Not many expected anyone to be singing the praises of the Raiders cornerbacks after the first two games this season. The defense was purging points and yards; giving up a combined 69 points and over 800 yards passing to Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.
Sean Smith beaten several times by Julio Jones and was flat out torched by Brandin Cooks and basically every Saints receiver. And DJ Hayden seemed lost in space most of the time. The only cornerback on the roster doing any decent work was David Amerson.
While Amerson’s play has remained fairly steady (with the exception of getting lit up on a vicious stiff arm by Steve Smith Sr last week for a 52-yard touchdown catch) while the others have stepped up.
Their rebound now shows in Pro Football Focus grades, with Amerson as their top rated cornerback, Sean Smith at 23, and Hayden making an appearance at number 50 out of a total of 114 cornerbacks graded.
As far as the numbers go, they don’t jump out. But that’s because most people only seem to notice interceptions.
Amerson is tied for the league lead with 8 passes defended this season. Sean Smith has four and Hayden has one. Amerson and Smith both have an interception this season.
Amerson also leads the cornerbacks in tackles. His 19 tackles are fourth on the team. Hayden is up next with 17 tackles, which is good for 7th on the team. He also has a forced fumble. Sean Smith has 12 tackles.
The turnaround in their play has played a role in holding the last two opponents to an average of 18.5 points and 256 yards passing per game -- well down from the 34.5 points and 409.5 passing yards per game over the first two games.