Raiders Training Camp Positional Breakdowns: Cornerback Patrick Graham

Las Vegas Raiders 2023 Positional Breakdowns: Cornerbacks

On a roster with some — but not much — top-end talent, cornerback ranks high on the list of concerns for the Las Vegas Raiders heading into 2023. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has suffered from a lack of productive players at the position since taking the job, and more of the same is expected this upcoming season.

In year one, Graham’s unit allowed more than 4,000 yards through the air, fetching an abysmal 53.5 coverage grade via Pro Football Focus. That grade put the Raiders at third-worst in the league, only behind the lowly secondary’s of the Giants and Lions.

It was time to rebuild the secondary.

After free agency welcomed multiple new additions to the Silver and Black’s cornerback room, the 2023 NFL Draft brought in another new piece to the unit. Which player is poised for a breakout campaign? Who is destined to fall short of expectations? Let’s take a deep dive at cornerback and see what we find.

Raiders Face Uncertainty At Cornerback

Weakest Link: Amik Robertson (5’8”, 187 lbs.)

The former fourth-round pick was a liability at cornerback in 2022. Robertson was thrust into a larger snap count, recording 444 coverage snaps in his latest campaign. He totaled two interceptions – to his credit – but offenses still frequently took advantage of the third-year player.

The Louisiana Tech alum is a poor tackler, as is evident by his career-high missed-tackle rate of 22.2 percent. Furthermore, Robertson allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 60% of their passes when targeting him.

At this stage, the 24-year-old is best suited for a reserve role. His experience on the boundary, as well as in the slot, will give Graham some versatility off the bench. If Robertson plays a majority of the snaps for Las Vegas in 2023, it will be a long year for Raider Nation.

Over-The-Hill: Brandon Facyson (6’2”, 197 lbs.)

The Raiders initially employed Facyson during Gus Bradley’s reign as defensive coordinator. In 2021, the former Virginia Tech Hokie struggled mightily. He allowed six touchdowns and accumulated eight penalties throughout the year.

The 197-pound defender is a good fit for Patrick Graham’s scheme on paper, but the bad taste is still in the mouths of Vegas fans. Facyson should be viewed as a veteran depth piece, but at nearly 29 years old, his best days are squarely behind him.

Las Vegas Hopes For Breakout From Recent Signing

Breakout Candidate: Duke Shelley (5’9”, 180 lbs.)

Shelley is a former Kansas State Wildcat who scratched and clawed his way into playing time for the Chicago Bears from 2019-2021. He was released before the 2022 season, and the Vikings quickly scooped him up for their practice squad.

After a late-season injury to Cameron Dantzler, Shelley jumped from the practice squad to the active roster, making the most of this opportunity. The once sixth-round pick posted a sparkling 84.9 coverage grade in the final two months of Minnesota’s ’22 campaign.

Shelley allowed completions on less than half the passes thrown his way, breaking up ten tosses and even intercepting one errant pass vs. his former team, the Bears, in Week 18. His 242 coverage snaps last season serve as a relatively small sample size, but Raiders fans should be excited nonetheless.

Training camp and preseason will determine how the depth chart shakes out, but ‘The Duke’ has a great chance at cracking the 53-man roster and earning a starting gig in the process. Shelley’s success on the boundary with the Vikings gives Vegas a potential long-term starter, if he can replicate his 2022 production.

Raiders May Have Found A Gem In 2023 NFL Draft

Young But Hungry: Jakorian Bennett (5’11”, 195 lbs.)

The Raiders selected the Maryland product early on Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft after being blown away by his competitiveness and athleticism throughout the pre-draft process. Primarily serving as the starter outside, Bennett shut down opposing wide receivers at the collegiate level.

Bennett improved across the board from 2021 to 2022, most notably when it comes to completion percentage allowed, which was cut from 54%to 44.4. His 15 pass breakups and five interceptions ranked among the best in the Big Ten over those two years.

The biggest issue the Mobile, Alabama native must address is his grabby nature in coverage. The Terrapin star was charged with 13 penalties since 2021; Patrick Graham will not accept this on Sundays. Bennett projects best in the slot, but it remains to be seen where the Raiders have plans for him at.

I expect the 22-year-old to challenge for a starting spot in year one. Whether on the outside alongside Duke Shelley or kicked inside where his upside is substantially higher, Bennett will prove to be a diamond in the rough for Vegas.

Plus, the juice he brings to the locker room is a needed infusion to the group.

Nate Hobbs: A Solution Or The Problem?

Most To Prove: Nate Hobbs (6’1”, 195 lbs.)

Nate Hobbs projects as the trickiest member of the secondary. As a rookie in 2021, the former Illini standout excelled in the slot. He graded above average in nearly every metric, including an impressive 76.7 coverage grade.

Unfortunately, the good times did not last.

With the arrival of Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator, Hobbs began seeing more action on the boundary. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, the former fifth-rounder possesses adequate size for the outside, but his skill set does not mirror his frame.

Hobbs gets a chance to redeem himself in 2023 with a clear path to starting again. The question is: Where? If Hobbs moves back inside, that leaves rookie Jakorian Bennett vying for a boundary spot. If Hobbs sticks outside, it presents a risky roll of the dice for the Raiders.

Hobbs far and away has the most to gain — and lose — this coming season.

Predicting How The Cornerback Room Will Unfold At Training Camp

My Prediction:
RCB – Duke Shelley
LCB – Jakorian Bennett
Slot – Nate Hobbs

RCB2 – Brandon Facyson
LCB2 – David Long Jr.
Backup Slot – Amik Robertson

Chandler Jones Has The Worst Contract? Plus, Divine Deablo Ready To Lead

*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal*

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