You're only as good as your weakest link, and, if you're the Raiders, that link is very clearly in the defensive backfield.
Heading into a season with still-limited expectations, General Manager Reggie McKenzie (seemingly) made the decision to develop the young defensive backs they had rather than venture into a deep free agent market to make any moves. On the surface, this decision made sense.
The Raiders had spent their 2013 first-round pick on DJ Hayden and their 2014 seventh-round pick on TJ Carrie — who impressed everyone with his performance as a rookie. Also in the mix was 2014 fourth-round pick Keith McGill.
Rather than sign players who would provide more stability and predictability, McKenzie opted to see what he had in the youngsters for the 2015 season. So much so, in fact, that Oakland didn't even spend a draft pick on a defensive back until their final seventh-round pick along with leaving $13.5 million in cap space unspent.
For a team that is rebuilding and developing, the decision makes sense — see what you have in Carrie and Hayden, and by the time your team is ready to compete, you'll know who to move forward with. The Raiders later lucked out when two games into the season Washington cut 23-year-old David Amerson; a 2013 second-round pick.
But then, the Raiders started winning. Through seven weeks, the Raiders are just a half-game out of the second wild card spot with a 3-3 record and are alone in second place in the AFC West.
Now the question isn't, "How is the development of Hayden/Carrie/Amerson going?" but has shifted to, "Are these guys good enough to start on a playoff team?"
And, in looking at the numbers, the answer isn't exactly comforting.
Let's start with Hayden — the guy defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said is, "growing into one of the better cornerbacks in the league." Uh, excuse me Mr. Norton, which league are we talking about?
According to Pro Football Focus, Hayden has allowed the second most catches of any corner, he has allowed the most YAC, quarterbacks have completed over 71-percent of their passes against him, and have a QB Rating of 104.0 when throwing on him.
Well, what about Amerson?
The good news is that Amerson has actually put together a positive rating (0.8) during his time in Oakland — mostly thanks to a positive rating against the run (2.0). Unfortunately, quarterbacks are still completing over 69-percent of their passes against Amerson, are averaging 10.5 yards per completion and have a rating of 90.1 when throwing toward him.
TJ Carrie is, predictably, the best of the bunch when it comes to pass coverage, although PFF rates him as the worst against the run (-2.1), leaving him with an overall negative rating. Neiko Thorpe is equally bad against the pass (-1.8) and the run (-1.6), and is allowing the highest yards-per-completion of the bunch (13.7).
Well, they're young, right? Are they at least improving?
All three guys logged encouraging ratings against the Chargers, but for anyone who watched the game, most of that could be attributed to Phillip Rivers' inability to throw a football anywhere near his receivers.
Hayden received a negative overall rating of -1.9 against the Bears, and followed it up with a -0.1 against the Broncos in week 5 (thanks again to a positive run grade that nearly cancelled out his poor pass coverage grade). In fact, Hayden has had a negative pass coverage grade (and a negative overall grade) in every game this season prior to facing the Chargers.
Amerson seems to be showing the most promise, although once again, it is coming from positive grades in the run game and not in the passing game — which isn't exactly what you're hoping for from your No. 2 corner.
The unfortunate part in all of this, as I alluded to above, is that this problem could have easily been avoided this off-season. McKenzie has $13.5 million that remains unspent — the fourth-most of any team in the league. A portion of that could have been spent on the deep free agency class of corners which included the likes of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Flowers, Antonio Cromartie, Kareem Jackson, Byron Maxwell, Tramon Williams, and Parrish Cox among others.
Now, the Raiders are competing and are forced to rely on one of the most unproven groups of cornerbacks in the league. That's not to say there's no hope in this group, it's just saying that if there is hope, I wouldn't count on seeing it this Sunday.