Oakland Raiders Looking to Draft their Way out of a Corner

Justin Smith – Mar 24, 2013

The Raiders are still searching for the answer at the cornerback position after failed experiments with Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer and the release of Michael Huff. A trouble spot since, frankly, Woodson & Woodson roamed the defensive backfield in the early 2000’s, the Raiders pass defense troubles reached near critical mass last season. They were 28th in opponent completion percentage, 29th in opponent passer rating and tied for 23rd in opponent TD passes. Not good; and thus far, there’s been little to improve upon those numbers via player movement.

Now that Huff is gone, the Raiders have few on their roster with any experience playing corner in the Silver & Black; and one of those is Spencer, whom was injured the majority of the season and a detriment when he was on the field later in the year. At thirty one, coming off an injury, and not having played at a high level in more than two seasons, Spencer is not the answer.

One only bright spot returning thus far is Philip Adams, a young and fast corner who plays aggressively – sometimes too much so – and gets after receivers. I like Adams; he’s intense, fast, makes plays and can even return a kick or two when he hangs onto the ball. He has good hands, instincts, and when he gets his head equal with his body and stops making occasional questionable decisions he’ll be a good, consistent corner. The other returner with experience, Coye Francies, is more of a special teamer and hasn’t shown the chops to play anything but desperate dime package coverage.

Another potentially good player, though he's struggled some, is Chimdi Chekwa. Inserted out of necessity last season, Chekwa showed good coverage ability - at times. At other times he showed his inexperience and looked lost. He's got some physical talent but like many Raiders seems to struggle with positioning and thinking the game - something the coaches need to get a handle on.

Any way you slice it the Raiders need a lot of help at the cornerback position. The game has morphed over the past decade into a heavy passing league, and the Raiders have failed to keep up as reflected by their painful run of futility. It’s imperative that General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Coach Dennis Allen build the position and recognize that this draft has the quality AND quantity to do so. 

The Raiders finally have a first round pick in what seems like forever and what a pick it is. They currently sit with the #3 overall pick, and there is some tempting talent in the defensive backfield.

The obvious one is Dee Milliner. The consensus #1 corner in this draft, when you watch him play it’s easy to see why. He’s a blanket in man coverage, and collected 22 pass breakups last season, including four overall in the SEC and National Championship games. Despite working with a torn labrum at the combine he turned in a great forty time, leapt 36 inches and looked smooth with his hips in the shuttle and cone drills. His combine performance only solidified his on-field performance, and doing so with an injury clearly shows his dedication to becoming an NFL player.

With most pundits slotting DT Sharrif Floyd of Florida to the Raiders with the #3 selection and the Raiders need for a young, dynamic DT now that Desmond Bryant is in Cleveland, Milliner will likely be wearing a different uniform next season. Still, with their glaring need at one of the game’s key positions and a guy like Milliner there for the taking, it wouldn’t be the worst choice the Raiders have made with a first round selection – that’s for sure.

The next man up on everyone’s board, but unlikely to end up in Silver & Black unless trade winds blow strongly on draft day, is Xavier Rhodes. A big corner a la Nnamdi Asomugha who has good long arms and likes to use them to press in coverage, Though a team like the Bills or the Titans could possibly trade up, it’s not likely. Rhodes has good fluidity for his size and his arm length and leaping ability are tops at the position. If he slips for some reason, or the Raiders can trade down, he’s worth a look.

Obviously, Milliner and Rhodes are the top two prospects on most boards followed by Desmond Trufrant, Jonathan Banks, and Jamar Taylor in some order. The Raiders have had some success in the later rounds lately, and that’s where hay will have to be made with corners as most of those players look to be gone by the time the Raiders make their second pick. They’ll have to mine for gold – and there is some.

One worth a look is Logan Ryan from Rutgers, who had a solid combine and has great leaping ability which he doesn’t hesitate to use to attack the ball. Though he’s not the biggest guy, he plays with intensity, is very athletic, and has the added advantage of playing quarterback in high school so he knows the passing game from both sides. He’s almost definitely going to be available to the Raiders in the second round, and possibly the third.

Someone who intrigues me is Nickell Robey from USC. He’s quite small at 5’8 and 165 pounds, but he’s lightning quick and possess insane athleticism. His size is likely to keep him out of the higher rounds even though his ball skills and willingness to attack – he’s a bulldog for his size who doesn’t back down from anyone – belie his size and make him a surprisingly willing and able tackler for a slight build. He’s can easy to block in run situations and bigger receivers can throw him off the line, but is good at using his slipperiness and quickness to play much bigger than his size. He’s projected anywhere from fourth round to seventh; if he’s there past the fifth he’s worth serious thought.

A player who could slip due to poor combine workouts is Josh Johnson from Purdue. Though a little undersized he is, like Robey and most undersized players, an uber-confident and aggressive bulldog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He closes well to the ball, tackles well, and plays with a swagger befitting the Raiders. He’s always trying to strip the ball, something the Raiders desperately need. Originally thought to be anywhere from a second to fourth round pick, he may slip into the later rounds due to a slow forty time and some less than eye-popping cone drill numbers and if he does, he could be a steal.

There are many other corner prospects in this draft that could fall anywhere from the second to fourth rounds. UCONN’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson has been moving up boards, as has Darius Slay fromMississippiStateafter posting the fastest 40 time for a corner at the combine. Jordan Poyer from Oregon State and Robert Alford of tiny Southeast Louisiana also had good combines and are moving up boards, and there is the ever enigmatic Tyrann Mathieu, who showed he still has the physical skills and interviewed well and candidly about his off the field missteps.

There are anywhere from 15-20 corners projected to be taken in the first four rounds of the draft this season, and it is a year where there is a copious amount of talent. The Raiders finally have the picks to do something positive and if they can swing some trades and stockpile even more, it is a banner year to add cornerback depth. It may not be Woodson & Woodson, but anything has to be better than Bartell & Spencer.

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