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PFF: Raiders CB Amik Robertson is a ‘rookie who could surprise’

Is Robertson ready to man the nickel cornerback position?

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NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Only barely more than halfway into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders were making their final pick of the year when they were on the clock at No. 139. They had traded a fifth to move up for guard John Simpson, traded their sixth a year earlier for receiver Trevor Davis, and moved the seventh all the way back in the Khalil Mack deal.

Mike Mayock had already addressed offensive concerns by selecting two receivers, a running back and Simpson, while defensively he had picked a cornerback and a safety-linebacker hybrid. Perhaps feeling confident in what had become of the Raiders defensive line and linebacker units after free agency, Mayock insured the secondary even further by selecting 5’9 cornerback Amik Robertson out of Louisiana Tech.

Described by some as “an elite playmaker who will thrive in a role as a nickel cornerback” and The Draft Network’s Jonah Tuls said that he was “built in the mold of the Honey Badger” in referring to all-pro safety/corner Tyrann Mathieu.

Robertson himself said at the combine:

“I play a way that makes people look at me different,” he said. “I play bigger than I really am, and that’s something my coach harped on a lot. You can’t change your size, so you have to do something to separate yourself.”

Last Word on Pro Football had this to say as their “bottom line” on Robertson:

Based on pure skill and technique, there are very few players in this class better than Amik Robertson. He is a physical corner who has fallen under the radar due to his size. His experience playing on the inside and outside will likely intrigue a team in the middle rounds of this year’s draft. As refined as his skills are, his size will likely force him to become strictly a nickel corner in the NFL. His name may be unknown to many, but he has the skills to become a very productive starter in the NFL.

What it all adds up to makes Robertson sound something like the cornerback version of Russell Wilson. There’s almost nothing to dislike about him as a prospect other than his size. Had Wilson been the exact same prospect but was 6’2 instead of 5’10 (and presumably a bit heavier), where would he have gone in relation to Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill that year? Where he ended up going was pick 75.

As a slot corner, Robertson’s value ceiling can’t come close to that of a quarterback but in the AFC West we already know of a four-time Pro Bowl 5’10 nickel who has been extraordinarily valuable to his defense. And we know that standing opposite of Chris Harris this year could be Henry Ruggs or Tyreek Hill or K.J. Hamler or Jerry Jeudy or Mecole Hardman or Demarcus Robinson or Hunter Renfrow or Bryan Edwards or ...

Look, there’s too much receiving talent in the NFL now to not address the fact that defenses can’t hope to be efficient enough without enough players to cover three receivers and a tight end and a running back streaking out of the backfield to catch a pass.

So Mayock signed linebacker Cory Littleton this offseason to help with pass coverage in the middle of the defense after adding Lamarcus Joyner in free agency a year before, plus draft picks on Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, Isaiah Johnson, Johnathan Abram and Robertson. The team has also added Prince Amukamara and Damarious Randall. Despite all those other moves, Robertson could still be in line to start at nickel this season.

ProFootballFocus highlighted 10 rookies who “could surprise” this season and they picked Robertson as one of those players:

Joyner has struggled in the slot throughout his career. The best season of his career from a grading perspective came in 2017 when he primarily played deep safety for the Rams. In his first season as a Raider last year, Joyner played a career-high 608 slot-coverage snaps and produced the third-worst slot-coverage grade in the NFL.

“Robertson plays the game in a way you can’t help but fall in love with. Physical tools be damned; he can play slot for us any day.” — PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner in the PFF 2020 Draft Guide

Robertson may only be 5-foot-9, but he plays far bigger than that — he’s the definition of a “Gruden Grinder.” His feisty playstyle helped him earn the highest grade of any college cornerback since 2018, and he held that No. 1 ranking on contested targets, too, allowing only nine of 38 such targets to be caught while forcing 24 incompletions. He played mostly on the outside for LA Tech, but he should thrive in the slot with his physical playstyle and short-area quickness.

Calling Robinson a playmaker has become as common as referring to his on field persona like that of a “dog” these days, because if you don’t know what to say just repeat something someone else said ...

So what becomes of the Raiders secondary if Amik Robertson is on the front lines?

It could be that Prince Amukamara and Trayvon Mullen would start on the outside with Damon Arnette being brought along when the moment calls for it. Johnathan Abram and Damarious Randall are the obvious choices at safety with Jeff Heath, Erik Harris and potentially Tanner Muse as depth. It would leave Lamarcus Joyner ... where would it leave Joyner?

Unless he were to be winning a job over Randall, Robertson’s ascension to the slot, should it even happen this year, would seem to push Joyner into nowhere land.

But Mayock didn’t use his last pick on Robertson to avoid having complicated competitions.