Last season, Brandian Ross was rated as the worst safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. And most Raiders fans were saying ‘Well, I could've told you that.' He wasn't supposed to be the starter at all, but Tyvon Branch went down with an injury in the second game and Ross started the remainder of the season at strong safety.
Ross returned for training camp with the Raiders this season but with Tyvon Branch set to start again and the Raiders looking to Usama Young as his backup, Ross was among the final cutdowns.
The Dolphins signed him as a free agent and he was all set to face his former team in London week four when the Dolphins waived him. As it turned out, he would be making that trip to London after all because Tyvon Branch was injured yet again, and the most logical guy to bring aboard was Ross, whose transition would be seamless due to his having been cut just weeks prior.
Not long after Ross joined the team, Usama Young was also lost for the season and yet again, the team found themselves turning to Ross as the starter. This prompted a collective ‘here we go again' from all those who remember just how poor his performance was last season. Since then, he has gone about proving he is not the same player he was a season ago.
First off, they moved him from strong safety to free safety, with Charles Woodson moving to strong safety. Those roles have suited both players quite well.
Ross has started the past five games for the Raiders and has held his own quite well in each. The team has liked his work so much, they have played him at slot cornerback in two games due to injuries to Carlos Rogers and T.J. Carrie. And the team has had Ross on the field for all but 11 snaps over those five games, including missing just two snaps as the team's primary slot corner in the win over the Chiefs Thursday night.
Tony Sparano says he credits much of the improvement with the additions of former cast-offs Ross and Larry Asante is because they have simplified things. Though, he realizes it isn't just about scheme. There's something different about what Ross is doing.
"Yeah, he's played well." Sparano said of Ross. "The one thing that I like about him right now, the guy is fearless. He goes in there and he competes, whether he's in the back end, whether he's inside. I think when you're playing inside you have to have that kind of mentality. You have to be one of those guys inside that's fearless and that has a short memory, because they get attacked in there and there are a lot of moving parts in there. I've been impressed with how he's handled those things."
That -23.2 PFF grade from last season that had him as the worst safety in the league now sits at -5.6 with most of that (-4.1) from one game - vs Peyton Manning and the Broncos where only one Raiders defensive back (Hayden) escaped with a positive grade. That was as the slot corner. In his three starts this season at free safety, he has a cumulative grade of +0.9. That's a far cry from the -10.0 grade he had in five starts at free safety last season.
With Ross stepping up, the Raiders are suddenly faced with a good kind of problem. Sparano was sure to point out that with T.J. Carrie coming back, there is a good chance he will step back into the slot corner job, which would move Ross back to free safety. As well as Ross played in the slot, he has been better at free safety.
With Larry Asante having a great game at free safety last week against the Chiefs, the Raiders suddenly have two players who have earned playing time. Much different than last season with Ross where everyone was wondering what the Raiders could possibly be seeing that the rest of us are missing. The Dolphins must have missed it too because he was cut before ever seeing the field for them.
Now Ross is answering that question. He isn't going to be getting any Pro Bowl votes anytime soon, but compared to last season and even just a couple months ago, it's a pretty shocking improvement.