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Raider Film Review: Nevin Lawson brings flexibility to defense

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Tennessee Titans v Oakland Raiders Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Nevin Lawson went from being a starter in Detroit to sitting on the bench early in the 2019 season for the Raiders. After sitting out the first four weeks due to suspension, Lawson stayed ready and ended up starting in 5 of the final 7 games of the season.

Lawson stepped in for injured players in the secondary and played multiple positions in 2019; Left CB, Right CB, Nickel and even Dime linebacker. By the end of the year it was painfully obvious that Lawson was the best slot defender on the team, eclipsing LaMarcus Joyner due to his sticky coverage.

The point of bringing Lawson back is two-fold for the Raiders. He gives the team an option at nickel CB if they are unable to land a high profile player in free agency. Lawson also has the ability to play every CB spot on defense. And he also adds some special teams value.

His speed and tackling ability make him a no-brainer as a gunner on punt and kickoff units. Having a veteran player who can fill so many role could make Lawson a big part of the upcoming 2020 campaign.

Lawson had the best game of his career against the Chargers in Week 16. He logged 4 pass break-ups in that game alone (LaMarcus Joyner only logged 3 all season).

His technique is good, his ability to transition from one direction to another is solid, but it’s his fight to finish that is keeping him on this team. Lawson won’t give up on a play, and his tenacity earned him praise from Paul Guenther, who called him a “pitbull” during one mid-week presser.

That pitbull mentality shows up in his tackling. For a smaller CB, Lawson doesn’t give up anything in the tackling department. He takes great angles, gets his head and shoulder across the body of the ball carrier, and consistently fights to finish the play.

Of course, it’s not all roses for Lawson, as he has a tendency to get grabby at the top of the route. He earned a trio of pass interference penalties in 2019, and could have been called on a handful more. Penalties have plagued the Raiders defense, especially on 3rd downs. The entire unit needs to clean this up if they have a chance of improving in 2020.


Lawson allowed only two touchdowns in 2019. A slant pass against the Jaguars, and a crossing pattern against the Jets. On both of these plays he was tight in coverage and got his hands in the catch point, but the receiver simply made a better play.

According to Pro Football Reference, Lawson gave up a catch on 53.8 percent of his targets. Contrast that with LaMarcus Joyner’s 69.4 percent clip, and it’s obvious why the Raiders re-signed him to a one-year extension yesterday. Unless the Raiders get another splashy free agent DB this offseason, expect Lawson to compete to be the starter in the slot during training camp.

Even if he doesn’t end up being the starter, its well worth the 3.3 million to have a veteran defensive back who can play multiple positions in the secondary without a drop-off in production. Secondaries need depth to be viable late in the season, and Lawson helps to that end.