiders grabbed Jakorian Bennett at 104 in the draft, once again disappointing those clamoring for a corner.

With Rock Ya-Sin still a free agent post-draft, fans hoped a return was in the works. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards, and Ya-Sin signed a one-year deal with the Ravens on Wednesday.

All hope is lost for the Raiders’ cornerback unit – or is it?

Most of Raider Nation has been sobbing over the position, but I see it differently. The CB room in Las Vegas is underrated – very underrated.

Don’t be fooled by name value; the Raiders’ cornerback room is better than you think

David Long and Duke Shelley aren’t household names, but both are accomplished players; the type of players who Dave Ziegler loves.

Although the Vikings allowed the second-most passing yards in 2022 (4,515), Shelley was phenomenal. No defensive back on Minnesota’s roster allowed a lower completion percentage than Shelley (48.8%), nor did any have a lower passer rating when targeted (57.9). The 26-year-old earned a coverage grade of 84.9, which stood as the highest among all Vikings’ DBs.

Shelley wasn’t only the Vikings’ best cornerback in 2022, but was one of the best league-wide. His 48.8% completion percentage ranked seventh among all corners, while his 57.9 QB rating allowed ranked sixth. Shelley also forced an incompletion on 27% of his snaps, which tied for first among all defenders with Sauce Gardner.

The Los Angeles Rams won a Super Bowl in 2021, and Long was a big reason why.

During the regular season, Long allowed a completion percentage of 65.1% when targeted. In the slot, Long’s snaps-per-reception led the NFL – by a wide margin. His 56.0 mark was more than twice as much as the second-highest of 26.0.

Once the postseason came around, he turned his game up on a notch.

In the playoffs, Long held quarterbacks to a passer rating of 51.7 when throwing his way. This was not only the best mark among all Rams’ cornerbacks, but was second among all cornerbacks in the entirety of the playoffs. The now-former Ram earned a coverage grade of 69.3, which ranked first on the team, and seventh-highest league-wide. All things considered, it’s not a stretch to claim David Long was the best cornerback in the entire playoffs; not just on his team.

Raiders welcomed two other cornerbacks this offseason

At pick 104 in this year’s draft, Dave Ziegler and company turned in their draft card. Written on it was Jakorian Bennett’s name; a three-year cornerback at Maryland.

Raider Nation has been begging for a cornerback who can create turnovers with fantastic ball-skills. Bennett is the solution. During his final yard at Maryland, the 22-year-old corner broke up nine passes, taking an additional two the other way. With a 44.4 completion percentage allowed and a 47.5 passer rating surrendered when targeted, Bennett enjoyed a monster season alongside first-round pick Deonte Banks.

Banks, who went 24th-overall to the New York Giants, had nearly identical numbers as Bennett. While Banks allowed 258 yards on 26 receptions, Bennett gave up 309 yards on 24 receptions. Both corners also allowed less than 44.5% of passes their way to be completed. The pair are separated in height by only an inch, and both posted a 40-time of at least 4.35 at the Combine.

For a more-detailed piece on Bennett alone, click here.

There’s still one more player Dave Ziegler added to the unit this offseason. Standing 6’2, Brandon Facyson is not only the Raiders’ tallest corner, but the only corner on the roster who stands above 6′.

In 2021, during his first stint as a Raider, Facyson was targeted 71 times; 16 more than any other cornerback on the team. Through it all, Facyson held his own, allowing a completion percentage of only 59.2. Thanks to his 10 forced incompletions (most on team), Facyson logged an 18% forced incompletion percentage. This number was higher than both Nate Hobbs and Casey Hayward; the only other corners on the team with at least 30 targets.

Speaking of Nate Hobbs..

Of all cornerbacks on Las Vegas’ roster, Hobbs is the one player Raider Nation praises.

With injuries and ample time spent on the outside, Hobbs had a disastrous season in 2022. Both his 72.2% allowed completion percentage and 108.1 QB rating surrendered was the second-highest among all cornerbacks on the team, and despite only appearing in 11 contests, he allowed 15 more completions than any other Raiders’ corner.

2021 was a different story, though.

Per Pro Football Focus, no cornerback had a higher coverage grade when lined up in the slot than Nate Hobbs in 2021 (81.5). With 469 snaps inside, the second-most across the entire league, Hobbs allowed just one touchdown and 354 yards. None of the 11 players with 350+ snaps in the slot allowed less yards than the Raiders’ corner.

Amik Robertson is the other cornerback that was on the team’s roster with Hobbs in 2021. While Hobbs struggled last season, Robertson enjoyed a career-year.

More than anything, Robertson’s health was a major plus for Las Vegas. The third-year corner was the only Raiders’  CB that played more than 11 games in 2022. Robertson appeared in all 17, logging career-highs in completion percentage allowed (58.9%) and passer rating surrendered when targeted (98.1).

Robertson was also the only cornerback on the team to record an interception last season. Against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a Week 2 bout, Amik snagged the first interception of his career. Later on, with the 49ers in town for Week 17, the 24-year-old added a second interception to his career statistics.

There’s more to the cornerback room than just the cornerbacks

Of course, the entire Raiders’ cornerback room is only boosted by Maxx Crosby and seventh-overall draft pick Tyree Wilson. Many fans wanted a cornerback at seven, but an efficient pass rush directly improves cornerback play.

One big reason for the Raiders’ “failures” at corner over the years is a lack of pass rush. This past season, Las Vegas finished with the third-least sacks. As a result, the team surrendered the fourth-most passing yards. In 2021, the Raiders jumped out of the bottom-10 in sacks. Sure enough, the number of yards allowed through the air saw massive improvement as well. This time, the team gave up the 13th-least passing yards. The year prior, in 2020, the Raiders were once again in the bottom-five for total sacks.

Any guesses what happened as a result? That’s right; more passing game struggles with the seventh-most passing yards allowed.

Whether fans realize it or not, there’s a direct correlation between pass rush and coverage. The ability to generate pressure makes a cornerbacks life easier, as the corner no longer has to be in excellent position for a ridiculous amount of seconds per play.

Las Vegas hasn’t only had a problem generating pressure – they’ve had a major problem finishing when they do. Brace yourself, Raider Nation; this one is going to make you feel pain you haven’t felt in months.

One of the best examples to show how problematic this can be is the longest two-point conversion in NFL history, which Kyler Murray pulled off to ultimately come back from a three-score deficit in the second-half. Had the defense come up with the tackle, the Cardinals walk away with a loss, and the trajectory of the Raiders’ season is likely much different. Instead, Arizona capitalizes and makes history.

From the cornerbacks themselves to the pass rushing duo of Tyree Wilson and Maxx Crosby – with some help from Chandler Jones and others – you should expect the team’s CB unit to be a breath of fresh air. Dave Ziegler quietly did a fine job addressing the position.

*Top Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

An “Ungraded” Raiders Recap Of The 2023 NFL Draft, How Did Dave Ziegler Do?

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