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FSM Presents: 2021 Raiders Position Preview- Defensive Backs

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The Las Vegas Raiders brought in some new talent at the cornerback spot, and while so far in preseason things have looked promising, the secondary as a whole still remains a big question mark heading into the season.

 

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The Raiders struggled in a big way on defense last season, finishing in the bottom-3 in the NFL. While the offense had some down moments as well, they played well enough to win more than just the eight games the Raiders finished up with last season.

For the first time in a while, there is hope that the Raiders secondary has the potential to be very good in 2021. The safety position has been revamped, and the cornerback positions have new faces as well, but while safety seems solid, the cornerback is still a question mark.

Can the secondary make the necessary jump to help propel the defense to the upper 15 of the NFL, or will they remain a unit that falls victim to big plays at the wrong time?

 

The Cornerbacks:

 

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When it comes to those returning, Trayvon Mullen has been more than solid in his first two seasons in the NFL and could be in line for a breakout season in 2021. The addition of Casey Heyward will certainly help, as he will start opposite Mullen, which gives the Raiders a Top 12 cornerback duo in the NFL. But after those two, the Raiders have some young players either looking to make the jump or make the team.

There are young players like Damon Arnette, Keisean Nixon, and Isaiah Johnson, who is on the PUP list to start the year, coming back, all of which will be looking to carve out roles. Gus Bradley is known for working wonders with the defensive backfield, and the players seem to have really taken to his coaching style. Nixon is the one to watch in this group, though. He plays with a huge chip on his shoulder, can play outside or in the slot, and provides excellent special teams play. Johnson is in a critical season. His play has been up and down, and now that he is injured, he will need to really show he has made a jump from year 2 to year 3.

After a rough rookie season in which he dealt with wrist surgery and concussions, Arnette needs to stay on the field and make good on his first-round draft status in 2020. Amik Robertson will get a chance to lock down the slot cornerback spot vacated by Lamarcus Joyner, but keep an eye on rookie Nate Hobbs, who played both outside and inside at Illinois and has had 2 very good preseason games. Hobbs leads the competition given his size, speed, and toughness needed to play the slot position. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has said that Hobbsmight be the opening day starter” if he keeps up his stellar play. Veteran Rasul Douglas was signed to add a veteran presence.

If Hayward can be the player he was with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Chargers, and the team actually figures out the slot cornerback role, there is enough young talent for this unit to surprise in a good way. If anybody can get this secondary turned around, it is Bradley, but the Raiders face a gauntlet of elite quarterbacks in 2021 and will be tested early and often.

 

The Safeties:

 

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The Raiders pulled off a shrewd draft-day move by trading up in the second round to grab TCU free safety Trevon Moehrig, who fills an immediate need as the quarterback of the back end of the defense.

Widely regarded as the top safety prospect in his class, Moehrig wasn’t even the first safety selected, but the Horned Frog defensive back eventually heard his name called to the Las Vegas Raiders with the 43rd overall selection in the draft.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport reported that Moehrig fell in the draft because of a back injury that held him back since his Pro Day. Moehrig had no issues staying on the field at TCU, so this news shouldn’t discourage Raiders fans. The 2020-21 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back and should provide a perfect fit as a “centerfielder” in the revamped Raiders defense.

His arrival frees up strong safety Johnathan Abram to be utilized as a box safety in Bradley’s Cover-3 defense, tapping into his run-defense skills but also minimizing his role in pass coverage. Abram is poised for a huge breakout year. He has focused on injury prevention and becoming more of a leader this offseason. The ultra-competitive Abram is as locked in as I have ever seen and determined to be the player that the Raiders and Raider Nation would love him to be.

The Raiders drafted Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round, and he could push for time in sub-packages while also providing some insurance for Abram. Las Vegas brought back veteran Karl Joseph for depth. Joseph was having his best year playing alongside Abram two years ago when his season was cut short due to injury. After a year in Cleveland, Joseph came back to Silver and Black as an ideal fit in Bradley’s defense.

The defense was the Raiders’ Achilles heel last season, just like in seasons past. They ranked 25th overall in 2020. If the Raiders’ defense can jump into the top 15, this team can go places. That, though, is easier said than done.Next up CJ Baldwin will preview the Raiders special teams in the next installment of our 2021 Raiders Positional Preview series.

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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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