The Raiders addressed their defensive secondary with a few free agency moves, most notably the signing of Lamarcus Joyner to a four-year deal and signing Nevin Lawson to a one-year contract. Joyner should fill the slot corner role, and Gareon Conley seems entrenched in one corner role, but the Raiders haven’t made a long term commitment to Lawson or Daryl Worley on the other side. Oakland could look to pick up a stud corner in this draft. Here are a few guys they might look at.
Greedy Williams, LSU; Byron Murphy, Washington; DeAndre Baker, Georgia - Round 1
I’m listing all three here as they are the clear triumvirate of first-round corners, and it’s unclear which of them will be available when the Raiders pick late in the first. It could be all of them, it could be none of them. Mock drafts have them all over the place.
I’ll begin with Williams. At 6’1”, he is the tallest of the three, although he has a slim frame at 185 pounds. His slight physique leads him to be an unwilling tackler at times. I can’t say I blame him, because the best ability is availability, and he’s managed to avoid injury with this playing style. Williams is the best cover corner in this draft and uses his hands well to knock the ball away even when he doesn’t get the interception. He is fast enough at 4.37 to run with receivers and mirror their route WITH his head turned around to look for the ball. He’s the anti-DJ Hayden in this respect, he is always playing the ball and the receiver at the same time. His active hands can get him into trouble with penalties, and if you want your corner to excel in run support he’s not your guy, but there is no better press man cover corner in this draft than Williams and you’d have to go back a long way to find one better coming out of college.
Baker is 5’11” and 193, and has a more compact frame than Williams. He’s slightly slower at 4.52, but his cover skills are almost as good as Williams. Baker was the top corner on one of the top defenses in the country at Georgia, and offenses tended to avoid his side of the field. When they did he made them pay, with nine pass breakups, two picks and a forced fumble. He sticks with his man and doesn’t often allow separation. Baker is a willing tackler and could stand to add even more weight to his frame. He can be somewhat of a space cadet, and last year dropped two would-be pick sixes on the ground before he crossed the goal line. Still, he has few flaws if you’re comfortable with a corner under six feet.
Murphy has perhaps the best ball skills in the class, as he was an All-American wide receiver in high school in the Scottsdale area in addition to being one of the top defensive backs in his high school class. Murphy is six feet and 190 pounds, and while he could stand to be more physical, he makes up for that with incredible football IQ and awareness. No quarterback or receiver is going to out-think him or fool him with his high intelligence and ability to process information quickly, and he is fast enough in space to handle jukes and change or direction. If you throw in his direction, he will make a successful play on the ball more often than not. His real drawback is a lack of long speed, and if he’s beaten deep he tends to get grabby.
Rock Ya-Sin, Temple - Round 2
Ya-Sin is one of the most physical receivers in this class, and has jumped up draft boards thanks to a Combine where he proved to be much more athletic than previously thought. Ya-Sin is primarily a press man corner who didn’t run much zone at Temple. He’s a big corner at 6’0” and 192 pounds and runs a 4.51, which is far faster than expected. He can blanket corners with his frame and had a very good Senior Bowl, which may have caught the eye of Jon Gruden. Ya-Sin’s main trouble is his footwork, which can be sloppy and lead to a lack of recovery time on routes. With some coaching, Ya-Sin could be an impact corner down the road.
Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State - Round 4
We might be talking about Sheffield going much higher than this, but he tore his pec doing the bench press at the Combine and wasn’t able to run the 40. Sheffield is well-known as one of the fastest corners in this class and would have run in the 4.3 range alongside Greedy Williams. As it is, he’s on the lips of every fanbase as a potential late round steal (like Maurice Hurst was last year).
Athletically he’s gifted but his technique needs work. His jams at the line of scrimmage can be ineffectual against bigger receivers and he isn’t good with his back to the ball, rarely finding it in the air. Are these fixable problems? Yes, with the right coaching and work ethic, but Sheffield isn’t the same type of Ohio State corner prospect as Lattimore, Ward or Conley were. However, he’s far faster and more explosive than any of them were, so he’s worth a shot.
Michael Jackson, Miami - Round 6
Jackson didn’t see much time in his first two years at The U, sitting behind some future NFL corners. He worked his way into the starting lineup in his junior year and became a stalwart, showing the world how bad and dangerous he is with four interceptions in 2017. He denied completions regularly whether the receiver was black or white, amassing 11 pass breakups over the past two seasons. He proved to be a thriller in pass rushing with 2.5 sacks last season and had 3.5 tackles for loss. He told lesser players to beat it, earning an honorable mention All-ACC listing.
Despite being a speed demon at 4.5 in the 40, Jackson does struggle in allowing separation. He’s one of the more physical corners available at 6’1” and 210 pounds, and he’s much better in run support than he is covering fast, rangy receivers. The trick will be getting him to focus his immense physical gifts and teaching him to stay with receivers so he can use his ball skills. Michael, will you be there when the Raiders draft in the late rounds?