This time of year the NFL isn’t necessarily putting out a quality product (see last night’s debacle in Winnipeg). But the preseason gives NFL hopefuls a chance to make a name for themselves. In the NFL, film is a player’s resume and there have been a few long shots on this Raiders team who have helped themselves make a case for a spot in the NFL whether in Oakland or not.
In his press conference after the game, Jon Gruden said 5 undrafted rookies could make the team. Undrafted rookie free agent Keisean Nixon out of South Carolina has established himself as one of those rookies who could make the final roster. Read my scouting report on Nixon here. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think Nixon could play on the outside in Paul Guenther’s scheme. Through 3 preseason games, he’s proven me wrong, getting better each week. Here’s a look at his play so far.
Week 1 vs Los Angeles Rams
My scouting report on Nixon did compliment the defensive back on his eye discipline which is what he shows here on this play, honoring the play action by stepping up but keeping his eyes on his man and shadowing him across the field. It looks effortless for Nixon and he’s clearly not close to running full speed when he breaks up this pass.
Week 2 vs Arizona Cardinals
Nixon had another solid day in coverage against the Cardinals. This play Nixon breaks on the out route and tackles the receiver for minimal gain. He has the ability to drive on a route in a hurry. He can do a better job fighting to get the ball out however.
This goal line defense from Nixon shows a couple important elements of cornerback play. First is understanding leverage; Nixon knows he has no help in the middle of the field so he plays inside leverage on his receiver. He is playing what is called “Catch Man” which is a type of coverage primarily used on top of a 7 man blitz (commonly referred to as cover 0). Secondly, Nixon shows great patience to trust his technique and defend the goal-line, not panicking or guessing, and waiting for the receiver to make the first move.
Week 3 vs Green Bay Packers
Last night in Winnipeg, Nixon showed that he deserves real consideration in making the final 53 man roster. He dominated Green Bay’s second team and showed the ability to play press man in Paul Guenther’s scheme. In the play above Nixon is matched up against Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. Brown is listed at 6-5, more than a half foot taller than Nixon. Nixon doesn’t back down, re-routing the receiver and fighting for body position along the sideline. He also gets his head turned around displaying the awareness necessary to challenge receivers on the perimeter.
Nixon’s best play of preseason came last night as well. Again in press man, Nixon mirrors the inside release from the receiver. The Packers pass catcher is able to get by Nixon but the Raider rookie doesn’t panic showing the level headedness to keep his eyes on his man and run him down. Nixon shows easy speed once again here and only once he has closed the space does he look back for the ball disrupting the catch.
Nixon’s fight to make the roster really comes down to special teams play. Week 1 against the Rams, the undrafted rookie caught my eye, beating his man down the field and downing punts or tackling the returner. This example illustrates just how fast Nixon can be. Against single coverage as a punt “gunner,” Nixon makes one move and simply beats the coverage with speed.
Against the Cardinals Nixon went against the double coverage side of the punt return. He is able to widen the inside man before splitting the double team down the middle. This is exactly how it’s coached and could be teaching tape for special teams play.
Nixon did have at least one mistake on 4th down. Here is gets flagged for holding during the punt return. While penalties are sure to draw Gruden’s scorn, he has to admire the nasty way Nixon throws this man down to the ground in the outfield.
Nixon is PBU king right now for the Raiders, getting his hands on 5 or more passes through 3 preseason contests. A few of the plays highlighted above could have been interceptions. A turnover could seal his fate for this Raiders team.
Playing opposite Nick Nelson last night in Green Bay only helped Nixon’s case to make the final roster. Nixon kept breaking up passes and providing sticky coverage while Nelson on the opposite side of the field gave up 2 touchdown passes and huge amount of yards. Nelson looked like the undrafted free agent while Nixon looked like a draft pick.
If Nixon doesn’t make the final 53 and the Raiders aren’t able to stash him on a reserve list, he may not make it past waivers to the practice squad. Cover corners are at a premium in the NFL and Nixon’s resume so far is promising enough that he will likely be on one team’s roster or another come September.