After allowing opposing teams to complete the third-highest percentage of passes (67.6%) against them in 2022, resulting in the fourth-most total air yardage surrendered (4,129), Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler knew changes had to be made defensively. One of those changes was the addition of 26-year-old Duke Shelley to the cornerback room.
While not a household name, Shelley quietly had a ’22 campaign that can only be described as sensational. With an allowed completion percentage of 48.8%, alongside a passer rating rating of 57.9 when targeted, Pro Football Focus gave the now-former Viking a coverage grade of 84.9. Each of these numbers was a top-seven mark at the cornerback position league-wide. On Sunday, during the Raiders initial preseason contest, Raider Nation got to see their new defensive back in action for the first time.
Unfortunately, Shelley ended his day being remembered for “the play” that gave San Francisco their first points of their preseason.
On a first-and-goal play, 49ers quarterback Trey Lance threw a strike to one of his guys in the back of the end zone. Shelley was in the area, and made sure the ball didn’t get where Lance wanted it go. The play still ended in six for San Francisco, however.
Trey Lance makes a horrible decision here but gets bailed out because Duke Shelley couldn’t hang onto the INT pic.twitter.com/G1wHieyf5N
— Joel Moran (@joelvmoran) August 13, 2023
It looks bad on the surface – and the end result is inexcusable – but this was actually a fine play by the first-year Raiders corner. Regardless, Shelley had a quality outing in his first game with the Silver and Black despite this particular sequence aside.
Raiders CB Duke Shelley remembered for unlucky play despite a quality outing
Six cornerbacks took the field at some point for the Raiders on Sunday, and ‘The Duke’ played as well as any. His 67.3 coverage grade bested all players on the team at his position, and his 75.5 tackling grade ranked second. Shelley allowed one completion on a go-throw at the line of scrimmage. His passer rating when targeted was 56.3.
Granted, Shelley was only tested twice. He stood strong on both passes his way, though.
Duke even stood strong on “the play” he’s remembered for, although the end result was anything but what was desired. After getting a feel for what was developing, Shelley ran to a spot where he could make a play on the ball. He made an excellent read, but, of course, it was all for naught.
And while the end-result was hard to swallow, Las Vegas’ new cornerback deserves love for his understanding of where the ball was going. As mentioned earlier, the Raiders finished bottom-four in total air yardage allowed in 2022. There wasn’t much playmaking going on in the secondary, and the team tied for last in interceptions as a result. What Raider Nation is having trouble understanding, however, is the lack of these reads is exactly why the team couldn’t total more interceptions.
Yeah, Shelley should’ve caught that ball, but him simply knocking it away [should’ve] saved a touchdown regardless. We hear all about how the Raiders have struggled offensively in the red zone, but the defense has been no better – worse, in fact. Last season, the Silver and Black’s defensive unit allowed the second-highest touchdown percentage once in the red zone. Even in 2021, when the Raiders’ defense took monstrous steps forward under Gus Bradley, the team gave up a touchdown in the red zone 77.08% of the time. No other team was above 70% in this area.
These types of plays in the red zone is what the Silver and Black have been in dire need of. On virtually any other down, Shelley’s pass breakup helps sink these horrific percentages. Does that sound like a bad thing, Raider Nation?
It’s game day, and Duke Shelley is ready to face the Los Angeles Rams on their turf. If he can piece together another solid outing, things will start looking good for the Raiders’ secondary.
*Top Photo: Official Raiders Website